Auburn vs Mississippi State

Auburn Tigers quarterback Joey Gatewood (1) during the Auburn vs. Mississippi State game at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Sept. 28, 2019.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Joey Gatewood has left the Auburn football team, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn announced Wednesday.

Malzahn said Gatewood has entered the transfer portal, and left the team now to focus on his search to find a school where he could potentially play in a starting role.

Gatewood has served as backup this season behind freshman starter Bo Nix.

“He’s a fine young man,” Malzahn said of Gatewood after announcing his departure on the SEC’s weekly coaches’ teleconference. “I really appreciate everything Joey’s done for our program and everybody in our program will be rooting for him moving forward.”

Gatewood leaves the team days after a 23-20 loss for Auburn to now-No. 1 LSU last Saturday, which derailed Auburn’s championship aspirations for this season and saw Gatewood take one snap for a two-yard run in the third quarter.

Under NCAA transfer rules, Gatewood will have to sit out a season before becoming eligible again for another program with two years of playing eligibility remaining. He could play at a junior college next season in the NJCAA as he seeks his next home in the NCAA.

Gatewood entered spring practices this year going into an in-practice battle for the starting job opposite of Nix. Malzahn named Nix his starter just after fall camp.

After Saturday’s loss to LSU, Malzahn reaffirmed his belief in Nix as the team’s starting quarterback on Sunday — then just a few days later announced Wednesday that Gatewood had left the team.

“He’s just at point now, where he feels like — you know, he wants to be the starting quarterback — and he just feels like he needs to start looking for schools now so he can find the right spot, and I respect that,” Malzahn said.

With Nix at quarterback, Auburn fans have seen the second-generation signal-caller dazzle as a gunslinger in wins like the season-opening victory over Oregon, which saw Nix fire a game-winning touchdown pass to Seth Williams in the final moments, and also fall in two losses in some of the most daunting environments in college football at No. 6 Florida’s The Swamp and No. 1 LSU’s Death Valley.

Gatewood, now listed at 6-foot-5 and 233 pounds, arrived at Auburn as a highly touted quarterback prospect. He was universally rated as a four-star prospect by all three of Rivals, 247Sports and ESPN. He redshirted his first year on the Plains behind Jarrett Stidham. He split snaps at quarterback at Bartram Trail High School in Florida, but was praised by Auburn coaches and players alike for his size and athletic ability.

But Malzahn chose Nix, highly touted in his own right, as his starter after fall camp, and Gatewood never lived up to promise on the Plains.

He played sparingly this season, mostly in select Wildcat-like situations during meaningful minutes and in running a run-first offense for Auburn as it closed out blowout wins.

Auburn continues its season Saturday against Ole Miss in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.

“I really appreciate Joey,” Malzahn said. “The thing about it: When he didn’t win the job earlier, he chose to stick around. You know, most quarterbacks this day and time would’ve quit and he didn’t do that.”

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