Star rankings do not mean nearly as much to college coaches as they do to fans of their particular team, but even LSU receivers coach D.J. McCarthy has to be impressed with the star quality that LSU landed in its 2009 class.
All he has to do is look at the prospects that LSU signed and that he played a major role with in their recruitment to realize that. However, McCarthy is the first to tell you that it was a total team effort that started well over a year ago.
“The recruiting process starts by the area recruiter screening a kid then if he feels the kid can play then it goes to the position coach,” McCarthy said. “After that it goes to the coordinator on that side of the ball and then the head coach. So, everyone has a hand in there somewhere along the way.”
McCarthy was instrumental in LSU landing a trio of five-star prospects according to Scout.com. Perhaps none were bigger than the country’s No. 17 ranked player overall and the top player in Louisiana in Bastrop’s Rueben Randle.
Randle was so critical to this class that several other LSU assistants, Greg Studrawa, Larry Porter, Josh Henson and Gary Crowton, all helped with his recruitment. It went all the way down to the wire before Randle informed coaches at LSU, Oklahoma and Alabama of his decision, and at the end of the day there was only one group left smiling.
“That was huge,” McCarthy said. “You’re talking about the No. 1 kid, not only at his position in the country, but also the No. 1 kid in the state. You get a chance to coach him and work with him. As a coach and a recruiter he is a must get.”
At six-foot-three, 195 pounds and with 4.5 speed in the forty-yard dash, Randle is expected to be a leader on the field for the Tigers, but it will not end there.
“I worked with him at camp and spent time with him, and he has a presence about himself,” McCarthy said. “He has good size, works hard and fights hard, and is explosive with the ball in his hands.”
“Character-wise, he has good character and he had a good home life,” added McCarthy. “His dad is a minister and he’s a kid that when you ask him to call you at a certain time, he calls you and isn’t late. When you ask him to do things he has a smile on his face, and just all of those things factored into him being the No. 1 guy for me.”
Another gem in this class that LSU landed and that fell in McCarthy’s assigned recruiting territory, which included Central Louisiana all the way up Interstate-49 to North Louisiana and over to the Dallas area, was the nation’s third ranked running back Michael Ford.
Ford (5-11, 205, 4.49) rushed for 2,953 yards as a senior with 29 touchdowns, and he broke the 200-yard barrier 12 times. Regarded as the No. 32 ranked player overall in the Scout300, Ford is already being compared to a couple of NFL greats.
“He’s a good kid and hard worker who comes from a very well-coached program,” said McCarthy. “He can do whatever you want. He’s built like Emmit Smith and has feet like Barry Sanders. He has good vision and you can spread him out to catch the ball out of the backfield.”
The versatility that the Leesville product brings to the table is one of the key components that earned him an early offer from the Tigers more than a year ago.
“I feel that he can be an every down, all-purpose back,” McCarthy said. “In high school, he showed that he can carry the ball 30-40 times a game. He can line up in the I (formation), in the spread or as a one-back (set). You can run the read zone and he’s a big mismatch with a linebacker when you get him out in space.”
Someone who was offered even earlier than Ford was five-star defensive tackle Chris Davenport, who may be a little more versatile than Ford off the field. The big six-foot-five, 310-pounder sings in the school and church choir in Mansfield, and he plans to continue his singing when he gets to LSU.
Davenport, who is ranked No. 7 at his position and No. 43 overall in the Scout300, played in only four games as a senior due to a torn meniscus he suffered at LSU’s camp in July. He may not have played as much as before while he recovered from his injury, but Davenport still logged 43 tackles and nine sacks.
McCarthy thinks he is just another example of the quality of kids that signed with this class, both on and off the gridiron.
“He has feet like a dancing bear and a mean streak to where he can take a game over from the defensive line,” said McCarthy. “He’s a powerful kid and just another one that is respected in his community and works in a prison ministry. How can you go wrong with a kid like that?
Davenport filled a need that LSU has on the defensive front where the Tigers lost five players. Charles Alexander would have made six, but the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility after an injury sidelined him in 2007.
The staff didn’t find out that Alexander’s request was granted until a few days ago, so the thought of losing six defensive linemen had them scrambling to find someone who was physically ready to play when he stepped foot on campus.
