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Auburn coaches recruit state in style

MONTGOMERY, Ala. | Bobby Parrish has seen plenty of famous college football coaches stroll largely unnoticed onto Williamson High School's campus over the years.

Seven big guys piling out of a stretch limousine is hard to ignore, though. Auburn has had seven assistants carpooling around to a few dozen state high schools this week to evaluate prospects and get acquainted with prep coaches.

"I've never seen anything like that," said Parrish, head coach at the Mobile school. "Nick Saban, Tommy Tuberville and Bobby Bowden have come here.

"They've never come in grand fashion like those guys did the other day. If you come up in a limo like that, it was definitely eye-catching."

It's an attention-getting move by coach Gene Chizik and his staff. The Tigers have been overshadowed on the recruiting trail lately with Alabama's Saban pulling in the top-rated classes nationally the past two years.

Instead of having seven individual coaches — the maximum allowed by the NCAA out on recruiting trips at one time in the spring — crisscross the state and visit a couple of hundred schools, Chizik is sending them en masse to 35-40 hot spots.

"We want to saturate the state of Alabama," Chizik said. "We want it to be every time you turn a corner, there's an Auburn coach. We really want to show the significance and the importance that we feel about this state and about having players from the state of Alabama. We want to go around the state and kind of show up in force with our guys."

In force, and in style. A Hummer limo pulling into a school parking lot tends to create some buzz. And when it comes to in-state recruiting, the Tigers could have used some of that in the past few years.

Auburn hasn't been able to land many of the most coveted recruits from inside state lines the past two years. Saban & Co. snared the top five state recruits in 2008, including receiver Julio Jones, according to Rivals.com.

The Tide signed the top seven in-state prospects this year.

Chizik recalls the amount of talent from Alabama and neighboring Georgia on the 2004 Auburn team that went 13-0 when he was defensive coordinator, including Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Carlos Rogers and Marcus McNeill.

"In the years that I was here and we were really good, we had a lot of great Alabama players on our football team," Chizik said. "That goes back to us realizing and understanding the importance of having Alabama kids here on our roster and recruiting the best kids in this state first before we move on to the other states.

"It's really, really big for us to be able to recruit this state very, very hard. The high school coaches and the players in this state are very, very important to us. That's the message we're sending."

Colleges coaches are allowed to have up to seven coaches on the road at one time during the spring evaluation period from April 15-May 31. They aren't allowed to have extensive contact with a prospect, and head coaches aren't allowed on campus at all during that period under the so-called "Saban Rule."

Auburn is hoping a fancy ride and a group visit create a bit of an edge over the competition.

"The limo didn't have nearly the effect of seven coaches on your campus at one time," said Davidson coach Fred Riley, whose campus received a visit early in the week. "Their mode of transportation, I think, was fun for the media and fun for Internet bloggers. But as far as the kids were concerned, it was having seven coaches on your campus all at one time.

"That certainly carried some impact."

Auburn recruiting coordinator Curtis Luper and receivers coach Trooper Taylor approached Chizik with the idea. It meant visiting a few dozen schools as a group this week instead of the normal 200-plus individually.

Luper said the feedback has "been absolutely phenomenal."

"At a couple of schools, we pulled up and the mayor's there, city councilmen, superintendents, principals, coaches, media," Luper said. "It's been a really, really good experience for us. More than we would have imagined."

The limos do have some practical purpose in addition to the flash since the average SUV won't allow enough legroom for seven coaches.

"We're a first-class organization and we're going to do things first-class," Luper said. "The limousine gets the headlines. The true headline is we're sending seven coaches and saturating high schools in the state of Alabama with seven coaches."

The message, he said: "We're here to stay."

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