Patrick Peterson can’t remember everything about LSU’s National Championship season, but he can recall - in vivid detail - the day that the Tigers topped Auburn 30-24 with a last-second touchdown pass from Matt Flynn to Demetrius Byrd.
A 17-year old Miami native tabbed as the top cornerback prospect in the country, Peterson was in the stands that night. At the time he was a soft-commitment to the Hurricanes, and he left Baton Rouge that Sunday still stuck between Miami, LSU, Florida and USC.
At least that’s what he told reporters.
Nothing had been made public and no pen had touched paper, but the deal was done.
92,000-plus had come together to create a spectacle that the Floridian had never witnessed, and the chance to be a part of the magic was too tough to pass up. Despite the fact that he was committed to a school in his own backyard, Peterson wanted what the Bayou State had to offer.
“That’s how they got me here,” Peterson recalled. “They came through in crunch time making huge plays and gutsy calls, going for it when they could have kicked a field goal. It was crazy.”
Running back Stevan Ridley had offers from Ole Miss and LSU but not Alabama, though the Tide had expressed some interest. When the LSU coaching staff invited him and his family to Baton Rouge for their 2006 game against the Tide, a 28-14 win sent Ridley back to Natchez, Miss. without worry of when Alabama would offer or if staying home in Oxford was the right thing to do.
Said Ridley: “That’s what sold it. I knew that if this stadium was going to be that wild in big games, that’s where I needed to be.”
Fast-forward to Saturday afternoon.
LSU, in the midst of a one-loss season that couldn’t please even the casual college football fan, had managed to reel in one of the most impressive visitor lists in recent memory.
More importantly, the staff was able to pull the top local targets that remained uncommitted into town all at the same time.
Most feel Evangel defensive end Jermauriah Rasco is set on three schools: LSU, Texas and Alabama. On the field after the dramatic win over the Tide, Rasco wore the smile of an impressed prospect.
Newman’s Odell Beckham spent the afternoon cheering in purple LSU warmups. St. Paul’s Mickey Johnson said of the crowd: “I don't think anything is like it.” Thibodaux offensive tackle Greg Robinson, torn between LSU and Auburn, decided to delay his return home and spend the evening out on the town with the team.
Before Saturday, the country might have been down on LSU.
Then Les Miles outcoached Nick Saban.
And he made it fun.
“What recruit wouldn’t love what they saw from this team against Alabama,” said Russell Shepard, a five-star prospect coming out of Houston who chose LSU over Texas. “It gave them an opportunity to see what LSU football is when we are at are best. They watch ESPN and know people counted us out, but all week we told all those recruits to come to the game and just be there to watch it happen. We knew we could beat that team, and for them to witness it does a lot for us.”
While the Who’s Who of Louisiana talent was in the house, the visitor list didn’t stop there.
Shepard hosted Brissett, who is considered the top high school passer left on LSU’s big board. With only one quarterback committed and two on scholarship, making a lasting impression on the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder was a must.
“Those guys came to me after the game and said that they couldn’t believe how crazy the game was and how loud the fans stayed, and I let them know that’s how it goes around here,” Shepard said. “I don’t think I ever saw anything like the environment we had going at that game. They had to be impressed.”
Said Peterson of the group of recruits in the locker room after the game: “Those guys had a big glow on their face saying, ‘I think I could see myself here.’”
Five-star defensive tackle Tim Jernigan and his father made the trip from Lake City, Fla., where they were treated to a taste of Drake Nevis at his best. Unstoppable throughout the night, the senior registered seven tackles with a critical forced fumble, a sack, a quarterback hurry and a broken up pass.
Had he been in the stands as a prospective defensive tackle and witnessed the performance, Nevis said he would have committed on the spot.
“That’s the kind of environment you want to be in,” said Nevis of the line’s aggressive afternoon in the trenches. “That has to give (Jernigan) something to think about.”
For Miles, it’s another successful weekend checked off the list.
Though the commitment total still sits at 17, the message has been sent.
“I think a win like that certainly makes the right statement of, ‘Come on. There are some special things happening here,’” Miles said. “I think we had a good start in recruiting as it is, and our football team and the success that they are having tells the recruiting class that you have an opportunity to win championships and play the biggest games.
“I can tell you that Tiger Stadium may have never been as exciting as it was Saturday afternoon. There were several times that the crowd was instrumental in cheering on its team. When that game ended and that stadium did not leave, I promise you it will be one of those memories I will have for some time.”
If the prospects on hand share the same sentiments as Miles, the future of LSU football is in safe hands.