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Garner was the Difference for Russell

By Matt Osborne
SouthernPigskin.com
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Rodney Garner’s recruiting prowess was never on greater display than it was in the pursuit of defensive tackle Dontavius Russell.

“I feel like if I go in and work hard, I’ll be able to compete well like everyone else has."
~Auburn commit Dontavius Russell

With all of the credit that head coaches receive for pulling in quality recruiting hauls, we often forget that a program’s assistant coaches have just as much of an impact on where prospects end up.

Many of the top assistant coaches around the country were hired into their current positions largely due to their acumen on the recruiting trail. Teaching technique and focusing on improvement are important facets of coaching, but it is easier to accomplish those things when the physical tools are already at an advanced level.

One of the best recruiting assistant coaches in recent years has undoubtedly been veteran defensive line coach Rodney Garner.

After spending 15 years on the staff at Georgia, where he helped lead the Bulldogs to two SEC championships and six finishes in the top 10 of the national polls, Garner left Athens at the end of the 2012 season to return to Auburn, where he once starred as an offensive lineman.

As Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn had hoped, it is a move which has already paid major dividends on the recruiting front.

Garner has been influential in placing the Tigers in a position to finish with a top 10 recruiting class nationally for the class of 2014.

And though he has helped persuade multiple elite prospects to make Auburn their college destination, perhaps Garner’s recruiting prowess was never on greater display than it was in the pursuit of defensive tackle Dontavius Russell.

Russell originally verbally committed to Georgia on April 1, in large due to the relationship he formulated with Garner while he was still in Athens.

Staying committed with the Bulldogs throughout the vast majority of the regular season, Russell ultimately decided that the relationship he forged with Garner was strong enough to warrant a change of heart.

“It was the coaches there,” Russell said on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network about his decision to flip to Auburn. “I had known Coach Garner for a long time, and I had actually talked to Coach Malzahn a couple times and I had been to the office in the past. And actually Coach Garner is who started recruiting me to Georgia, so I just felt like it was a better fit for me to be.”

Garner certainly has to be thrilled that he not only was able to secure Russell’s commitment; he will also have an opportunity to coach him along the defensive front.

Ranked as one of Auburn’s top prospects in the 2014 class, Russell was a hotly-pursued commodity coming out of Carrollton, Georgia. With above-average quickness at six-foot-three, 300 pounds, he is the caliber of player who can make an immediate difference at the college ranks.

“I feel like if I go in and work hard, I’ll be able to compete well like everyone else has,” Russell continued. “So I feel like I’ll be able to do well out there.”

It also doesn’t hurt Russell’s motivation levels that he is joining a program which just recently played for a BCS national championship.

Although the Tigers ultimately came up short in that contest, Auburn emphatically announced that it is a program with which to be reckoned on the national scene.

Through chatting with current Auburn defensive linemen Gabe Wright and Carl Lawson, he has also been blessed to familiarize himself with the program which he grew up following.

“It feels amazing that I’m going to be able to be on a team like that because I’ve always been an Auburn fan,” he remarked. “So it just feels amazing that I’m getting this opportunity.”

Half of the battle of producing a winning football program is bringing in elite prospects off the recruiting trail. The other half of the equation is getting those players to pan out once they enroll in school.

With individuals like Rodney Garner and Dontavius Russell filling those roles, it appears that Auburn has produced a winning formula that will pay dividends for years to come.

Matt Osborne - Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt's number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at matt@southernpigskin.com.