Auburn commit McPherson makes official signing

Fort Payne senior Alex McPherson signed with Auburn University this week. He’s pictured with mom Amber and dad LaDon.

With his dad sitting to his left, his mom sitting to his right and a contingent of friends, coaches and TV cameras all around, Alex McPherson flipped through his Auburn University-spangled folder and signed his national letter of intent with a smile.

After verbally pledging his commitment to the Tigers in July, Fort Payne’s star kicker made things official during a signing ceremony at the Fort Payne High School field house Wednesday afternoon, the first day of college football’s early signing period for the 2022 recruiting cycle.

Like his older brother Evan, who also played for Fort Payne and now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL, McPherson said reaching the NFL is also a goal of his. 

But first, he’s focusing on the opportunities that await him as a freshman kicker vying for the starting role at Auburn.

“I’m obviously going to have to compete. They’re not just going to give it to me,” McPherson said. “I wouldn’t expect that. I want to go there and compete and hopefully win the job freshman year — it’s possible.”

The Fort Payne senior made his commitment to the Tigers in July, as Bryan Harsin rounded up his first recruiting class as Auburn’s first-year head coach.

McPherson said making his commitment prior to his final high school football season alleviated some stress and allowed him to squeeze more fun out of his final season in the Black and Gold.

“This summer was a big recruiting time for me and being able to commit at the end of the summer and being able to just focus on the season – my last season with my best friends — it was fun to focus on that and not just the recruiting aspect,” he said.

It was Auburn’s rich tradition, fanbase and family-oriented atmosphere that ultimately separated the school on plains from McPherson’s other top offers, which included fellow Southeastern Conference programs Georgia, Florida, LSU, Tennessee and Texas A&M.

“There’s a major support system just like we have in Fort Payne,” McPherson said of Auburn. “They’re going to stand up for their players. It’s good knowing they have my back no matter what. It’s such a good fan base. I’m sure there will come a time when I mess up, but I know if I do they’ll have my back. Coach Harsin is a big special teams guy too and that’s comforting knowing your head coach has your back at all times.”

In his talks with Harsin, McPherson said he was impressed with the coach’s ambition to chase championships, willing to do what it takes to accomplish those lofty goals.

In Harsin’s first regular season leading Auburn, the Tigers finished 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the SEC, beating conference foes LSU, Arkansas and Ole Miss and pushing in-state rival Alabama to the brink in a 24-22 quadruple-overtime loss in the Iron Bowl. Auburn plays Houston in the Birmingham Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 28 in Birmingham.

In McPherson’s senior season, he made all 27 extra-point kick attempts and 13 of 24 field goals, while punting 24 times for 1,083 yards (45-yard average).

Fort Payne head coach Chris Elmore knows talent will only take an athlete so far, and at some point worth ethic has to set in. He saw McPherson work tirelessly to reach his level of excellence.

“I don’t believe people understand how much time and effort he’s put into his work,” Elmore said. “He never takes time off. If we finish playing a season, he’s out there kicking again the next week. There’s never a time where he’s ‘in an offseason.’ It doesn’t matter if it’s 20 degrees or 100 degrees, he’s out there. He’ll kick 10 balls and track them down then go kick 10 again. To often do that by yourself and have that kind of dedication is rare these days.”  

This season, Elmore wasn’t shy about sending out McPherson to attempt a field goal, even when the Wildcats’ offense stalled around midfield.

He knew the kind of game-changing weapon McPherson was, one that had a green light when the ball crossed midfield. The coach activated him to break the state record for longest field goal, a record his brother Evan set in 2017. 

On Oct. 29, after a false start penalty negated what would’ve been a record-breaking kick earlier in the game, Elmore sent out McPherson again in the fourth quarter and the highly-touted kicker delivered a 61-yard field goal to eclipse his brother’s record 60-yarder.

“It was a point in the game where you probably shouldn’t really be kicking field goals, because we could almost run out the clock,” Elmore said, “but I just felt like there was one more opportunity for him to do it when I realized the ball was on the 44. We went ahead and did it and I’m very glad we did. When you have a chance for your kid to break a state record, you’re going to take that chance. 

“He came through and it was exciting for him and his family. He wasn’t vocal about it, but I knew he wanted that record, and for him to get that in his last home game was a big deal.” 

In addition to setting a new state field goal record, McPherson closed his high school playing career with an Alabama-Mississippi Classic record 58-yard field goal, helping the Alabama All-Stars blank Mississippi 20-0 in the annual game last weekend.

From wading through the recruiting waters to navigating his final football season at Fort Payne, McPherson’s leaned on the guidance of his older brother all along the way. 

“There’s a lot of pressure following Evan McPherson, but he’s helped me through a lot of it, saying, ‘Don’t focus on me, do your own thing.’”

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