It was arguably the greatest play in college football history.
Auburn’s Chris Davis returned a missed field goal attempt 109 yards to beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl, leading many of the 87,451 in attendance to storm the field at Jordan-Hare stadium, filling it to the brim. Fans were waving pom-poms, screaming, dancing wildly. Some were in tears.
Amongst the mayhem was Chris Laye, who jumped from his first row seat to join the celebration.
Now a senior at Lambert High School, Laye will go on to study at Auburn next year. When that time comes, however, he’ll no longer be watching the football team from the stands—he’ll be on the sidelines, perhaps on the field.
A bruising yet agile tight end, Laye signed a letter of intent with the Tigers this past fall and will enroll early in January. While most recruits spend lots of time deliberating what college to attend—usually waiting until their high school career has concluded—the Suwanee native knew early on where he wanted to end up.
"As soon as I got to [Auburn’s] campus and started talking to players and coaches, I knew ‘this is my home. This is where I want to be,’" Laye said, who also received offers from Boston College, Vanderbilt, Virginia and South Florida. "Also the academics; the academics are the most important part.
"In the end, Auburn was clearly the right place for me."
Laye, considered a three-star recruit by Rivals.com, is known primarily for his blocking ability, but is capable of making big catches, as well. This versatility should mesh well with Auburn’s system, which likes to maximize its players’ value by giving them chances to serve in multiple roles.
After defeating Missouri in the SEC Championship game, doing so with a whopping 545 rushing yards, head coach Gus Malzahn stated "we can run the football on anybody." With the addition of Laye, who figures to provide strong run protection on the outside, the hope is that his presence will help continue that level of success for the next four to five years.
"Chris knows his part and has never been one that you had to motivate to play," said Lambert head coach Sid Maxwell. "I think with [Auburn’s] structure, their schedule and the foundation they set, Chris is going to do great there."
One of the biggest factors in Laye’s decision to commit to the Tigers was the team’s coaching staff. Head coach Gus Malzahn made a strong impression on the 18-year-old, as did tight ends coach Scott Fountain, who approached Laye and convinced him to visit Auburn.
Having a staff that is both strong and committed to its program for the long haul was important to Laye, and he believes Auburn’s crew possesses that combination.
Additionally, Laye has become friends with junior tight end C.J. Uzomah, who helped convince him that Auburn was the right place for him. Uzomah, also a Suwanee product who went to North Gwinnett, has three touchdowns on the season and figures to be one of Laye’s mentors in his freshman year.
"C.J. and I are good friends," said Laye. "There’s a lot I can learn from him. He’s a bright kid, very down to earth. He’s a guy who’s been there for a while, who’s been through the ups and downs."
Laye will graduate from Lambert at the end of this semester, giving him the rest of winter, spring and summer to get prepared for the Tigers. In that time he plans on bulking up, learning the Auburn playbook and mentally preparing himself for the next step.
With Uzomah and several other formidable tight ends ahead of him on the depth chart, the Auburn coaches have simple expectations for Laye this season: familiarize himself with the offense and give a strong effort day in and day out.
As he puts on weight, gains experience at the college level and eventually takes over for his older teammates, there’s good reason to believe Laye can be an impact player for Malzahn and the Tigers.
"Auburn looks like a great, great choice right now, and he should get some good opportunities there," said Maxwell. "The only limits he’ll have are the ones he’ll put on himself. I think their coaching staff will find the best fit for him, and knowing Chris, his mental make-up will be to work every day and contribute in any way he can."
For now, Laye has his attention set on the national championship game, as Auburn will take on Florida State with the chance to earn its second title in four years.
"We will definitely be more prepared than FSU will be," he predicted. "There are lots of things we have to do right but I have 100 percent confidence in Auburn.
"I think we will come away with the game at the end and be National Champions."