Hugh Freeze looks like a pinball at times moving through Auburn football practices.
Sure, the quarterback guru spends a good bit of time with his passers, but he’ll bounce off throwing drills into work with other position groups, and when he’s not with players, he’s rolling off the practice fields to the sidelines, either on his phone or in conversation with a young face and his family.
It highlights a premium put on recruiting, which Freeze has emphasized since his introduction in November. He has taken himself off primary play-caller duties in part because of the “new world of rebuilding the Auburn football team,” he said, and his staff has seen that firsthand.
“He’s 100 miles per hour right now,” Auburn assistant Zac Etheridge said. “We recruit every day, all day. Throughout the day, if a kid is on the phone and he’s a top prospect, let’s take five or 10 minutes and get on with their family. It’s been good to see.
People are also reading…
“It’s been really impressive to see the work he’s put in recruiting. I think it’s going to pay off, for sure.”
The change from Bryan Harsin to Hugh Freeze has seen a reversal in recruiting efforts, as the former Auburn coach had back-to-back classes outside of the top 15 in 247Sports team rankings. The last time the program didn’t have a top-15 class prior to Harsin was more than a decade ago.
Freeze’s experience recruiting at the Power Five level spans a fraction of his career, but he has developed a reputation as an impressive recruiter. That was on display during his Ole Miss tenure.
While Freeze’s staff in Oxford was charged with multiple NCAA recruiting violations toward the end of his tenure, he had four top-20 classes in five seasons, including a top-10 group in 2013 and top-five bunch in 2016. The last time the Rebels had a top-20 class prior to his arrival was 2009.
“This is my third time working with him, and he’s one of the best I’ve been around in terms of recruiting,” Auburn assistant Wesley McGriff said. “It’s definitely 24 hours a day with him. The thing you really appreciate about him as an assistant coach, and having him as the head coach, is that you can get him on the phone with a recruit any time of day.”
McGriff and Freeze overlapped twice at Ole Miss, and McGriff is now witnessing another Freeze recruiting turnaround — which is bearing fruit early.
Freeze had less than a month to put his touch on Auburn’s 2023 class, and he and his staff flipped nine players from verbal commitments to other schools, including their highest-ranked signee, edge rusher Keldric Faulk. That’s not including a class of transfers that’s considered a consensus top-five class by major recruiting sites.
The next step is Auburn’s 2024 and 2025 classes. The importance of those groups is something Freeze hasn’t been shy about stressing.
“I think we’ll know when we have the ’24 and ’25 (recruiting) class,” Freeze told ESPN reporter Heather Dinich earlier this week. “If we’re not in that top-10 range, they’ll probably fire me in Year Four or Year Five.”
But Auburn is well on its way with both. Its four-man 2024 class only has four verbal pledges, but all four are blue-chip prospects, including quarterback Walker White, who has made a point to be an ambassador for recruiting the school. As of March 24, the Tigers also landed Andalusia product J’Marion Burnette, a four-star running back nicknamed “Phat” because he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds.
That ’24 group is ranked No. 22 nationally by 247Sports. Auburn’s 2025 class, which only has a verbal commitment from Opelika High product Malik Autry, a 6-foot-5 defensive lineman, is rated No. 13.
At this rate, Etheridge — who proved to be one of Auburn’s top recruiters on Harsin’s staff — said he’d be shocked if Freeze doesn’t complete a recruiting turnaround.
“With the response we’ve had from the families in the way we do things, and being on FaceTime with families and things like that, it’s just — recruiting just takes time,” Etheridge said. “It’s work and it’s effort. So we’re just who we are every day as a staff. There’s no egos. Everybody’s recruiting, everybody’s talking. We can pass the phone around and guys can get on with other recruits. It’s been good.
“But I feel like we’re going to have a lot of top guys on campus this spring and leading into the summer. And hopefully, obviously, we can continue to pick up steam as we start winning games. Guys want to be a part of something special and what we’re building here.”