When the Scout.com enrolled team rankings were released this past week, LSU and Ohio State were dead even at the top. With 24 enrolled prospects at 3.79 stars per player, the Tigers and Buckeyes both staked their claim as the top recruiting class in the country.
Ohio State was handed the No. 1 spot by virtue of enrolling nearly a full class of prep players and having 14 players ranked in the Top 15 at their positions.
LSU head coach Les Miles signed the most five-star prospects in the country (5), which included 11 players ranked in the Top 15 at their positions. Most feel that not losing a single player to attrition speaks volumes about the quality of student-athlete that the Tiger staff has begun to recruit.
While LSU has seen freshmen jump into the mix from time to time, there are not many seasons that bring newcomers into the play calling at multiple positions on both sides of the football.
“I think there are certain places where freshmen were really expected to step in and play,” Miles said. “Whether it’s six or two or 10 [freshmen], I don’t know that it really speaks to the strength of the class so much as maybe the need of the team.”
With immediate help needed on Brick Haley’s defensive line, a handful of freshmen Tigers have made their mark at both tackle and end.
Four-star defensive tackle Josh Downs had the quickest rise, earning the second spot behind Al Woods at left tackle. The 6-foot-1, 275-pound freshman missed the first couple of days of fall camp to injury, but he made good on the final few weeks of work. Thanks to his determination, Downs will see action on Saturday.
“He has got great fire, and he comes off the ball so well,” Miles said. “He has a great first step, and he has the intensity. He will be youthful and make youthful mistakes, but it won’t be because of lack of effort.
“I think playing at Bastrop, with the success he had there, it will let him go to any college and help him play.”
With Akiem Hicks battling an ankle injury, 6-foot-4, 323-pound freshman Chris Davenport could also see time at tackle. Currently, Downs and Davenport sit behind Woods, Drake Nevis and Charles Alexander.
At defensive end, 6-foot-4, 240-pound Sam Montgomery and 6-foot-6, 285-pound Mike Brockers have earned their preseason stripes.
Rahim Alem and Pep Levingston are the starters for Haley on the ends, with Lavar Edwards and Chancey Aghayere filling out the two-deep. After a strong preseason showing, Montgomery and Brockers appear to be the next men in.
“I try to keep an eye on the young guys, and on the line I think Brockers will make a nice impression on the staff,” said starting cornerback Patrick Peterson. “I think Mike will get a lot of playing time this year.”
More impressive, Peterson said, has been the play of three-star Morris Claiborne. The former Fair Park High quarterback arrived to fall camp at wide receiver, where he since transitioned to cornerback. Headed into Saturday, Miles said that Claiborne has earned the role of the fourth man on the depth chart.
“Morris is such a confident freshman, and he reminds me a lot of myself from last year,” Peterson said. “He has the speed, but he is also physical and will come up and hit you. That is what we need in the secondary.”
Starting running back Charles Scott said that he has seen his fair share of newcomers, which leaves him confident that Claiborne could be Miles’ biggest find thus far.
“I compliment Mo all the time, because he is up to speed already,” Scott said. “He looks great and competes with our receivers. It goes beyond athleticism. It is the whole mental capacity, the ability to digest everything thrown at you at once.
“Whoever catches on the quickest is going to move up, and he did that.”
January enrollee Kevin Minter, a four-star and the nation’s No. 4 middle linebacker prospect in 2009, should see time as a backup to Jacob Cutrera and Kelvin Sheppard in the middle. Five-star safety Craig Loston, who was a late-arrival to preseason camp, should make his way into action by the midseason mark.
On the offensive side, the headliners for the weekend are Russell Shepard and Rueben Randle.
Miles said that Shepard would get touches at quarterback, running back and receiver. Randle, a 6-foot-3, 201-pound freshman, will line up behind Terrance Toliver at the X.
Both five-star prospects, Shepard and Randle should become key pieces of Gary Crowton’s offense in 2009. Starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson said that he is doing everything he can to help the process along.
“I talk to Russell, to make sure he won’t be nervous and that he is prepared for when his name is called,” Jefferson said. “He needs to shine, and just stay focused and do good in school. It is the simple things that could prevent him from being effective on the football field.
“Rueben has progressed as a great receiver,” he added. “I expect some big things from him, and we will play him a lot this year. Our relationship is real good.”
Freshman Chris Faulk, a Slidell native, will fill the second spot behind Ciron Black at left tackle. When Black graduates, Faulk is the likely candidate to move into a long-term starting spot.
On special teams, JUCO transfer Derek Helton – a three-star prospect - earned the starting punter job.