When all the hats had been put on and signatures made, after all the faxes had been sent, LSU head coach Les Miles wore the look of an accomplished man.
Despite a five-loss Southeastern Conference run - in which the Tigers fell victim to most of the programs that they battled for the South’s top recruits - Miles and his staff locked up a top three recruiting class, his best mark during his time at LSU.
There were five, five-star prospects: Rueben Randle, Craig Loston, Russell Shepard, Michael Ford and Chris Davenport. There were nine, four-star prospects – the most surprising of which came by way of a signing day decision from South Carolina’s Sam Montgomery.
A number of freshmen Tigers have since transitioned their decision into early playing time. Some may even start.
Yet, the staff did not rest on their laurels. They hit the ground running, and not just in Louisiana.
On Feb. 28, the ball officially began to roll. Miles landed his first commitments of 2010 in a bunch, a four-prospect day that included five-star Mike Davis, four-star Tharold Simon, and three-star prospects Brandon Worle and Nick Jacobs.
The occasion was Junior Day, which LSU had pressed on its' out-of-state prospects despite other programs, such as Texas, having held their junior day the same weekend.
The move paid off when Davis, the No. 2 ranked receiver prospect in the Lone Star State, capped off his visit with a verbal pledge to Miles and wide receivers coach DJ McCarthy. A five-star prospect with 4.38 speed, Davis had interest from nearly all the big names. Yet, a visit to Baton Rouge – where Davis took in the Tiger campus for the first time - was all that was needed to land the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Dallas standout.
Jacobs, a 6-foot-5, 243-pound blocking tight end, also offered his pledge – the first to do so on the day. A Many-native, Jacobs admitted that once he was offered by Miles the week prior, he was ready to make the call. Eunice High’s star athlete, Simon, was in the same boat. “Since I was a young kid, I always wanted to go to LSU,” he said.
When the numbers did not add up in the 2009 class, running backs coach Larry Porter was cut short on adding a pair of fullbacks. Porter felt that Worle was the answer for 2010, and the nation’s No. 4 ranked fullback decided LSU was the place during his weekend visit.
New defensive line coach Brick Haley and special teams coordinator Joe Robinson got in on the action the following week when they landed Crowley’s D.J. Welter. The Notre Dame standout should fit in nicely at outside linebacker in coordinator John Chavis’ defense.
The three-star prospect’s play has already spoken for itself. When Welter showed up at the Tiger’s June camp, the linebacker commitment total had risen to three – and the press was on for a number of players that looked within reach, from Shaun Lewis to Michael Taylor. Yet, Welter impressed enough to push back the other names, and the Tigers backed off on both Lewis and Taylor. Lewis went on to commit to Oklahoma State, while Taylor sent his verbal to Tennessee.
Yet, there should be room at the in; that is if the “right” guy comes calling. Most felt that could have been Telvin Smith, but a late charge from the staff left the Tigers in second place to Florida State (who landed Smith’s commitment soon after his Baton Rouge visit). Could Ladarius Owens, Jeff Luc or another heavy hitter fill the void, or will the Tigers call it a day?
The last commitment of March came from another in-state talent: Dutchtown safety Eric Reid. Rated the No. 8 safety prospect in the nation, Reid was raised on LSU. His father, Eric Reid, Sr., was an NCAA hurdles champion for the Tigers in the late 80’s. Now, 20 years later, Reid carried on the purple and gold tradition. At 6-foot-1, 210-pounds, Reid will certainly draw comparisons to Chad Jones and Taylor Mays when he roams the safety spot in the coming seasons. Of course, in a defense run by Chavis, an athlete the size of Reid could always drop to outside linebacker.
A month after Reid, the Tigers landed two more commitments – LSU’s only verbal pledges from April. First came Fort Scott Junior College’s Jermarcus Hardrick, who had picked up an offer from Miles just 24 hours earlier. Robinson had found Hardrick when recruiting Derek Helton, a Tiger signee, just months earlier. A graduate of South Panola High in Mississippi, Hardrick should be in the running to replace Ciron Black at left tackle.
