Tigers up to 20 commitments

The LSU recruiting class for 2002 swelled to 20 with the commitment of four athletes within the last 24 hours. The Tigers have received pledges from a California lineman, a Mississippi lineman, a Texas running back and a New Orleans linebacker.

After his visit to LSU last weekend, it took only a matter of hours for offensive lineman Paris Hodges (6-6, 335) of Vanden High School in Fairfield, Calif., to make up his mind. He picked the Tigers over Arizona State and Nevada-Las Vegas.

"I liked Arizona State a lot but I really liked LSU," Hodges told Greg Biggins of PacWestFootball.com, a member of TheInsiders.com Network. "Like I told you last week, I've always been real into the football in the South and the Southeastern Conference in general. Football is king in the South and the people there are so passionate about it which I really liked. A lot of people told me I would love it there and I did.

"The only downside was the distance factor. LSU is pretty far away from home but once I got over that, it was kind of an easy decision for me because I liked so many other things about the school. Coach (George) Yarno (offensive line coach) is a real cool guy and I know I'll enjoy playing for him."

Hodges said the fact that LSU has a couple of California players (quarterback Rick Clausen, linebacker Trey Triplette) on the roster also made him feel comfortable.

"Everyone gets along really well there," Hodges said. "I felt really at home there, the players and coaches have a way of making everyone comfortable. If I'm going to be going away to school, I wanted to make sure I felt at home there and I did at LSU. The trip was great for me and what can you say about the food, I've bever eaten like that in my life."

Originally a commitment to Ole Miss, offensive lineman Jay Kirkland (6-4, 300) of New Albany, Miss., decided to follow through with his visits and backed off his pledge to the Rebels in the process. The W.P. Daniel standout eventually narrowed his choices down to LSU and Auburn before picking the Bayou Bengals.

"I wanted to go to a place where I can win and LSU's winning," Kirkland told The Advocate. "It looks like LSU's going to continue to win and I want to be a part of that."

Running back Dominique Owens (5-10, 175, 4.37) of Kempner High School in Sugar Land, Texas, was originally a strong lean to Texas Tech before giving a commitment to LSU. His prospect status elevated after a sensational senior season in which he led Kempner into the 5A State playoffs with a perfect 10-0 record.

"His tremendous athletic ability allowed us to rebuild the program," said Kempner head coach Tom Henderson.

A member of TheInsiders.com Texas Super Team, Owens rushed 213 times for 1,560 yards and caught 18 passes for another 295 yards. He accounted for 25 touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per carry and 16.3 yards per catch.

Henderson thinks Owens is perfectly capable of being a college tailback, labelling him a "deceptive type of runner, a glider." But the coach also used him as a wide receiver and cornerback and doesn't rule out Owens fitting in an one of those spots on the next level.

LSU coach Nick Saban extended a scholarship offer over the weekend to New Orleans-Holy Cross linebacker Ryan Willis (6-4, 250) and it didn't take long for the young man to make up his mind. But when Saban tried to reach Willis at home, he didn't get an immediate answer.

"I was at baseball practice when coach Saban called to offer a scholarship," Willis told Richard Condon on WIBR-Radio. "When I got home, I called coach Saban on his cell phone and committed."

Willis is projected as a defensive end in college although he has played exclusively at linebacker for the last three seasons at Holy Cross. Although he is a standout on the baseball team there, he plans to concentrate solely on football at LSU.

"It was a big relief when I got that phone call," said Willis, who visited LSU last weekend but wasn't extended a scholarship offer during the trip. "It was a big burden on me not knowing where I was going to go to college."

Willis credits Holy Cross coach Scott Bairnsfather will helping him get noticed by major colleges, although Willis helped himself with a strong senior year showing. A starter for the last three seasons, he first made an impression on coaches as a 5-foot-10, 190-pound sophomore. His athletic ability was such that coaches kept him at linebacker despite his huge growth spurt. 

LSU is expected to host another five prospects this weekend - the second to last weekend before national signing day on Feb. 5. Tiger Rag expects LSU to sign at least 26 players for the 2002 class.

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