AUBURN – Carnell Williams remembers those striking figures squeezing through the front door of his childhood home – Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Phillip Fulmer and more – all vying for the signature of a wide-eyed kid named Cadillac back in Attalla.
Now, a lifetime later and in a new world of college football, Cadillac is on the other side of those recruiting visits. He smiles now, wisdom behind his eyes and a surgery scar on his knee after heroic 40-carry performances in college and a warrior’s career in the NFL.
He has already shown success in guiding the next generation of Tigers to the Plains, in his first year back after completing his career’s full circle, and his first year ever coaching at this level.
The former Auburn running back great who helped lead the team to a legendary undefeated season in 2004 pulled in a key recruiting commitment for 2020 last week, just before he opens his first season on Auburn’s coaching staff after being hired in January.
“Some people have just got ‘it,’” Auburn linebackers coach Travis Williams said, looking over to his old teammate. “Some people are gifted at recruiting. Some people have to work at it. He has a natural gift.
“And he’s Cadillac. How many kids don’t want to play for Cadillac?”
Earlier this month, Cadillac and Auburn picked up a commitment from four-star Georgia prospect Cartavious ‘Tank’ Bigsby from Callaway High School in Hogansville, Ga. Bigsby plans to sign with Auburn as part of the 2020 class, after four-star running back Mark Antony-Richards picked Auburn on signing day in February less than a month after Cadillac joined Auburn’s staff.
It’s been a fast rise. Cadillac started his coaching career in 2016 as a graduate assistant at West Georgia, and spent the last two seasons coaching high schoolers at football factory IMG Academy in Florida before his jump into SEC coaching.
But he has past experiences on which to lean – going all the way back to when he was running under Friday night lights, when he was given his nickname by a Birmingham broadcaster and college coaches from across the South were showing up at his house trying to win his signature.
“I have been very blessed and fortunate to be a really highly, highly rated recruit coming out of high school,” Cadillac said last week, visiting with the media on the team’s picture day near the end of preseason camp.
He called back to when Saban and Fisher came to his home, surely clad in LSU purple and gold. Fulmer was in Tennessee orange. He ultimately signed with Tommy Tuberville and Auburn.
“Honestly, I have taken a lot of things that were appealing to me, that people did well, and kind of geared that to my strength,” he said.
There’s two other factors to his success that he points to, one being his experience at IMG Academy, where he watched over touted prospects Trey Sanders, now at Alabama, and Noah Cain, now at Penn State, going through their modern recruiting processes.
The other is the fact that he says selling Auburn just comes easy as an Auburn man.
“He’s a natural,” Travis Williams repeated. He was Cadillac’s teammate back in the early 2000s. With a few more years of collegiate coaching under his belt, T-Will can say with authority that Cadillac’s been impressive in his jump onto the staff.
“Cadillac and I, we’ll battle at practice like we used to battle as players,” he said. “Now we’re battling as coaches, so it’s a fun deal.”
They were jogging together with defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson when Bigsby announced his commitment earlier this month.
“Go crazy Cadillac!” T-Will shouted in the afternoon air then, in a selfie video he posted of the three celebrating together. He quoted the famous call from late Auburn broadcaster Rod Bramblett after Cadillac’s 80-yard touchdown on the first play of the 2003 Iron Bowl.
NCAA rules prohibited them from mentioning Bigsby by name or revealing specifically why they were celebrating, and they didn’t, but once again — like Cadillac’s days in the Auburn backfield — Auburn fans had reason to celebrate his success yet again.
“I actually get to talk about Auburn, a place that means so much to me, and had such an impact on my life,” Cadillac said. “So recruiting to me, whenever I’m recruiting, is me selling Auburn.
“This place is incredible. It don’t feel like recruiting to me. I can be myself, I can share my stories, my success, my failures.”
Now there’s a new generation of Tigers following in those footsteps.