Five days later, at LSU’s Spring Game, Klein Oak’s Luke Muncie committed. Being recruited heavily by Porter, Muncie was offered by the Tiger running back coach just 24 hours earlier. When the Spring, Texas native heard the good news, he hopped in the car and headed to Baton Rouge. The next day, after a sit down with Miles, Porter and Chavis, Muncie made the call. Though listed as a safety prospect, Muncie said that Chavis and he agreed upon linebacker at the next level. “At 6-foot-2, 220-pounds, I am too big to play safety,” Muncie said. “I want to put on more weight, so this will be a great fit.”
The lone commitment of the month of May was, arguably, the Tigers biggest to date. Justin Hunter, a four-star and the nation’s No. 22 ranked receiver prospect, picked up an offer from McCarthy in February. When Hunter made the trip from Virginia to Louisiana in April, he admitted that he nearly committed. One of the nation’s top high jumpers, the track program coupled with the LSU football team was tough to pass on.
So, a few weeks later, Hunter was back on the phone with McCarthy – this time ready to pledge his commitment. The words spoken by Hunter told the story. “I just had been thinking about committing since I left town,” he said. “The trip is what sold it for me.” At 6-foot-4, 185-pounds, Hunter falls in line with the recent trend of taller Tiger wide outs, from Brandon LaFell to Terrance Toliver to Randle.
With offers in from Tennessee, Florida and the likes, the question remains if Hunter will hold strong until next February. For now, both Hunter and Davis have been asked by Miles to not take visits - either unofficially or officially.
When June rolled in, the Tigers hit stride. First came a pledge from Memphis linebacker Justin Maclin – one of the nation’s most touted defensive prospects. Ranked as the No. 10 outside linebacker in the country, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Maclin has the frame to grow into a dominant rush defensive end. The commitment came as a big win for Porter, who has made his presence felt in Tennessee since joining the Tiger staff.
Newman’s Ronnie Vinson, another four-star prospect, was the next name in. Ranked as the nation’s No. 26 safety, Vinson found a home at cornerback in LSU’s secondary. First year defensive backs coach Ron Cooper made Vinson the first land of his opening act. With offers also in from Alabama, USC and Michigan, Vinson said that his decision is no longer debatable. “LSU is a dream come true,” he said.
After the first Les Miles Summer Camp session, the Tigers found somewhat of a hidden gem in Prattville quarterback Sam Gibson. After he tested out to the staffs liking, Gibson received a phone call from Miles on his trip home. The headman offered, and Gibson committed on the spot. Though he passed for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns during his junior campaign, Gibson said that LSU wanted to focus his talents elsewhere. “The staff likes me as a wide receiver or safety.” Simon will certainly get the same looks at both positions, which gives the staff plenty of flexibility with the pair’s commitments. Yet, will Gibson remain committed if the in-state schools like Alabama and Auburn come calling?
The second offensive line commitment came later that day by way of Cameron Fordham, whose father Jeff Fordham played offensive guard for the Tigers from 1980-85. The Duluth, Ga. native picked up his offer the Monday after he checked out of camp. The following day, Fordham gave Miles and Studrawa his pledge. Ranked as the nation’s No. 14 center prospect, Fordham projects at the same position at the next level.
After offensive coordinator Gary Crowton landed Chris Garrett and Russell Shepard in the 2009 class, the search was down to just one man for the 2010 class. While Terrance Broadway and Munchie Legaux were evaluated, Texas gunslinger Zack Lee became target number one. Crowton put on the press during Lee’s June camp visit, and a week later the McKinney, Texas native was ready to make the call. After a slew of visits that included Alabama and Ole Miss, Lee decided that Baton Rouge would be his college destination. If Lee ever makes it to campus remains to be seen. As one of the top pitching prospects in Texas, most expect the senior to flirt with the MLB Draft.
The final name back after camp offers was Covington’s Houston Bates. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound, three-star prospect worked out for the coaches at defensive end, outside linebacker and fullback. Robinson made a press to land Bates after seeing him in action, and Bates answered the call soon after leaving camp.
By the end of June, the Tigers had landed 15 commitments.
The month of July brought the surprise of the summer. DeSoto, Texas native Evan Washington, who also held offers from Alabama, Miami and Oklahoma, had taken in the LSU campus with his family two months earlier – which drew rave reviews from everyone involved. When Washington narrowed his list to three in July, the 6-foot-5, 285-pound offensive tackle gave McCarthy and the Tigers a ring. “I felt like LSU, with the combination of location down to the coaching staff, was the best fit for me,” Washington said. “I kept going over things in my head, and I realized that I needed to go ahead and make the call.”
