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May 28, 2013

Parents rave about 'Big Cat Weekend'

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Opelika (Ala.) tight end Jakell Mitchell and St. Pius X School (Ga.) corner Nicholas Ruffin were obviously very impressed with their Big Cat Weekend experience in Auburn last Saturday.

So much so, they both committed to join the Tigers' 2014 recruiting class during their visit.

But as much as Mitchell and Ruffin were impressed, their parents may have enjoyed it even more.

Mario Mitchell played football at Troy from 1992-96. Events like BCW weren't in existence when he was being recruited, but that doesn't mean he can't enjoy things vicariously these days.

"I had so much fun with it," Mario Mitchell said. "There won't be a parent that will tell you they didn't have a great time. You almost forgot why you were there, all we needed was go-carts or bumper cars. They weren't talking about football -- it was a time to relax and see the coaches for who they are."

Mitchell and his son visited LSU, Florida, Florida State and Vanderbilt this spring. They have seen the visits and the presentations, but BCW, he said, was on another level.

"There's nothing like Big Cat," Mario Mitchell said. "It made me more comfortable than I already was with Auburn. Coach (Gus) Malzahn had already won Jakell's mom over since their first visit -- she was a Tiger a long time ago. It took me a little longer, but I'm on board."

For Ruffin's mother, Renee, visiting for BCW centered around gaining an understanding of the atmosphere and environment her son may enjoy throughout the next four years.

"I thought it was a great opportunity to get a good picture of Auburn, outside of football," Renee Ruffin said. "An intricate part of his decision was seeing himself being a part of the community apart from football. We were able to get a good feel for that.

"The coaches' character as men and as people, you want to be comfortable that when you leave your kid, you leave them with an extension of what you started for the first 18 years. I think we collectively feel like there's a great representation of what we taught him to this point. This is a productive environment."

Auburn's BCW resulted in more than 20 of the Tigers' top targets, both committed and uncommitted, spending the day playing games, participating in contests and bonding with fellow recruits, the Auburn coaches and even some of the players.

Auburn (Ala.) Rivals250 linebacker Rashaan Evans attended with his father, Alan. The elder Evans left with a feeling of awe that an elite group of prospects and their families could be gathered in one place.

"I think it was all the recruits in the same room, getting to know them and being introduced to them and their families. Gus Malzahn getting up and talking to us, that stood out to me as far as the most defining moment while we were there," Alan Evans said.

"It was very laid-back and we had the opportunity to spend time with the coaches and their wives. It was more or less, us spending time and playing games in a relaxed atmosphere. We spent time meeting other recruits and their parents. We weren't talking about recruiting, it was just one-on-one basis. Colleges that we've been through, they haven't really had a Big Cat-type weekend. It was a good thing Auburn did."

Vigor (Ala.) linebacker Deshaun Davis was accompanied by his mother, Constance, and Davis' older brother. They are unique in that Deshaun grew up an LSU fan, his older brother grew up an Auburn fan and Constance favored the Crimson Tide.

How's that for a difference of opinion?

She has visited both Alabama and Auburn, but after experiencing BCW, her opinions of the Tide and the Tigers' programs have changed dramatically.

"Since Deshaun committed and I've been going, I love Auburn more than Alabama now," Constance Davis said. "I've been to Alabama and the visit was nice, but to me, Auburn is better. The times I've been to Alabama everything was nice, but I feel like Auburn is going to look out for my child's best interests. I felt like Auburn was better than Alabama.

"I love the fact that the coaches showed the players they really love being there and they appreciate them. I love the atmosphere of family, once you come up there they make you feel welcome. I was an Alabama fan, but the more I go to Auburn, the more I'm interested in being an Auburn fan now."

Like Renee Ruffin, seeing the way the Auburn coaches interacted with the young men visiting in a non-football atmosphere gave Constance Davis great relief about sending her son to the Plains.

"It gave me a sense that they would take care of him and they would be his parents away from home," Constance Davis said. "I don't have to worry about him when he's there. I feel like they would take care of him like he's their own child. They showed they will be there for him."

Tammie Casher, mother of St. Paul's (Ala.) Rivals250 center Joshua Casher and his younger brother Darius Whitfield, was thrilled to see a side of college football coaches that you often don't see: When football isn't the priority and simply having fun takes precedent.

"We got to know the coaches, not as coaches, but as how they are on their down time," Tammie Casher said. "I enjoyed talking to the head coach Mr. Gus, Mr. (J.B.) Grimes, Coach (Dameyune) Craig, it just showed that other than coaches, they are really friendly people.

"The whole event was like something you would have at home in your backyard."

All the parents echoed the same sentiment -- that a return visit is already in the works.

"It was such a different visit than anything we've ever been a part of. That's what I thought was the great thing," Mario Mitchell said. "I took my family and they want another Big Cat right now."

Twitter: @JHokanson



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