MULE': Recruiting, an inexact science

Before the afterglow of yet another banner LSU recruiting class fades, remember this name: Tommy Casanova.

It is an indicator of the inexact science of projecting the abilities of high school athletes to the college level.


Casanova was an afterthought in the recruiting wars (scrimmage, really) of 1968 – a kid who seemed to have potential, but certainly not a "can't miss'' prospect and certainly not a prime target for dozens of football programs. In a nutshell, Casanova was a "take-him-or-leave-him" prospect who drew interest from only three colleges, all within 150 miles of his hometown of Crowley in Louisiana's Cajun Country: Louisiana-Lafayette, Tulane and LSU.


He went on to be an exceptional multi-position (safety, tailback, punt-returner) player for Charlie McClendon's Tigers, a three-time all-American – the only one in LSU football history – and later an all-pro in the NFL. To put him in context, note that when fans were asked to vote on a modern-era, LSU all-century team in 1993, Casanova received more votes than any other Tiger.


For some reason during every recruiting season now, I think back on Casanova and wonder how he could have been so overlooked.  Or how so many prospects – and there are dozens every year – could be so overrated.


Remember Robert Lane – a five-star quarterback from Monroe four years ago who committed to LSU?


Lane was also an outstanding baseball prospect who had a chance to be drafted that summer. When then-LSU coach Nick Saban had a chance to recruit another quarterback, he asked Lane to assure him that he would play football, and he would cut off any Tiger interest in the other youngster. When Lane couldn't deliver that promise, Saban went on to pursue JaMarcus Russell.


Lane then went to Ole Miss, where the "sure-thing" star quarterback was eventually moved from behind center to tight end.


This isn't a put-down. Lane had to be a better-than-average athlete to draw the interest he did and to make the transition to another position.


The point is, though, he did not become a superstar quarterback – or even a college quarterback at all.


These examples, and many others each and every year, should make anyone wonder about football's "second season,'' the annual harvest of talent for college programs. I would truly love for someone to explain how one extraordinary prep defensive end is rated No. 1 at his position in America, when another, equally extraordinary, defensive end in another part of the country is decreed to be, say, No. 20.


How can they accurately be judged, playing in different parts of the nation, in different conditions, against different levels of competition, receiving different qualities of coaching?


Adding to the befuddlement, of course, is that in these nationwide evaluations most of the "gurus'' never see the majority of the players they are assessing. So how exactly do they split the hairs that separate the No. 1 running back from the 12th-rated?


Of course, it's always better to have recruiting classes that seem to overflow with talent – like LSU's classes the last few years. It bolsters the expectation that fans will be seeing high-caliber football the next few years.


But this is strictly on paper and not a foolproof system.


LSU football history might be completely different without some afterthought recruits – like Casanova. Charles Alexander and Dalton Hilliard were both second-tier prospects, and they are two of only four players in SEC annals to gain more than 4,000 yards; and Johnny Robinson, one of the best all-around athletes ever produced at LSU and considered "the safety of the 60s'' by the NFL, believes to this day he was signed by Paul Dietzel in 1956 only because his dad was the LSU tennis coach – and there was no backup contingency. Nobody else offered him a grant-in-aid.


And then, there's the case of Jerry Stovall – sought after by only three colleges: Louisiana Tech, Tulane and a hesitant LSU. In fact, at the time, Stovall thought his best course of action might be staying home, giving up sports and working his way through nearby Northeast Louisiana. 


Stovall was the 52nd player signed by Dietzel in an LSU class of 52 in 1959.


"I was the runt of the litter,'' Stovall says to this day.


He went on to be a two-time all-American and a runner for the Heisman Trophy.

No one and no system is 100 percent accurate. In the case of LSU football, though, do we detect a trend?


You don't always get what you think you're getting. And sometimes you get more – much more – than anticipated. 




Marty Mule' can be reached at

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