COLUMN: It's not how you start ...

Dealt a big blow on a series of announcements gone wrong at the Under Armour Game, LSU bounced back to finish its Class of 2014 with a strong push on National Signing Day. TSD's Ben Love examines how the new haul of Tigers came to be amid doubts and adversity.

There's no denying that in any walk of life finishing strong is important. It's a maxim that holds true and carries over to the world of college football recruiting.

The only trick is knowing exactly where the finish line is.

For most followers and supporters of LSU over the last year, the yellow tape probably seemed like it was resting on the 50-yard line of a Major League Baseball stadium turned improv football field in St. Petersburg, Fla. And that the Tigers would reach it, either ahead of the pack or lagging behind its competitors, on the second day of the 2014 calendar year.

It wasn't. The Tigers did lose out on a trio of coveted prospects (Tony Brown, Speedy Noil and Gerald Willis) during the Under Armour All-America Game, but, as it turned out, that nationally televised faceplant was merely a chapter in the 2014 recruiting cycle, not the conclusion of the plot.

Nor was it the end on Sept. 4, 2013, when West Monroe five-star offensive lineman Cameron Robinson gave his pledge to Nick Saban and Alabama. Or either time Neville's Hootie Jones declared his intentions to suit up for the Houndstooth Gang.

The true culmination of the marathon was on National Signing Day, 2/5/14, ironically the day LSU had a chance to erase memories of 2/5 in St. Pete's. And, instead of reflecting on any egg that was beginning to accumulate on its collective face during the time in between, the Tiger staff did what it has for the past six months – keep grinding and move onto the next iron in the fire.

Where there was no longer Gerald Willis, LSU went out and landed an even higher-rated defensive tackle in Travonte Valentine, the nation's No. 2 at his position.

The Tigers actually upped the ante even more along the defensive line by bringing in tackle Trey Lealaimatafao and edge rusher Sione Teuhema along with Valentine on Signing Day. Valentine was a longtime Miami commitment while Teuhema was a Texas pledge, but LSU was able to get both in on official visits late and close the deal.

Where there was no longer Speedy Noil, LSU lassoed one of the top receivers in America in Malachi Dupre. The fourth player to announce for the purple and gold on Signing Day, Dupre rounds out a receiving haul that also includes Trey Quinn, the all-time national receiving yardage leader on the prep level, Tony Upchurch, a versatile pass-catcher who can play a number of positions, and D.J. Chark.

Finishing strong wasn't just the theme of the day in Baton Rouge; it's the mantra that will ultimately define LSU's Class of 2014.

Consider that in the last seven weeks the Tigers have secured commitments, and now signatures, from the nation's top player and running back, Leonard Fournette; top middle linebacker, Clifton Garrett; top safety, Jamal Adams; and No. 2 receiver, Dupre.

In the scope of how long and far back these coaches are on blue-chippers like that, it would be apt to call what the Tigers have done recently a late killing in the recruiting game.

LSU hasn't minded doing it away from home either, replacing the losses of Pelican-state talent like Noil, Robinson and Willis with coups from the states of Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. All-told the Tigers have 11 out-of-state signees, including defensive lineman Deondre Clark, who reaffirmed his vow to LSU Wednesday afternoon in another surprise move that went the way of the Tigers.

So suddenly, a class that was maligned and mocked a month ago is knocking on the door of some of the best hauls yet in the nine-year Les Miles Era. LSU will finish second in the national rankings.

It wasn't always, or often, comfortable, and it sure wasn't conventional, but some of the best talent the country has to offer will take center stage in Baton Rouge beginning this fall.

If they're anything like the coaching staff that brought them in, you can bet quitting isn't something that's in their DNA.

DISCUSS: LSU finishes with a flurry in Class of 2014


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