Maybe my favorite quote of this entire recruiting season--outside of Eltoro "The Toro" Freeman's mind-blowingly enthusiastic endorsement of Chizik that was the very first sign things weren't as black as they seemed--was Travante Stallworth telling AuburnUndercover a few days ago that "I’m solid to Auburn in some ways, but I’m still looking."
Now, as the holder of a Master's degree in English and a former newspaper writer, I can tell you that I can recognize quality B.S. when I see it, and this is as quality as it gets: a statement that sounds like it ought to mean something definitive but instead, like an M.C. Escher print, leaves the audience totally bewildered if they think about for longer than a second or two. With all sincerity, I offer Stallworth some serious kudos for a quote like that. Even Brian at MGoBlog was befuddled. If he can bring those kinds of linguistic ninja skills to keeping his recruiting intentions under wraps, it's not hard to imagine him being just as shifty as he darts through opposing defenses, right?
Anyways, I don't have subscriptions to the premium sites, but I have to say I do feel strangely confident that Stallworth's dropped the mask and will sign with Auburn next week. Here's what Google has to say about him.
Basics: Listed at all of 5-10 and 180 pounds but with an alleged (and quite possibly more legit than usual) 40 time of 4.4, Stallworth was one of several undersized-but-elusive prospects who committed last summer during the height of Tony Franklin fever. He played quarterback for his Leesville (La.) High team and racked up nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage (546 rush, 1,339 pass) this year, but unless he winds up as the point man in the Malzahn version of the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom formation, he's not going to take snaps at Auburn. Rivals and Scout both list him as a wide receiver and though ESPN ranks him as an athlete, their scouting report focuses exclusively on his offensive potential. In short, Stallworth is a wideout.
Recruitnik hoo-ha: Well, this is about as big a difference of opinion as you're going to get.
Scout and Rivals just don't think much of Stallworth's chances at all. He's a three-star to both, with Rivals slightly harsher; they grade him a bottom-of-the-three-star-barrel 5.5 (the only three-star Auburn commit to get a grade that low) and don't even include him in their wide receiver rankings. Scout at least gives Stallworth the dignity of ranking him, and he comes in at ... No. 122.
However, ESPN sees things very differently. They rank Stallworth as the best prospect in Auburn's current class--better than Rollison, better than Lutzenkirchen, better than McCalebb. He's graded out at a four-star equivalent 80 and ranked the No. 15 athlete in the class. The report reads like so:
This kid can really, really run. He is smooth, fluid and a homerun threat once he gets into space ... appears to have huge upside as a return specialist due to his quickness and top end speed. He is remarkable smooth and fluid-- ease of movement and change-of-direction skills are excellent. He's a glider with elusive moves and a serious second gear in space. He actually runs with running back type vision and lateral agility.The scout does mention that Stallworth doesn't seek out contact and could use more toughness, but ... this sounds like the prototypical prospect for a life in the spread's slot position, doesn't it? Yes it does.
Which is why Rich Rodriguez and Michigan were Auburn's biggest competitors for Stallworth's signature, to the point that RichRod paid Stallworth a home visit not long ago. Whatever the two main services have to say about Stallworth's potential, that the guy who put together the Pat White spread-n-shred wanted Stallworth in Ann Arbor says an awful lot about it too.
Links of Potential Interest: Highlights? Highlights:
I'm going to go ahead and make a request of god-among-Auburn-men autiger96: if Stallworth ever breaks loose on a long touchdown catch/run/return/whatever for Auburn, please, please take the sound clip of the guy at the 15-second mark of the video above going "WHOOSH ... WHOOSH ... WHOOSH" and play it over Stallworth's highlight. Thanks.
I'm 99 percent sure I linked to this when it first popped up, but MGoBlog's TomVH interviewed Stallworth not long after the Chizik hire. Not a ton of juicy quotes--again, Stallworth wisely plays it both respectful and close-to-the-vest--but you can tell that offensive fit was going to be very important for him, just in case you needed a reminder of why the Malzahn hire was so brilliant. Also, Papa Stallworth stops by in the comments to vouch for the 4.4-4.5 and call Stallworth the "man of the house" while he serves our country in Iraq. Auburn beat writers, I think you've got a story there ...
There's a little bit more about Stallworth's recruitment process, Malzahn's role in it, and his father in this story from the Leesville Daily Leader. Also, you find out that Leesville's nickname was the Wampus Cats, which, like, awesome.
One other thing you might have noticed from that story and Stallworth's Scout page is that he ran for a lot fewer yards in 2008 than in 2007. Hit ctrl-F at this page from LSU-specific guru Dandy Don and you can find out why--future LSU running back Michael Ford was hurt in '07 and came back this year. Simple enough. (A guy in this TigerDroppings thread also suggests he was injured, for whatever that's worth.) If you'd like a second Dandy Don link, he called Stallworth the No. 20 prospect in Louisiana way back in April of last year, but perhaps more interesting is that he chose to praise Stallworth's coverage skills rather than talent carrying the ball.
For those of you who like Auburn's recruits to come with a second SEC offer attached, South Carolina was seriously interested, too.
Not surprisingly for a guy this fast, Stallworth ran track--his 4x100 team took sixth at the Louisiana state meet.
What conclusions we can draw, if any: Well, for starters, I wouldn't dismiss ESPN's optimism out-of-hand. Sure, calling Stallworth the best prospect in Auburn's class seems weird, but Rivals and Scout would have strongly disagreed last year when ESPN called Neiko Thorpe the best player in the class of 2008. And guess who's been the best player-to-date from the class of 2008? Add their rave review in with the pursuit from one of the top spread coaches in the country and I think it's fair to assume that Stallworth is a much better prospect, particularly for Malzahn's system, than the two main services expect.
How much better? We'll have to wait and see, and with Phillip Pierre-Louis back and fellow quarkback-types Brandon Heavens, LaVoyd James, and Anthony Gulley all likely battling Stallworth for playing time in the slot, the competition's most definitely going to be on the fierce side. But it's hard to see how Stallworth's not going to have as good a shot as any of them, and if he rises to the top of that group he could see the field as soon as this fall.