Mark-Antony Richards turned around from the table, looking for a little help.
He put down the microphone and opened his arms, to pick up his younger sister.
He smiled as he looked up again to face the rolling cameras in front of him. She sat in his lap — dressed as an Auburn cheerleader.
That’s how Richards announced he’d be signing with Auburn on Wednesday afternoon, in front of supporters and local media, playing out his own version of the National Signing Day hat dance at an assembly at Wellington High School near West Palm Beach, Fla.
They were all smiles. About 500 miles north, up on the Plains in Auburn, there were even more smiles cracked at about the same time, as the four-star running back picked the Tigers.
That was a highlight on Auburn’s up-and-down National Signing Day which saw, as the dust settled, the Tigers add five new signees to the 16 that the program picked up back during the early signing period in December, to help fill out its 2019 signing class.
Longtime Auburn commit and Hoover wide receiver George Pickens flipped from Auburn and instead elected to sign with Tigers rival Georgia earlier on Wednesday morning.
Pickens is touted to be a five-star player by Rivals.com. He was committed to sign with Auburn for nearly two years. At the eleventh hour, he backed out.
His switch put a damper on National Signing Day for Auburn supporters following along across the state, as did the few misses that came with the hits Auburn landed as different prospects across the southeast signing-day announcements.
Through the chaos, Auburn signed five new players: linebacker Kameron Brown, of Lanier High School (Ga.); offensive lineman Kamaar Bell, of Colquitt County High School (Ga.); defensive lineman Charles Moore, of Louisville High School (Miss.); linebacker Octavius Brothers of Rockledge High School (Fla.); and the jewel, perhaps, in Richards.
Video of Richards’ signing and celebration with his little sister was shared on his high school’s Twitter page. Auburn shared its own video of the same moment from the program’s perspective on the Plains — depicting coaches in the war room in the athletics complex cheering and applauding, with new running backs coach Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams hugging his fellow coaches just after the team added its first new recruit to his backfield since his recent hiring.
Brown is the only player Auburn fans could bank on watching sign Wednesday going into the day. He and Pickens were Auburn’s only two targeted recruits who had publicly committed to inking with Auburn ahead of the opening of the signing period.
The rest were all signing-day scores, highlighted for many by the pickup of Richards and Moore. Both of those players are universally touted as four-star players by all three of Rivals, 247Sports and ESPN.
In the unanimous three-star Bell, the Tigers filled a need along the offensive line. Brothers, another universal three-star, capped Auburn’s day on a hit for the Tigers, as he announced his signing in the later stages of the afternoon.
Richards chose Auburn over Georgia and Miami. Moore picked the Tigers over Mississippi State and others. Brothers chose Auburn against Miami and North Carolina. Bell went with Auburn over Florida and Florida State.
Meanwhile, Auburn sat through its share of misses. Pickens sent his letter of intent to Georgia, McGill-Toolen defensive lineman LeDarrius Cox picked Ole Miss over Auburn, and St. Louis offensive lineman Ira Henry picked Florida State over Auburn, with those being among other players who Auburn targeted this recruiting cycle but who ultimately chose to play elsewhere.
Of course, once he had added his new names to the team’s big board, and he stepped outside of that war room with a clearer picture of Auburn’s football future in mind, Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn kept his focused trained on the players he has coming in as opposed to the players the program missed out on.
“There’s some great players in this group,” Malzahn said of the team’s five new signees. “They’ll be great players here at Auburn.”
He reviewed each one in a press conference Wednesday afternoon, listing the reasons he’s excited to bring each one on board. Brown is the younger brother of defensive lineman Derrick Brown, who’s returning for his senior season after considering the NFL. Malzahn said the younger Brown reminded him of departing star linebacker Deshaun Davis, who was called undersized but succeeded at college football’s highest level.
Moore was highly coveted, he said. Richards can be a ‘special player.’ Bell was a ‘priority.’ Brothers has versatility.
“You combine that with the eight players, the juniors that thought about going out early that chose to come back — I think there’s a lot of excitement and a lot of reason to be excited,” Malzahn said.