Auburn's Big Cat Weekend recruiting event a big success

Auburn's Big Cat Weekend recruiting event a big success

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]uburn’s fifth annual Big Cat Weekend recruiting event took place on Saturday and the early returns appear strong.

Jakell Mitchell (9) from Opelika (Ala.) High School committed to Auburn on Saturday.

Jakell Mitchell (9) from Opelika (Ala.) High School committed to Auburn on Saturday.

The Tigers landed verbal commitments from key targets — tight end/H-back Jakell Mitchell and defensive back Nic Ruffin, both of whom had impressive lists of scholarship offers — and appear to have made a big move with several other highly-recruited prospects.

Similar to Florida’s Friday Night Lights and Michigan’s Big Blue Bar-B-Q, the past success of Auburn’s “Big Cat” event is unquestioned. The Tigers staff expected 30-40 of its top targets on campus for the event, including several Top 100 and Top 250 national recruits, some of whom are committed to Auburn and other schools.

According to Justin Hokanson of AuburnSports.com, 41 out of the 111 visitors to the previous four Big Cat Weekends have signed with the Tigers, a success rate of 37 percent. Ten starters on Auburn’s post-spring depth chart were Big Cat attendees.

A big part of that success seems to stem from a relaxed environment focused on allowing the visitors to bond with the coaching staff and their fellow recruits. Unconventional entertainment in the form of water balloon fights and scavenger hunts are mixed in with traditional facilities tours, helping to keep the atmosphere light.

Mitchell reportedly got things started during player introductions when he stood up and announced that he “wanted to be an Auburn Tiger.” Rated a 3-star by Rivals.com, his other scholarship offers included Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Florida State and LSU among others, suggesting he may be underrated.

At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Mitchell is an intriguing prospect that appears well-suited for Gus Malzahn’s offense. Versatile and athletic, he has the potential to become a deadly receiving threat with a frame that should allow him to easily add weight as he develops.

On film, Mitchell is a skilled pass catcher that has excellent hands and body control. He also shows good jumping ability and is not afraid to be physical as a receiver. His speed is deceptive and he is threat to stretch the middle of the field.

Mitchell was recruited by Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. He had a very productive junior season at Opelika High, one of Alabama’s top prep programs, catching 28 passes for 403 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Ruffin, from St. Pius X School in Atlanta, did not enter the weekend expecting to make a decision but changed his mind during the visit. Recruited by Auburn assistants Dameyune Craig and Melvin Smith, his lengthy list of scholarship offers included Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, LSU and Florida State among others.

A fluid, quick twitch athlete, Ruffin (6-0, 172) projects as a cornerback. He displays good hips, a fluid backpedal and excellent ball skills.

While he needs to develop strength, Ruffin is not afraid to be physical and is a reliable tackler. He also has potential value both as a returner and kick blocker on special teams.

The Tigers also made a big move with at least three other 4-star recruits. Wide receiver Shaq Davidson (6-0, 170) from Gaffney, S.C., and Georgia natives Elisha Shaw, a 6-foot-6, 298-pound defensive tackle from Tucker and Andrew Williams, a 6-4, 245-pound defensive end from McDonough all moved Auburn into their top 2-3 after Saturday.

Shaw and Davidson are both Top 100 recruits nationally according to Rivals. Williams is the nation’s No. 12 weakside defensive end.

Photo credit: Laura Chramer / Opelika-Auburn News

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