Head coach Nick Saban was quick to place a priority upon securing Louisiana-based high school talent when it came to assembling his first recruiting class at LSU in 2000. The Tigers have attracted some of the nation's top classes over the last four years, based largely on homegrown prospects from within the borders of the Bayou State.
It is no secret that Louisiana produces an inordinate amount of talent when compared to its overall population. While California, Florida and Texas each send a wealth of players to the college ranks every year, Louisiana's per-capita blue chip production far exceeds more populated states.
Almost like migrating wildlife, flocks of college coaches descend upon Sportsman's Paradise each year to bag their limit of recruits. But if Saban has anything to say about, the take of these outsiders will grow smaller in the future.
MIAMI VICE GRIP: Top prospects around the country mention the Hurricanes among their favorite teams with the program being in the national title picture on a regular basis. But the man responsible for putting Miami on the lips of Louisiana recruits in recent years is wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson.
Johnson, a New Orleans native, relies on his track record of finding and producing NFL-caliber talent to lure blue-chippers to Miami.
It was Johnson who found an overlooked Marshall Faulk at New Orleans-Carver and brought him out to San Diego State. Miami standouts now in the NFL recruited out of Louisiana by Reed include safety Ed Reed (Destrehan) and wide receiver Reggie Wayne (John Ehret).
Johnson thought he had firm verbal commitments for 2003 from O.P. Walker receiver Craig Davis and defensive back Daryl Johnson, but they eventually switched their pledges to LSU. East St. John athlete Vegas Franklin was thought to be wavering between the Hurricanes and Tigers, but he stuck with his original pledge to head coach Larry Coker.
Expect more head-to-head showdowns between Miami and LSU as long as Johnson is part of the UM staff.
BIG HOUSE PARTY: Michigan assistant head coach/running backs coach Fred Jackson is a Baton Rouge native who has grabbed some solid contributors out of Louisiana for the Wolverines. While he makes it a point to get back home and survey the Capital City area, Jackson has successfully recruited Louisiana from the northern parishes to the New Orleans area.
Some feel Jackson is destined for a head coaching job, but he is currently entrenched in Ann Arbor and heads into his 12th year with the Wolverines. That type of stability, along with the Michigan mystique, definitely appeals to recruits.
Jackson's recent haul from Louisiana has included tight end Adam Kraus (Brother Martin), running back Anthony Thomas (Winnfield), wide receiver Ronald Bellamy (Archbishop Shaw), running back Tim Brackens (St. John), defensive back Greg Brooks (Shaw; transferred to Southern Miss), linebacker James Hall (St. Augustine), running back Chris Howard (John Curtis) and wide receiver Jerry Johnson (Crowley).
Look for Jackson to have Michigan in the hunt for running backs Jay Lucas (Redemptorist) and JaKouri Williams (Plaquemine) in 2004.
THE OTHER DEATH VALLEY: Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden continues to maintain the Louisiana ties he established as head coach at Tulane. Helping him are two assistants he brought with him from the Green Wave, running backs coach Burton Burns and defensive line coach Theilen Smith.
Burns, also a former Southern University staff member, was an assistant at St. Augustine and New Orleans-B.T. Washington before joining Bowden at Tulane. Smith, a linebacker at LSU from 1973-75, spent his coaching career in Louisiana before following Bowden to Clemson. He assisted at Warren Easton before stops at USL, Tulane, LSU and Northeast Louisiana before rejoining the Green Wave.
Clemson offensive line coach Ron West was at USL when Bowden brought him to Tulane.
The biggest recent catch for Clemson was St. James running back Chad Jasmin, who led the Tigers in yards per carry as a sophomore. He picked Clemson over LSU in 1999 after Gerry DiNardo had already gotten commitments from LaBrandon Toefield and Domanick Davis.
The only other Louisiana prospect currently at Clemson is wide receiver Curtis Baham (John Curtis).
TROJAN WARS: It's hard to get much more "Louisiana" than Southern California assistant head coach/recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron. The three-sport star out of South Lafourche played and earned his degree at Northwestern State, where he coached for a couple of seasons before moving to Arkansas. His coaching career has taken him to Miami, Syracuse and Nicholls State.
Orgeron coaches the Trojans defensive linemen and prevented LSU from making a clean sweep at John Curtis in 2003 by securing a commitment from Ryan Watson. He nearly convinced current LSU running back Shyrone Carey to head west two years ago and will likely continue swaying Louisiana prospects with the help of the USC legacy.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH: The 2002 season was the first for Vance Joseph as a full-time staff member at Colorado, but he has helped the Buffaloes recruiting effort ever since becoming a graduate assistant in 1999. The former CU tailback and Archbishop Shaw quarterback has recruited New Orleans heavily in recent years, even landing a commitment from cornerback Sammy Joseph (Shaw), his little brother.
Other Boulder-based Crescent City stars are defensive lineman Brandon Dabdoub (Archbishop Rummel) are linebacker Travis Berry (O.P. Walker)
BORDER WARS: Texas has been the most frequent nemesis for LSU among the three states that border Louisiana. Although proximity is a big factor in getting local players over to Austin, the Mack Brown staff has extensive first-hand knowledge of the Louisiana recruiting scene.
Brown was an LSU assistant before becoming head coach at Tulane, where quarterbacks coach Greg Davis joined him in 1985. Davis had been a former assistant at Lake Charles-Barbe and went on to coach under Brown at North Carolina.