With another offensive line prospect down, Studrawa and the staff focused their efforts on landing a final piece – this time a guard. Shaw defensive tackle Elliot Porter impressed Studrawa after the June camp, when Porter moved to offensive line for a couple of sessions. The performance earned the Marrero-native an offer, and Porter quickly narrowed his focus to LSU and FSU. When he showed back up to LSU’s camp in July, Porter committed. “Coach [Les] Miles is one guy that I have to thank, because he shot it to me straight,” Porter said. “He told me that I could be a Tiger if I would play offensive line, and I told him no problem. All I needed to hear was what the deal was, and I was ready. I just wanted to be a Tiger.”
On the same day, West Monroe’s Jordan Allen – a four-star prospect – gave Miles his pledge. With offers from Alabama, Ole Miss and Tennessee under his belt, among others, Allen had long stated that he would take official visits and allow his process to play out. After his Bayou Night experience on July 18, the nation’s No. 10 ranked defensive end prospect sang a different tune. “I finally just said to myself that I knew I wasn’t going anywhere else, and why would I,” Allen said. “I just felt like it was time to get it out and get it behind me.”
While Allen did not need much evaluation before landing his offer, the next two names on the board could not have been part of the class had they not shown up for their evaluation in July.
Tyrann Mathieu, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound cornerback out of St. Augustine in New Orleans, soared onto the coach’s radar with a dynamite camp performance. Cooper had tested Tony Hurd, Curtis Carter, Jon McKnight, Urell Johnson and others during the summer months, yet it was Mathieu who impressed enough to win the new coordinator over.
Two-star defensive tackle Dexter Blackmon experienced much of the same weekend-success. The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Selma, Ala. native caught Haley’s attention from the start, and by the time Blackmon packed up to head home, Miles had extended an offer. For now, LSU and Troy are the lone teams to have handed down a scholarship. If Alabama and Auburn make the same move, will Blackmon keep his word? LSU fans should certainly keep an eye on both Gibson and Blackmon’s progression – and offer sheets – this fall.
The 21st commitment to the class came from another out-of-state name, this time by way of Ohio. Spencer Ware, ranked as the nation’s No. 9 running back prospect, had put LSU alongside UNC in his top two – thanks in large part to the relationship the Cincinnati-native had begun to build with Porter. The Tiger running back coach hosted both Ware and his grandfather in Baton Rouge the week prior to his decision, which was all that Spencer needed to feel comfortable with making the call. “It was the people, the coaches, and the relationship that the coaches had with the players,” he said. “It just felt good while I was down there, and when you get that feeling you go with it.”
When preseason camp started, the Tigers had gone over 20 commitments for the first time in school history. A week into camp, a familiar name joined the fun. After Richard Dickson started at tight end during his first three seasons, Travis – Richard’s younger brother - decided that he would carry on the family legacy.
A four-star and the nation’s No. 31 ranked defensive end prospect, Dickson was offered at tight end by LSU, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Oklahoma. When the Tigers landed Richard, former tight ends coach Josh Henson began to build a relationship with Travis. When Don Yanowsky joined the staff and took over Henson’s responsibilities, the relationship was passed on. In a short time, Yanowsky made up enough ground to get Travis on board. “I know coach Yano probably as well as Richard does right now, and I’ve been knowing coach Miles since eighth grade,” Dickson said. “The relationship helps a lot, and I’ve gotten to know them all and that kind of made things a little bit easier as far as recruiting goes.”
How the class finishes remains to be seen. Will the Tigers nab five-star running back Lache Seastrunk, the biggest fish left on the board? Trovon Reed and Jarrett Fobbs, both ranked as top-50 receivers in the country, are the two big names still on the Tiger’s in-state receiver board. Add in James Wright and Curtis Carter – who has not landed an offer – and the debate is certainly on. With space tight, how will the cards fall? One thing is certain; the development of Gibson and Simon on the defensive side will be a factor in making the numbers work.
And, can the Tigers close big on the defensive side? Will there be another Sam Montgomery-type surprise in store? From Ladarius Owens to – gasp – Jeff Luc, the Tigers are drawing looks from big out-of-state names.
Regardless, the job done by Miles and his staff over the past seven months, from closing on the 2009 class to the 22 commitments in for the 2010 class, is nothing short of a home run effort.