The LSU football team has only two home games left on the schedule this year with Alabama and Ole Miss making trips to Tiger Stadium. Those two weekends are expected to be huge recruiting weekends for coach Nick Saban, but the quality of prospects he had in for the South Carolina game will be hard to top.
Among those high school players that made official visits for the Tigers' big win over the Gamecocks on Oct. 19 were a pair of standouts from Palm Bay-Melbourne, Fla. Athletes Joe Cohen (6-3, 245, 4.47) and Reggie Nelson (6-1, 185, 4.4) both left Baton Rouge the following day very impressed with what they saw but also extremely tired from the excitement of a weekend of partying and tailgating on the LSU campus.
"It was a good trip," Cohen said. "They treated us like kings for the whole weekend. They gave us the tour around the school and we got to eat at TJ Ribs. We toured the locker room and it was a nice setup in there. We went to the game and then went out later. Pretty much everywhere we went was top-notch. We did it all."
Cohen plays tailback for Palm Bay this season and Nelson is an undersized linebacker/strong safety type. Cohen posted a 4.47-second 40-yard time at the Nike Combine at Coral Gables, Fla., over the summer, which prompted TheInsiders.com to rate him the fifth best defensive end prospect in the country. Another recruiting service tabbed him the No. 1 defensive end in high school this year even though his position in college is still up in the air.
Nelson is ranked fourth among safety prospects in America by TheInsiders.com, giving Palm Bay quite an impressive duo. Both are extremely gifted athletes with remarkable personalities who have every college coach in the country wishing for their signatures.
LSU was the first official visit for Cohen and Nelson after they went to the Miami-Florida State game on an unofficial trip. Despite the dramatic ending to the game between the two Florida schools, Cohen says the Tiger Stadium experience left quite an impression on him and his teammate.
"It is just like everybody describes it as the best night game you could go to," Cohen said. "I had never been to a college night game before but that is one of the best games I have ever been to period. The crowd was so loud that you could not even hear the person right next to you."
LSU fans have a solid reputation for supporting its football team and those partying in the parking lots before the game did nothing to dampen that reputation.
"The crowd and the fans were great," said Cohen. "The fans also treated us like kings. We got to sit back and see how the fans treated their players. It was just a real nice atmosphere. Besides the game experience, we really liked the facilities all around the campus."
LSU defensive back Travis Daniels hosted Cohen, while Tiger linebacker Willie Demps entertained Nelson. Both Daniels and Demps also hail from the Sunshine State so the four already had something in common.
"Me and Travis got along good because we are from around the same area," Cohen said. "Willie Demps was real cool too but we met this one guy on the team named Lester (Ricard) that was real crazy. He was the life of the party."
The party went into early Sunday morning after the Tigers scored 35 unanswered points, including 28 in the second half, to bury the Gamecocks in front of a capacity crowd.
"I knew that was going to happen because I told Reggie," Cohen said. "He knew it was going to happen too, though. I told him watch what happens in the second half when they get back out. I just knew that was going to happen."
Cohen and Nelson both agreed that the fans played a critical part in LSU's second half domination over a well-coached South Carolina team.
"It was wild," Cohen said in reference to Tiger Stadium. "I know if I would have been on the field I would have gotten hyped up just from listening to the crowd. It is the type of crowd you need when you are behind in a close game. The noise level threw off South Carolina's offense when it got on the field and that is the type of crowd you want and need in a situation like that."
Saban called and spoke to the recruits on Sunday morning after the victory and further established himself as a player's coach that cares about more than football.
"I talked to him on Sunday one-on-one," Cohen said. "I like the way he put himself out there as a down to earth person. He was a pretty cool coach."
Cohen wants to focus himself on the rest of his senior season and take care of business before he begins to look ahead to next year. Palm Bay is 6-2 heading after a 46-3 drubbing of Lake Howell last Friday. With a 4-0 mark in district play, the Pirates will meet their rival, Bayside, this week to decide the league championship. Cohen said he thinks his team is getting it together at the right time.
"We are coming together as one and keep getting better and better," he said. "We started off slow but we played some top-notch teams and that is a bad combination.
We lost our first two games but now everybody is starting to click. We're all on the same page now. I believe the rest of the season we will show everybody what kind of football Palm Bay High School can play."
Cohen and Nelson have four official trips left out of the allotted five but do not look for any of them to come anytime soon.
"We are probably going to wait until after the season because it is tiring to leave and go out of town like that," Cohen said. "We left Friday night after our game when they picked us up on their private jet, so we were pretty tired. We only slept about eight hours the whole weekend so the plane ride home we slept big time."
The two long-time friends are fairly certain that they will sign with the same school in February and those vying for the remaining four official visits are Florida, Florida State, Miami, Penn State, Tennessee, Georgia and Auburn.
Cohen said they are both still pretty wide open at this point, but he did make a strong remark concerning his trip to bayou country. When asked if he could see himself being happy in the Capitol City he replied quickly.
"Yes I can. Being there only a couple of days makes it kind of hard to decide but I can see myself being happy in Baton Rouge. I need to get back to TJ Ribs," he said with a laugh.