Les Miles officially announced the return of six underclassmen with eligibility remaining. That means only three — Jalen Collins, Kwon Alexander and Danielle Hunter — have declared for the NFL Draft, a much smaller number than the 17 combined that did so in the last two years.
So LSU made an event around the return of guys like Vadal Alexander, Jerald Hawkins and Jalen Mills. Miles held a press conference and had three of his players preach about why they chose to return for another season, hoping that these messages continue to influence the coming generations.
“The decision [to return] is not ours. It’s theirs,” Miles said. “This was a personal decision, one that’s best for them, and we’re excited. They will provide leadership in the middle of our success. This is great reason to believe we’ll have a very talented team.”
Not all of the players involved in Friday’s event were considered threats to leave. LSU only submitted five names to the NFL for draft evaluations. That doesn’t include Travin Dural, Jalen Mills, Lamar Louis or Dillon Gordon, all of whom were in attendance.
But LSU’s become aware that it doesn’t take a high draft grade for a player to find reason to leave early. Louis spoke of the temptation that even the league minimum provides.
But he, along with five others, opted to stay and assumed added responsibility as poster children for returning to college.
“When you’re presented with $400,000, there’s some thought to give, given your situation,” Louis said. “But it really hits you when it’s time to decide that I have a whole bunch of my brothers that are counting on me to finish our business.”
The biggest news came from Alexander and Hawkins. They did receive grades from the NFL that ranged from the second round to “stay in school.” Losing one or both would have left the offensive line with even more turnover.
But with their return, the Tigers should field another veteran offensive line in 2015 that serves as the foundation for that physical, run-heavy offense.
“When you think about it,” Alexander said, “It’s really worth coming back to better yourself, better the team and better the LSU program.”
Miles has grown more proactive in his approach to encouraging players to stay. It was almost like he was recruiting them all over again. He met with each individual underclassman in their homes.
More than one cited that extra effort from Miles as a big reason they decided to return.
“We trust him,” Mills said. “I trust his judgment. He told me all the ways I can benefit by coming back. He made my final decision.”
LSU hopes this year’s success marks a new trend in convincing players to return. It will obviously depend on the strength of each individual class, but Miles and the rest of his staff will continue to stress the importance of sticking around.
So Miles stood up at the podium Friday, with cameras rolling, and thanked each player sitting to his right.
“They want to be a Tiger for another year,” he said. “That’s damn special.”