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February 10, 2014

Tigers' signees ignore criticism

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AUBURN | Fans are, well, fanatical.

They love their programs and they hate their rivals. That's college football, that's life.

Being a high school football prospect isn't easy these days. Unprecedented exposure means unprecedented criticism, most coming from social media.

The maturity level of a high school senior is tested when they make the decision to commit and sign with one university over another. How they handle the criticism tells a more important story.

Tre Williams is a five-star recruit from Mobile, Ala., and could have signed with any program in the nation. Auburn and Alabama were caught in a heated battle for Williams, who chose to commit and sign with the SEC champion Tigers.

Being an in-state recruit with offers from both Auburn and Alabama is pressure enough. Throw in that Williams is from the battleground city of Mobile and that pressure is ratcheted up even more.

"That should be one thing you're looking ahead to. You have to expect that from rival fans," Williams told AuburnSports.com. "I had to go through that, Deshaun (Davis), Stephen (Roberts) when he flipped from Alabama, we all got the negativity. My response? Who cares.

"I heard people saying I would never get a ring, I made a horrible decision, I'm overrated, I'm going to transfer in two years from Auburn. I heard all of it. My reaction is my grind everyday. Every day when they see my name in the newspaper, when my name pops up for being successful, that's my response instead of responding the wrong way."

Deshaun Davis, like Williams, signed with Auburn and was raised in Mobile. He's dealt with his fair share of fan criticisms after committing to Auburn and even following his ACL injury. Davis handled it with maturity of that of someone older than a 17-year old.

"Right after I committed, I injured my ACL and I'm having Alabama fans taunting me about my injury," Davis said. "But I don't respond. People are going to talk regardless, I don't really care. I save the comments and use them as motivation, that's it.

"Tre got the same thing. Stephen got it worse because he flipped, Kalvaraz (Bessent), too. It's just another day in the recruiting game. Move on."

Dontavius Russell grew up in Georgia and flipped from the home state school to arch-rival Auburn. Russell has endured the harsh words of a fan base scorned.

"When I said I was going to Georgia, all their fans were happy," Russell said. "As soon as I flipped, I was the worst player ever and I wasn't good enough for Georgia. My friends and I laughed about it, I never took it seriously. How can you take that seriously? I sure wasn't going to complain about it on Twitter. It just didn't matter to me.

"People cussed me out on Twitter, people called me an idiot, dumb, stuff like that. When I was younger, I was taught not to let others' actions impact my actions. They didn't get a reaction from me."

Nicholas Ruffin had big-time offers when he pledged to Auburn - he never looked back. Georgia came on strong, pushing for an official visit, but Ruffin declined the offer.

"It's inevitable, there's fans that feel they should criticize a child. Don't take it to heart; use it as fuel to add to my work ethic," Ruffin said. "If you tell me I'm not good enough, it doesn't bother me, but the fact that you think I'm not good enough will make me work harder.

"I never felt the need to react to fans. My brother went through the process and I learned there's no need to add fuel to the fire. When you react, it only makes things worse. It's better to prove people wrong. Words are meaningless, actions mean everything."

The recent scuffle between Oklahoma State basketball player Marcus Smart and a Texas Tech fan sheds light onto the current state of affairs between fans and recruits or student-athletes. To some degree, however, it's to be expected.

The decision to sign with one program immediately makes you an enemy of another - that's sports. That's a hard, but valuable lesson for a high school senior to learn.

"That's sports, that's fans," Williams said. "Before I even picked a school they were starting in on me about choosing Auburn. Since then, I knew it would be bad when I picked a school and it got worse, but who cares? You won't see me complaining about it. I knew it was coming and it doesn't faze me."

Twitter: @JHokanson



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