Texas defensive coordinator Carl Reese and defensive line coach Mike Tolleson were assistants under DiNardo at LSU, as was Michael Haywood who joined Brown earlier this year after eight seasons with the Tigers.
The bulk of the Longhorns' Louisiana talent has come from Evangel. Defensive back Phillip Geiggar, defensive tackle Stevie Lee, defensive end Chase Pittman and his late brother Cole all hail from the Shreveport private school.
HOG TROUGH: Arkansas has enjoyed success in Louisiana in recent years, especially where wide receivers are concerned. The Razorbacks have no staff members with Louisiana ties, but the proximity to schools in the northern part of the state makes trips along Interstate 20 a worthwhile venture.
Noseguard Reggie Banks (Evangel), linebacker Lucas Jackson (West Monroe) and receivers Richard Smith (Evangel), Michael Snowden (Newellton), Michael Williams (Bastrop) and Anthony Lucas (Tallulah) all crossed the nearby border, while the Hogs went the extra mile to get defensive back Shelton Parker (Breaux Bridge), defensive end Keith Turner (Brother Martin), and linebacker Tony Bua (John Curtis).
NEAR MISS: Mississippi State and Ole Miss tend to do well when going head to head with LSU in the Magnolia State, but they have not made much headway inside Louisiana as of late. Eli Manning (Newman) has been the only commitment of significance in recent years, but his father's legacy and David Cutcliffe's hiring in Oxford were the deciding factors in that pledge.
The Bulldogs got defensive lineman Ronald Fields (Bogalusa) after he spent a year in prep school, and the Rebels landed athlete Ronald McClendon (Ponchatoula) after he went the junior college route.
CONFERENCE CALLS: Ever wonder who has been responsible for recruiting Louisiana talent to other schools in the Southeastern Conference? Some of the most effective culprits have spent years in the league building their reputations.
Rodney Garner, Georgia's recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach, is considered among the best talent evaluators in the business. He spent six seasons at Auburn and a couple at Tennessee before coming to Athens in 1998.
Garner's take from Louisiana has included safety Terreal Bierra (Salmen) and defensive end Demetric Evans (Haynesville), but he has concentrated largely on his native Alabama in recent years.
Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders has recruited Louisiana for most of the 12 years he has coached in Knoxville, but head coach Phillip Fulmer also deserves credit for bringing home the bacon. He routinely visits in person when recruiting the Bayou State and has successfully lured linebackers Robert Peace (Ruston) and Raynoch Thompson (St. Augustine), athlete Leonard Scott (Zachary) and receiver Jonathan Wade (Evangel).
An SEC assistant who seemed poised to make repeated forays into Louisiana was Florida tight ends coach Tyke Tolbert, a former wide receiver at LSU and Auburn assistant. But after spending one year in Gainesville as the recruiting coordinator for Ron Zook, Tolbert left for a job with the Arizona Cardinals soon after helping land a nationally-regarded signing class for the Gators.
OLD STOMPING GROUNDS: In addition to the former LSU coaches and players listed above, there are a handful of ex-Tigers who are likely to retrace their steps in Louisiana.
Curley Hallman is in his second season with the defensive backs at Mississippi State, and former LSU offensive coordinator Morris Watts is in Starkville after his second stint at Michigan State.
Speaking of second stints, Mike Archer is back at Kentucky to work as Rick Brooks' defensive coordinator. The Wildcats dipped into Louisiana for linemen Lamar Mills and Keith Chatelain (Rummel) and athlete Kendrick Shanklin (Baton Rouge-Catholic), but former Guy Morriss assistants Harold Jackson and Rick Smith, who both made coaching stops in New Orleans, are no longer in Lexington.
DiNardo is entering year number two in charge of the Indiana football program and has former LSU defensive line coach Joe Cullen back on his staff. Cullen recruited Louisiana in the year he spent at Memphis and is making the rounds again this season representing the Hoosiers.
Ed Zaunbrecher, Florida's offensive coordinator, held the same post at LSU and was head coach at Northeast Louisiana. If the Gators maintain their offensive luster, Zaunbrecher may be able to lure some of Louisiana's skill position players to the Sunshine State.
Steve Ensminger, an LSU quarterback from 1976-79, has joined the Auburn staff for 2003 after three years in the Louisiana high school ranks. The former offensive coordinator at Clemson, Texas A&M, McNeese and Louisiana Tech will likely head back to the bayous in search of talent.
Former LSU defensive lineman Karl Dunbar has joined the Oklahoma State staff and will continue the Cowboys' tradition of extending early offers to Louisiana prospects. Wide receivers Eddie Brown (Fortier) and Chijuan Mack (Baton Rouge-Woodlawn), and offensive lineman Corey Hilliard (Jesuit) signed with OSU in 2003.
West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, the former Tulane offensive coordinator under Tommy Bowden, continues to dabble in Louisiana and has help from former LSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett. The Mountaineers signed defensive back Fernandez McDowell, linebacker James Alford (East Jefferson) and wide receiver Milton Collins (O.P. Walker) in 2003.
OTHERS OF NOTE: Stanford coach Buddy Teevens and assistant David Kelly, formerly with LSU, are likely to go after Louisiana's best and brightest.
Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and recruiting coordinator Bobby Jack Wright have paid close attention to where Texas has recruited in Louisiana.
Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden and long-time assistants Mickey Andrews, Billy Sexton and Jimmy Heggins have built lasting relationships with Louisiana high school coaches.
Outside the wall, looking in
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