Johnson, the Carver-Montgomery quarterback and Alabama Mr. Football who not only stayed with his commitment to Auburn after a coaching change but continued to unofficially recruit for the Tigers, had Foster high on his list of targets.
Johnson just didn’t let on so in his light-hearted conversations with the five-star linebacker.
“He said he don’t need me, but he’s playing,” Foster said Jan. 16, after the Alabama Mr. Football banquet in Montgomery.
Nearly three weeks later, it’s the Monday before National Signing Day. Foster is supposed to announce his decision between Alabama, Auburn and Georgia, at 9 p.m. Central on FOX Sports South’s The NEW College Football Show: Next Class 2013, and he seems to the one playing.
The guy who committed to Alabama then dramatically switched to Auburn, affirming his new commitment with an Auburn-themed tattoo?
The guy who announced his switch to Auburn by using language that mimicked T.J. Yeldon’s switch from Auburn to Alabama a year ago?
The guy who then re-opened his recruitment after Auburn fired former head coach Gene Chizik and, more importantly, assistant Trooper Taylor?
Yeah, Reuben Foster.
That guy has heads spinning headed into his announcement today. This after he reportedly cut short his official visit to Auburn on Saturday then showed up in Tuscaloosa.
There’s message board chatter, but it’s hard for outsiders to say with certainty why Foster wound up hanging with Alabama wide receiver Christion Jones, who tweeted about their encounter then quickly removed the tweet. There is a bottom line.
“There’s no way to spin this other than it’s very bad news for Auburn in regards to its recruitment of Foster,” wrote Bryant Matthews, who covers recruiting for AuburnUndercover.com, the 247sports site that covers Auburn.
Who would have thought anyone could rival the switcheroo melodramas of Brent Calloway and Cyrus Kouandjio from two years ago, but Foster has done it. While we ponder the possibility of him playing for Alabama with an Auburn logo tattooed on his right forearm, let’s ponder the tale of Johnson and Foster.
In the always-compelling, always-maddening world of recruiting, let’s study the contrast in loyalty and, to borrow a Hertz Rent-a-Car slogan, not exactly.
Why did Johnson hang in when others didn’t? It helped that Auburn hired Gus Malzahn, who served as Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 2009-2011 and came back after one year as Arkansas State’s head coach.
“When they switched to Coach Malzahn, there wasn’t no second thought,” Johnson said. “He was the first person that gave me my first offer. … He’s been recruiting me, even when he was at Arkansas State, so that’s why I pretty much hung in.”
Auburn lost other high-profile commitments because of the coaching change, and it wasn’t so much the head coach. It was more assistants like Taylor.
Take it from Johnson, who not only hung in with Auburn through the coaching change but tried to convince prospective teammates.
“It was hard,” he said. “Everybody knew Coach Chizik and the whole coaching staff. The coaching staff made a big difference in who was committed and who decommitted, but it’s hard, and I can’t make a decision for other players.”
Not that he didn’t try.
“I’m going to be up there at Auburn every weekend, coming up, just to recruit,” Johnson said on Jan. 16. “That’s my job at Auburn, being a leader and trying to get guys around me that can help us win a national championship.”
High on Johnson’s and Auburn’s list was Foster, who appears to be as hard to recruit as he is to block. When Johnson wasn’t jokingly playing reverse psychology, he was reversing the reverse psychology.
“He talks about they need me, and I can be a big program changer,” Foster said.
Again, Foster said that three weeks ago, but oh, the lines that could follow now. Oh, the questions likely to follow his announcement tonight.
Is it really over Reuben?
Are you sure the school you just announced will be the school to receive your letter-of-intent Wednesday?
Any new tattoos?
OK, so no need to demonize a teenager for indecision, especially one who has as many options as has Foster. Not all kids can be as certain as Johnson, and imagine making a college choice amid such scrutiny.
Reuben Foster might have had good reasons for his original commitment to Alabama, his move to Auburn, followed by his commitment switch to Auburn, and … well, whatever happened this past weekend.
But while we obsess so much on the moves and moods of the Reuben Fosters of the recruiting scene, let’s also celebrate a kid like Johnson. He hung in and even tried to help his future school stem recruiting losses amid a coaching change.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.