Brandon LaFell still talks about his high school playing days, where he used a senior campaign to put together a 1,000-plus yard, 16-touchdown season at Lamar High, one of the top performances in the state of Texas that fall.
But for LaFell, a Houston native, the reflections don’t always go back to how he performed under the lights on Friday night. That part of the high school football process always came clear to him.
“I never questioned my game,” said LaFell, who was a member of the Houston-Chronicle Top-100 and named first-team All-Greater Houston Area in 2004. “I knew I could run with all the top guys that were being recruited.”
Things got cloudy off the field, primarily with the senior’s college recruitment, which came down to a late-January decision, crunch time in the recruiting world, between Florida and LSU.
The second glances came with the rest of his options, which weren’t aplenty. The only other college coaches willing to give LaFell a shot were at Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma State, a short list for a prospect that would soon become a freshman All-SEC performer.
“I have to admit, I didn’t understand it,” LaFell said.
After a redshirt year in 2005, LaFell burst onto the Tiger Stadium scene in the opening game of 2006.
That moment, where the 19-year old turned the first play from scrimmage against Louisiana-Lafayette into a 58-yard score, was the stamp that LaFell said helped define his college career.
“It was the first play, and I scored a touchdown,” he laughed. “My teammates and family and all those people knew I could play, but I guess everyone else started really paying attention after that.”
By the 2008 season LaFell had transformed into one of the nation’s elite wideouts. In one of the most productive years in LSU history, he caught 63 passes for 929 yards and eight touchdowns en route to First-Team All-SEC honors.
In his final season, LaFell upped the touchdown total to 11, a tie for the second-highest single-season total in school history. Dwayne Bowe, who LaFell credits with much of his development, holds the record at 12.
“I think LaFell is a self-made man,” said head coach Les Miles. “He came in skinny and got stronger and faster.”
While listed at 6-foot-3, 180-pounds coming out of high school, LaFell admitted that numbers were skewed to make him more attractive to college coaches.
“I might have been 6-foot-2 and 170-pounds,” he laughed. “But I hit the weight room when I got to campus. Right away, I was with guys like Dwayne, Buster [Davis] and Early [Doucet], and they knew the game and how to take care of their bodies. That set things in motion for me.”
For a receiver with plans of playing on Sundays, the trio wasn’t a bad crop to learn from. Bowe was drafted with the 23rd pick in 2007. Davis was taken seven picks later. Doucet was a third-rounder to Arizona in the next year’s draft.
“By the end of playing around them, I had a chip on my shoulder,” LaFell said. “I wanted to go out and prove myself; to show that I was on that level.”
LaFell’s career ended with the fifth-year senior eclipsing the 2,500-yard mark, a milestone that put his name into the discussions of greatest Tiger receivers of all time. While his receiving yard mark is good for fifth in school history, his touchdowns (25) and receptions (175) rank second and third, respectively.
For NFL teams looking to fill a void at receiver, Miles is on the side of the fence that couldn’t pass the SEC talent up.
“He is very specific to detail,” Miles said. “He understands technique and leverage on a route. He has real ball skills.
“It is always those guys that work hard and apply effort that are drafted highly,” he said. “If you are a first-round pick, it didn’t come naturally. You worked on every route and you understand the game.”
Projected as anywhere from a second to early-third round selection during this weekend’s draft, LaFell, the eternal optimist, asked that Tiger fans tune in from opening day on Thursday.
“I feel like it’s going to be over sooner than most people think,” he said.