Eltoro "The Toro" Freeman has gotten the lion's share of hype out of Auburn's incoming linebacker class, and not without reason. But he's not the only quality linebacking prospect arriving on the Plains--or I should say, who's arrived--since Harris Gaston could very easily give Auburn a pair of starters out of this class.
Basics: Like so:
Harris GastonSo, yeah, "6-3, 210" ... doesn't get much more "prototypically strongside linebacker-sized" than that. Also worth noting: Gaston is carrying a 3.8 GPA--good sign, that--and a listed 4.6 40 time that, well, I hope that our 6-3, 210-pound linebacker runs. Hope.
LB, 6-3, 210
Bessemer, AL (Bessemer Academy)
HIGH SCHOOL: Had 114 tackles as a senior and returned two fumbles for touchdowns ... On offense during his senior season, caught 43 passes for 860 yards and 17 touchdowns ... As a junior, made 112 tackles, including 11 sacks, and had five interceptions and a defensive touchdown ... Named the AISA Back of the Year and to the All-State team by the Alabama Sports Writers Association as a senior ... Ranked No. 10 on the Birmingham News' Super Seniors list ... Listed as the No. 13 player from Alabama by SuperPrep ... Named to PrepStar's All-Southeast Region team.
One last thing: 43 receptions and two fumble returns for TDs his senior year, five picks his junior year? Sounds like we're talking about some pretty solid hands here, the kind of hands that might come in handy in pass coverage.
Recruitnik hoo-ha: A lot of Auburn's 2009 signees might have been labeled "3.5 stars" due to one of the two major services (though rarely both) offering a fourth star. So far, Auburn's 2010 commitments also might fairly get that "3.5 star" tag, but for a different reason--they may be 3-stars at both Rivals and Scout, but they still tend to hew pretty closely to the top-end of the wide, wide range of 3-stars at both. (For an example, see the difference in one-time 3-stars Neiko Thorpe and Drew Cole.)
Gaston is another 3.5-star, but despite signing last February, he's more of the 2010 variety--all three services land him squarely between No. 20 and No. 45 in their outside linebacker rankings, all three seeing him as a 3-star but much closer to four-stardom than not. Rivals is highest on Gaston, giving him a 5.7 grade and ranking him the No. 23 OLB; Scout's just behind at No. 31; and ESPN ranks him the No. 42 OLB, though with a "better-than-average" grade of 78 and this to say:
This kid really has some eye popping upside when he finally settles down at one position in college. Gaston is a highly productive and disruptive hybrid OLB/DE and MLB at the high school level but projects best as a strong side 'backer at the next level. He possesses a tall, well-built, rangy frame that is just going to explode with good bulk when he enters a fulltime college weight-training program. ... Plays fast, physical and with great energy. Chases backside with a relentless motor and flashes great sideline-to-sideline range ... Runs through ball carriers when he tackles and shows that rare explosiveness in space you can't coach. Good blitzer with his first step quickness and acceleration; can run through or by an RB on the pickup. Hips and quickness in coverage to pattern match and possesses good ball skills ... Plays high at the point-of-attack and tends to lose his ground; does not utilize any power from his hips or lower-body. Plays a bit high in space as well and could have trouble breaking down and mirroring quicker Division I skill players ... All the physical tools needed to mold into a good linebacker.One important caveat to the "3.5-star" idea: Gaston didn't have a top-end offer list, with both Scout and Rivals listing his only other offers coming from Kentucky and Mississippi St. (Gaston was one of Auburn's earliest commitments, so maaaaaaaybe this dissuaded other potential suitors? Probably wishful thinking.)
Links of potential interest: No free highlights out there, unfortunately, but you can see Gaston forego the hat dance in memorable fashion here:
Man, that tie-and-vest combo is downright dapper. Here's a kid who won't have any troubles with the dress code, huh?
Gaston was Auburn's fourth commitment in a class with a ton of early commitments. At that link he personally backs up the "I was committee to Auburn, so no one else offered me" hypothesis, although after Tubby left he was still open enough to take a trip to Miss. St. and kind of worry us all a bit headed up to Signing Day.
You may recall from the info sheet that Gaston was a member of the B'ham News Super Senior list; his No. 10 ranking there made him the highest-ranked Auburn commitment on that list. Yay. Unfortunately the T-Town News's Andrew Bone wasn't as impressed: Gaston ranked No. 20 to him, though with this blurb:
Gaston will probably need a year to get settle in at the next level, but he has tremendous upside.Also from the B'ham News: this awesome picture.
Mr. SEC says Gaston could be one of the league's Top 5 Impact Freshman Linebackers:
This pick could be a bit of a stretch, but Auburn has a few players to replace at linebacker. (My initial thought was to give this spot to Florida’s Jelani Jenkins. He’s a better player than Gaston, but I’m not sure where the early playing time is for him in Gainesville.) Auburn’s starting positions are taken by Craig Stevens, Josh Bynes and newcomer Eltoro Freeman, who arrives from junior college. After that, Gaston should have an opportunity help in a reserve role. Gaston (6-4, 225) appears to be in good shape to play as a freshman, and Gaston’s combination of speed and physical strength should help him adjust quickly to the college level. Some analysts have suggested Gaston, from Bessemer (Alabama) Academy, could play a hybrid role of an outside linebacker/pass rushing defensive end. New head coach Gene Chizik would love to see Gaston be a player who can get to the quarterback. He is one of only two freshman linebackers, joining Jonathan Evans from Mobile. Evans has good upside, but he might be too undersized (5-11, 202) to help right away. If Gaston doesn’t shy away from the physical SEC, which I don’t expect him to do, he’ll help Auburn this year.Given the depth chart, he almost has to.
What conclusions we can draw, if any: One big reason to think Gaston will be a capital-P Player: he was a Tubby commitment--and an early one, at that--at linebacker. If there as one position where Tubby (and
Add in the consistent scouting reports that say "upside, upside, upside," and it's not too tough to see Gaston as a fixture in the Auburn two-deep (if not starting lineup) possibly starting as soon as this season. While the lack of offers makes me think Gaston will be better off playing understudy to Craig Stevens this season, that little bit of polish on Gaston's frame should pay real dividends down the road--especially on a team as currently linebacker-starved as this one.