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Krootin’: Corey Lemonier and the new sleepers

Nice hat!

The whirlwind of Signing Day means there’s not a whole lot of time to relax and dig into the profiles of Auburn’s new signees … so we’ll do that now, starting with the day’s big prize:

DE Corey Lemonier, Hialeah FL (6-5, 223)

There’s no unseating Michael Dyer as the consensus crown jewel of Auburn’s class, according to the gurus. And despite the love for Cam Newton and Shon Coleman from Rivals, Trovon Reed is a clearcut No. 2 when you factor in ESPN’s opinion.

But just as clearcut is the No. 3 slot–and that one belongs to Lemonier, Rivals’ No. 35 player in the country, a Scout five-star, and one of ESPN’s top-100. All three services ranks him among the top 10 ends in a loaded DE class. His offer sheet–Alabama, Florida, Florida St., etc.–is one where you can say “he could have gone to any school in the country” and not really be exaggerating.

Why? Jay G. Tate breaks it down:

Lemonier is a full-service player on the weak side. He’s unusually quick off the line and is lethal with his swim move. Lemonier isn’t heavy by any means, but he’s a big kid. He can overpower people. Some might be reminded of Stanley McClover upon first glance, but I see Willie McGinest.

Commence drooling.

That Auburn was able to pluck away yet another prospect of Lemonier’s reputation from out-of-state–way out of state in this case; Hialeah is metro Miami–represents another staggering achievement for Chizik and Co. on the trail, particularly so when you consider they had to beat out Jimbo Fisher’s budding machine at FSU to do it.

The reward? A potentially elite pass rusher to carry on Auburn’s recent legacy of terror ends, one that extends back to McClover and Quentin Groves through Antonio Coleman and now (hopefully) Antoine Carter. Come ’11, Lemonier could very well be the player that extends that chain, and he turns what was already a solid class of DEs–with Joel Bonomolo on the weakside, Craig Sanders on the strongside, and Justin Delaine as the sleeper–into a truly outstanding one.

RB/DT Ladarious Phillips, Roanoke AL (6-1, 270)

Most consensus twostar recruits don’t become overnight fan favorites or serve as one of the true highlights of a Signing Day that saw their new team bring in its best recruiting class since maybe ever … but most two-star recruits don’t have this:

That choice of soundtrack–along with the fact that watching a giant dude run over various smaller dudes on a football field is one of life’s supreme joys–earned Phillips “Recruit of the Year” honors from Dr. Saturday. I don’t know why the AU sports information guys didn’t include that award in his Signing Day bio; hopefully that’ll get corrected soon.

Of course, most two-star recruits don’t also have such obvious, immediate utility to a team like Auburn. But a team like Auburn is also one that had major trouble on third-and-short last year and has no true Phillips-like pounder on the roster. Auburn is also a team with little depth at defensive tackle that could be well-served to take a flier on an All-State DT with the agility and athleticism to both play tailback and win the state 4A shotput competition.

Two birds, Ladarious Phillips as the giant, groovy stone. I like it. We all like it, don’t we?

S Ryan Smith, Cordova AL (6-2, 208)

It was pretty much an open secret, wasn’t it? Auburn was going to bring D.J. Howard in, give him his shot at running back, and if he ended up working there, great, we had plenty of other safety options. If he ended up stuck on the depth chart behind Dyer and Aycock and who knows who else, great, he moves to safety where his size and speed should make him an outstanding prospect at that position.

But D.J. either didn’t want to even talk about moving or didn’t want to compete with Dyer (and at the time he apparently made his decision, Lattimore) and decided to look elsewhere. And that’s fine. Fine for everyone–fine for Howard, who could become a star in Clemson’s backfield if he can earn the starting job, and fine for Auburn, who replaced him straight-up with longtime Auburn fan Smith.

Smith did a little bit of everything for one of the state’s 3A powerhouses at Cordova, winning a 2007 state title at quarterback before moving over to running back after the graduation of Tim Simon (now at Ole Miss) and providing cover in the defensive secondary all the while. Andrew Bone at Scout:

Ryan Smith was “Mr. Everything” in high school and certainly can play a number of positions at the next level. He is a very talented athlete who has good speed and coverage skills. He is a physical player and can lay the lumber on defense. He has a total grasp of the game.

That Smith was only a low-end three star to Rivals and Scout and a two-star to ESPN seems more of a function of confusion over his future position than anything; his ESPN evaluation raves about his ball-carrying skills (“hits the perimeter like shot out of a canon”) and hard-nosed tackling (“Tough defensive back that can shed blockers while coming up on run support”) before concluding Smith “has a chance to be a very productive player at the next level.” Doesn’t really sound like a two-star to me. And while we know high school honors and stats aren’t always very accurate in predicting college success, Smith’s

Named to the Class 3A All-State First Team as a senior and junior by the Alabama Sports Writers Association, and earned 3A Back of the Year honors as a senior …. Led Cordova to three straight appearances in state title game … Rushed for 1,856 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior … As a junior, rushed for 1,376 yards and 19 touchdowns on just 175 attempts (7.9 ypc) while throwing for 1,274 yards and 20 scores … Also had 70 tackles and six interceptions during junior season.

… still seem pretty damn impressive. And oh yeah, Smith had been a Kentucky commit since last October and claimed a Louisville offer; Auburn didn’t exactly steal him away from Georgia Southern. (Like, uh, Phillips.)

I’ll put it this way: by many, many accounts out there, Howard contacted Auburn’s coaches just before Signing Day and asked to return to the fold. He was told the Tigers were no longer interested. If true, I ask you: would Chizik and Co. have made that decision if they didn’t feel totally confident in Smith’s ability to give them what they wanted from Howard?

OL Tunde Fariyike, Thomaston GA (6-3, 295)

If we were drawing up the perfect blueprint for an out-of-nowhere sleeper that Auburn fans told tales about years later, what would go in the blueprint?

1. He’d come from a nondescript program in a rural, out-of-the-way area. I give you Upson-Lee High–3-7 in 2008 and 2009–in Thomaston, Georgia.

2. He’d have picked up the sport late and remained off the guru radar. After having been born in Nigeria, Fariyike played football for the first time as a sophomore and only started for two years.

3. You’d want him to be a whip-smart, coachable kid with a strong work ethic. Fariyike boasts a 3.9 GPA and will major in Auburn’s pre-med program on his way to becoming a doctor.

4. You’d want his high school film to be set to Lux Aeterna. OK, that’s not actually a requirement. But it doesn’t hurt:

There’s no doubt that coming this late to the sport, Fariyike probably has a lot of work ahead of him to become a contributor at Auburn. But we have a lot of indicators that he has both the willingness and the raw physical tools to do just that, and the depth chart at his supposed future position–center–isn’t quite as crowded as it is elsewhere along the line. We’d best learn to spell his name correctly while we’re ahead.

Lemonier photo via.

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