Dressed in street clothes, La’el Collins roamed the sidelines of LSU’s first Les Miles Football Camp in June. As he passed a group of high school offensive linemen working on drills, LSU coach Greg Studrawa, who was influential in landing Collins, stepped out for a handshake and hug.
At 6-foot-5, 285-pounds, Collins, Studrawa’s prized recruit, towered over the LSU offensive line coach. If there were ever a mold for what a five-star lineman looked like, Collins was it.
Ranked as the No. 3 offensive tackle in the nation, Collins isn’t the type of prospect that needs to work out for coaches during the summer – at least not in Baton Rouge.
On the first day of last September, during the first month that coaches are allowed to extend scholarships to junior prospects, Collins pulled in a written offer from LSU. To match the move, coaches from the likes of Florida State and Tennessee also sent faxes to the Redemptorist High office by day’s end.
Collins said that he would wait his decision out until the following February, still an early decision date given that recruits from the 2011 class wouldn’t have to sign on the dotted line for another year. Yet by month’s end, Collins and teammate Jeremy Hill were ready to make the call.
“I guess we thought we could last longer than we did,” laughed Collins. “For me, it was always going to be LSU. It will still always be LSU. It’s a decision I get more excited about every day.”
To understand the strength of the Baton Rouge native’s pledge, Collins points to the relationships he began forming with the assistants on the Tiger staff during his first years of high school football.
“We went over to LSU for a camp, and it was one of the first ones I had ever been to,” Collins said. “I wasn’t really knowing what to expect. I just got out there and started working, and an assistant coach came up to me and said that I was going to be able to play college ball. He helped me right away on my technique, and he got pretty detailed with his instruction and stuff. It meant a lot to me, and he kept in touch.
“I’ve got tons of stories like that, where the LSU coaches made a point over the past couple of years to always be there for me with stuff on or off the field. I feel like I’ve been a part of the team and family for a while, and I’m still being recruited. That should let you know it all.”
Since Frank Wilson took over six months ago as the team’s recruiting coordinator, Collins has moved under the new assistant’s wing as one of the team’s chief recruiters in a class that already holds double-digit Louisiana commitments.
“Coach Frank actually offered me my first verbal scholarship,” Collins said. “He was at Tennessee and I went for a spring camp. That was when we started to get to know one another. Since then we’ve built that great relationship. We both have one big thing in common, and that’s doing everything we can to make our team the best. Right now we’re both focused on getting LSU to the top.”
That means recruiting, and doing it often.
Collins, a renaissance man of the recruiting world, does a little bit of it all, from calling the uncommitted targets to making an appearance at every event the Tigers put on for their prospects.
“It’s just about bringing in the best guys we can,” Collins said. “Me, Anthony Johnson and Jarvis Landry are kind of leading the charge. We are working together to stay on everyone. If you ask me, people should be excited about the chance to play with a class like this. I’m pumped about all the players that are coming to LSU, even the ones not coming from Louisiana.”
One of the biggest targets left on the board, Thibodaux offensive tackle Greg Robinson, has become one of Collins’ top targets.
“I just tell Greg, all we need is another ball player like you and we could do some special things,” Collins said. “Greg wants to play right tackle, and I could hold down the other side. I know with us on the ends of the line, we’d get the job done.
“Right now Greg just wants to have fun with the recruiting process. And who can blame him? Everyone does it his own way. I’m having fun, but I don’t need to look around because I know LSU’s the spot. When he makes his decision, it’s going to be something he wants based on his own life. LSU is a good place for him. I think, personally, he will come to LSU. I think he just wants to make sure.”
The message from the committed prospects, who nicknamed the group “The Fam,” remains the same no matter if the target is Robinson or an out-of-state talent.
“It’s about chemistry,” Collins said. “We are close already. Other colleges will have guys that all get to campus in the summer, and from there they will feel each other out and start building chemistry. We’ve known each other for a while now, and we get to be better friends with all these hangouts with the coaches.
“When you are a freshman or sophomore, you go to camps and compete against guys who are total strangers,” he added. “It turns out most of those guys are now in this recruiting class and will be at LSU. Now we compete and know each other, so it’s just a big plus.”
His most memorable run-in with a fellow pledge came in April 2009. At a talent-heavy Scout Combine in New Orleans, coaches asked Collins to match up with the camp’s top defensive lineman: a 6-foot-2 tackle named Anthony Johnson, who at 16 was sporting a full beard and nearly 300 pounds of weight.
“That was the first time I had ever seen him in person, and I was like, ‘this guy looks pretty old,” Collins laughed. “He could move, though. After I matched up with him I told myself I might as well get to know the cat, because I was going to be seeing a lot of him. Sure enough, he ends up at LSU.”
Both five-star prospects are hoping that their arrival in the summer of 2011 will bring the chance to make their opening run for a starting spot on the line. For Collins, who said that he takes in as many Tiger practices and games as he can manage, the opportunity won’t pass him by without a fight.
“I have my mind set, I’m going to be starting,” said Collins, who switched to a more serious tone when the conversation turned to his thoughts on college. “Every day I’m trying to get better than the next guy. At LSU, there will be other people wanting to start. I have to want it more, and I do. I don’t want to sit on the sideline on Saturday.
“If I go and work hard and stay committed, then I think I can get it done. I’m not going to let anyone outwork me, though.”