With as much football talent as the state of Florida churns out every year, quite a few high-profile players are bound to escape the state’s borders and the several programs that have moved in and out of the national elite through the years.
LSU is one of the out-of-state programs that has benefited from the glut of talent by landing a handful of those Sunshine State players, especially since Billy Gonzales joined Les Miles’ coaching staff after the 2008 season and brought some deep-rooted Florida recruiting ties with him.
Two of the current Tigers from Florida landed at LSU because other expected opportunities fell through.
It also didn’t hurt LSU’s cause that Ryan Baker and Kadron Boone grew up rooting against the state’s flagship school from the SEC.
The Tigers starting weakside linebacker and No. 3 receiver were both Florida State fans growing up and both wanted to play for the Seminoles.
That was true despite a weird dynamic at home for both players.
Baker’s mom, Lynn Baker, is a Florida graduate. Boone’s father, Herman Boone, is an avowed Gator fan.
“I was a really big Florida State fan growing up, and my house was half-and-half,” said Kadron Boone, who grew up in the shadow of Gainesville in Ocala, Fla.
“My dad was a Gator fan, so any time Florida and Florida State were playing, he’d be back in bedroom cheering them and the rest of us were out in the living room pulling for the Seminoles,” Boone said.
Baker grew up in a similar situation, but in different stomping grounds 60 miles northwest of Tallahassee where the Seminoles have a tight stranglehold.
His dad, Terry Baker, is a Florida State graduate, so just like the Boones’ household, there was a lot of back-and-forth good-natured trash talk when Florida and FSU played.
“She’s a Florida graduate and she’s a big fan,” Ryan Baker said about his mom with a smile. “We don’t really talk about it.”
Ideally for both Baker and Boone, the chance to play at Florida State would’ve been a dream come true.
Strangely enough, though, the Seminoles staff was cool on both players during the recruiting process.
As is always the case there were likely some politics involved, some miscommunication and an unexpected disconnect that created fractures in the potential relationship between the two in-state players and FSU.
For Boone, he was pigeon-holed as a Florida lean because he played at Trinity Catholic High in Ocala, a program under the direction of former Gators’ quarterback John Brantley – the father of Florida’s senior QB with the same name.
“My whole coaching staff in high school was Gator alumni, so Florida State didn’t offer because they thought I was going to Florida,” Boone said. “It was weird because they were the only team that didn’t offer me from Florida.”
Boone was set to sign with Texas Tech and its prolific passing offense, but when Red Raiders’ coach Mike Leach was ousted two months before National Signing Day in 2010, things changed drastically. Boone looked around and included two SEC programs in his final group.
Florida was not one of them.
“They recruited me, but I felt like I’d fit better somewhere else,” Boone said.
After visits to West Virginia, Louisville, Georgia and LSU, Boone found a home with the Tigers. Although he hasn’t delivered a huge impact yet – four catches for 39 yards and a touchdown this season – Boone is content that he made the right choice.
“At the end of the day if, you’re doing your job and helping the team win, you’re going be happy,” Boone said. “We’ve got a lot of weapons who want to help out any way they can. If that means I need to block to help us win, that’s fine with me.”
As a sophomore Boone figures to play a bigger role against his home-state Gators than last season when he played but didn’t catch a pass. Last season was the emotional hurdle, especially since it was in Gainesville.
“Last year play in front of lot of folks from my hometown, that was a very special moment for me,” Boone said. “Now it’s just another game and I know I have to go out and handle business.”
Baker has run the gamut of emotions in his three seasons playing the Gators. The Tigers lost to Florida in his first two seasons – each time LSU’s first loss of the season.
That gave Lynn Baker plenty of ammunition for ribbing whenever her son was at home.
So there was definitely some satisfaction last October when LSU rolled into Gainesville and prevailed 33-29, the middle loss of a three-game swoon.
But as an older and wiser player now, Baker knows beating Florida is just another step in a long, grinding season.
“Beating (Florida) isn’t as big a deal as it used to be,” Baker said somewhat convincingly. “As you get older, you learn that every game against every team in the SEC is big.”
But to the Baker and Boone families, games don’t get much bigger than this weekend.