In a packed gymnasium at Brookhaven High School on Wednesday morning, chants of “marooooon” and “whiiiiite” broke out when Leo Lewis announced that he would sign with Mississippi State over LSU.
Hours earlier, Lewis, the top-ranked inside linebacker in the nation, had seemed destined for LSU.
“At the end of the day, it’s tough on these kids, especially when you come from Louisiana and Mississippi, to leave home,” said Sonny Shipp, a recruiting reporter for 247Sports. “That’s what you saw: in-state power struggle, and LSU came up short.”
The Tigers still finished with a top-10 class — top-five according to one service — but missing on Lewis somewhat marred a group that included no linebackers. That result — and signing just two defensive linemen — means a must-have big haul in the front seven in 2016.
LSU’s coaches aren’t hiding from that fact. They are down in numbers at certain spots.
Just two signees who play on the defensive front seven signed with the Tigers: Georgia defensive end Arden Key, a late commit, and Karr defensive end Isaiah Washington.
“You can imagine that 2016 will be a big year for us defensively,” said Frank Wilson, LSU’s recruiting coordinator and running backs coach. “We return several guys this year and our numbers are probably minus two where we’d like them to be, but we’ll get it at no problem next year at the linebacker position.”
It’s a good year for it. Nine 2016 Louisiana recruits are ranked in the top 100 nationally, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. Those include St. Thomas Aquinas defensive tackle Edwin Alexander and Neville defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence.
John Curtis’ Nathaniel Evans is a top-30 inside linebacker, and John Ehret’s Michael Divinity is the seventh-best outside linebacker.
“Louisiana is loaded,” Shipp said.
Recruiting efforts began this weekend. LSU hosted its annual junior day — Boys From The Boot — on Saturday, when a host of offers went out to some of the state’s top talent.
Wilson isn’t too concerned about the low numbers at linebacker and on the defensive line. He said LSU is at seven linebackers “so we’re good at numbers,” but the team may tweak its personnel on special teams.
Normally, several linebackers play special teams. The staff plans for safeties to fill some of those roles, Wilson said.
Lewis’ signing would have helped. Lewis and his family had told LSU’s staff that the four-star prospect planned to sign with the Tigers up until the night before National Signing Day, according to 247Sports. Instead, the Bulldogs swooped in and kept the highly touted recruit in his home state.
“There were a couple guys that said ‘no’ that I didn’t anticipate,” coach Les Miles admitted on signing day.
The 2016 recruiting year, though, isn’t strictly about defense. LSU has just three scholarship quarterbacks on its roster, and Feleipe Franks, the top-ranked dual threat QB in the nation for the class, has been committed to the Tigers since June.
LSU has offers out to five other quarterbacks for the class, four of them dual-threat QBs, 247Sports has reported. That list doesn’t include Dwayne Haskins, a pro-style quarterback from Maryland whom LSU offered Friday, according to Rivals.com.
The list of QB offers includes uncommitted Calvary Baptist quarterback Shea Patterson, the third-ranked pro-style QB in the class.
The odds are long for LSU to land both Franks and Patterson. Two top-five quarterbacks in the same class don’t often sign with the same team.
“What does Franks do if Patterson commits? There’s a lot of debate about which one is the better guy,” said Mike Scarborough, recruiting reporter for Rivals.
“It would be tough for Shea Patterson to be the other quarterback,” said Shea Dixon of 247Sports. “LSU would love to have both, but they’re battling for two of the best quarterbacks in the country. Feleipe jumped on LSU first. Shea is not short of offers.
“I wouldn’t be suspired if they ended up with one of them and then someone (else) that wasn’t a five-star quarterback.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.