When Memphis State graduate Larry Porter was the recruiting coordinator at LSU, the city of Memphis – and state of Tennessee – became territory where the Tigers weren’t afraid to fight for the top recruits.
While many expected that the approach could change once Porter took the head job at Memphis, the LSU staff is right back in the Volunteer State as out-of-state recruiting for 2011 kicks into gear.
Headed forward, add Southwind High’s Lonnie Ballentine to the watch list. With an offer in hand and campus visits made, Ballentine is becoming more and more familiar with the Tiger program with the passing months.
“I camped down there last summer, then last month our team had a track meet that was held on the LSU campus,” Ballentine said. “I am pretty familiar with how the campus looks and the facilities and stuff like that, but I have not gotten that chance to get a feel for the atmosphere.
“My next visit will be about getting comfortable with the surroundings to see if it is a place I want to be through my college years,” he added. “My first impressions were really great. But getting there for a visit where I can spend a weekend with the team will tell me a lot more.”
During last month’s trek to Baton Rouge, Ballentine met with defensive backs coach Ron Cooper and other members of the staff to discuss how the Tigers would approach his recruitment.
“My mom, my brother and I went to the complex and met with the coaches, and we talked about all kinds of things,” he said. “That was when they gave me the scholarship papers. They had offered last summer after camp, but they made it official this time around. I was pretty excited about it. LSU is definitely a school I am seriously interested in.”
With offers from Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee, USC and others, Ballentine said that his recruitment is moving in the direction he had always hoped. Yet, the decision on a position is one that the 6-foot-3, 200-pound prospect said has some teams separating themselves from the rest of the pack.
“I would say 70-percent of the schools that are recruiting me want me as a corner, but LSU is one of the few that like me at safety,” said Ballentine, who recorded 55 tackles, six interceptions and 25 pass break ups during his junior campaign. “I think I can cover some slot guys or stay out on the corner, so it is interchangeable to me at this point.
“In my first year playing back in ninth grade, my coaches at Hamilton High got my feet wet with 6A football,” he added. “That left me confident that I can play wherever. Being fortunate enough to be around good coaches and teammates have set me up to be a pretty strong player headed into my last year.”
With junior day events in the rearview, Ballentine has turned his focus to spring games. First up: Alabama.
“I am set to go to Tuscaloosa first, then I will see LSU again on March 27,” he said. “I had planned on getting back to Baton Rouge for an unofficial visit, and that weekend, if I am free with track, will be a good one for me. My parents will just take a week or two and let me go get a feel for some campuses, and LSU is a place I am ready to get back to.”
Ballentine is quick to brush off the idea of any outright leaders for his services. Yet, one conference has had his attention through most of his childhood.
“I really like the SEC, and it is probably the toughest conference to play in,” he said. “A lot of schools from the SEC have offered, and I can definitely see myself ending up there. Still, I have some looks from schools like Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, so I have to be patient and take it all in.”