That void was filled by four-star defensive tackle Akiem Hicks of Sacramento City Community College.
“We knew we were in on some good high school kids on the defensive line, recruiting wise, but to get a veteran guy that’s been out of high school for two years and that played dominant at times at the junior college level, it was too good to pass up,” said McCarthy. “Now you have a big bodied guy that is 300 pounds that can help you right away.”
While Hicks never attended an LSU summer camp to show the coaches his skills, Randle, Ford and Davenport all did.
Claiborne (6-0, 170, 4.5) scored over 30 touchdowns and amassed 1,023 yards rushing and 1,009 passing from his quarterback spot during his senior year at Fair Park. He played receiver as a junior and since LSU signed only one receiver in the 2009 class there is a chance that Claiborne could slide into that spot when he gets to campus in June, or he could end up at cornerback too.
“There’s no doubt he could,” said McCarthy. “When we recruited him we told him we’re going to put him down as an athlete because he can play on either side of the ball. At camp, we worked him with the offensive and defensive coaches and he excelled on both sides.”
Several schools took a wait and see approach on Claiborne, who was offered by Texas A&M, Michigan and a few others, which prompted many to place that sleeper label on him. That is something that McCarthy still has problems grasping.
“That baffled me because he’s from Shreveport and there’s always coaches coming through there,” he stated. “For him to not be one of the top guys for others blew me away. He did it on both sides against some of the big dogs in the Shreveport area. He was never a sleeper with us, but it was more of how could we fit him in with our numbers.”
Logan (6-3, 255, 4.8) is someone else who was labeled a sleeper, but just like Claiborne he also impressed the coaches with his camp performance.
“Bennie was a kid that we really liked but he was 6-2, 230 pounds when he came to camp,” said McCarthy. “The question wasn’t his motor or how good he was, but rather how big he could get. Then he was at a place like Red River High School that is kind of off the beaten path. But in order to be a good recruiter you have to turn over all of the stones.”
One way that McCarthy turned over those stones was talking to other coaches in the area who went up against Logan on Friday nights.
“To be a sound recruiter you always ask coaches in the area who the best guy was that they faced,” said McCarthy. “Bennie’s name kept coming up everywhere I went. They would say Chris Davenport is the guy, but you need to look at that Bennie Logan kid.”
During the course of the recruiting process, McCarthy, along with new defensive line coach Brick Haley and defensive coordinator John Chavis, discovered more things about Logan off the field that supported their evaluation, and made them realize that this was someone they needed to nab quickly.
“This is a kid that was different from the other kids because he didn’t come from a two-parent home,” said McCarthy. “His mother passed away a year or two ago and he lived with his grandmother who is elderly. He’s really on his own and he took that adversity and turned it into a positive and didn’t use it as a crutch.
“He goes to school, works hard in the classroom and the weight room. He played well on the field and worked hard to get bigger and stronger, so that tells you something right there when you factor all of that into the equation.”
With recruiting for the 2009 class all wrapped up unless someone enters the picture late, LSU’s class has already drawn rave reviews from all of the major recruiting services. Scout.com has the Tigers at No. 3 in the country and McCarthy and the rest of the staff will now reap the rewards from a long and grueling process.
“As far as the number of guys and the quality that I’ve been able to get since I’ve been at LSU this is probably my best haul,” McCarthy said. “I’m the same guy that I was when I was out on the road recruiting at Central Florida and Nevada, but the difference is I have different letters on my chest so I can go after different guys.”
Those three letters, L-S-U, make a big difference when McCarthy starts recruiting a young man and one story with some local flavor illustrates that.
“I remember when I recruited Brandon LaFell while I was at UCF (Central Florida) and his coach got him out of class,” McCarthy said. “When he walked up and I introduced myself he laughed at me and said where is UCF at? When I go coast to coast now with LSU on my chest and I walk the hallways, all of the kids are pointing and chuckling saying the big dogs are here.”
While fans had the luxury of sitting back and enjoying the fruits of the LSU staff’s labor the day after signing day, the big dogs were hard at work looking ahead to 2010.
“We already got our board up there and we’re getting our list together so we’re ready to rock and roll,” said McCarthy.