LSU entered signing day having doled out signing papers to four prospects for four open spots in the 2018 class: Scotlandville defensive back Kelvin Joseph, receiver Ja'Marr Chase from Rummel, Alabama quarterback James Foster and Florida cornerback Patrick Surtain.
Coach Ed Orgeron had a backup plan, too, if needed in Missouri cornerback Mario Goodrich.
The wrench in the plan: When Surtain snubbed LSU for Alabama, Orgeron’s backup plan had already made his commitment to Clemson.
The coach explained at length just how the Tigers were left having signed just two players on Wednesday and 23 overall in a class that many expected to be full at 25. LSU never planned to offer the scholarship slotted for Foster to anyone else, and the Tigers were only taking one cornerback — Surtain or Plan B, Goodrich.
“First of all, we had a draft and put the four guys up we were going to give scholarships to. We had several guys that wanted to commit. I didn’t have a scholarship for him. I wasn’t going to tell them I could take their commitment. I wasn’t going to lie to them. Now, some people may do that and feel good about it. I wasn’t going to do that,” Orgeron said in a long-winded answer explaining the plan.
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LSU already has 21 signees from prospects who signed during the early period in December. Wednesday's signing day should bring four more. Foll…
“I said, ‘I can’t take your commitment right now because we have certain slots that are slotted for people. Now, if you want to wait, you can.’ I wanted to say that ahead of time. Going into Sunday night, we felt really good. We knew we had not offered Mario (Goodrich) a scholarship offer to take. But we knew if somebody had not taken a scholarship, we were going to go back in on Mario. It was too late. He had taken a commitment on Monday night. That happened.
“I stayed on the phone with him all night trying to change his mind last night, but, hey, he committed (to Clemson). James Foster, we were one of three. We didn’t have another quarterback on the board that we wanted. We weren’t going to waste a scholarship but we always knew there were some graduate transfers out there that would be available so we wanted to save that scholarship.”
Orgeron’s full opening statement and Q&A with reporters:
Really excited about Ja’Marr Chase and Kelvin Joseph. Want to welcome them to our great Tiger family. There are two of the best players in the state of Louisiana we’ve been targeting for a long time and two of the best in the country. They fit specific positions of need. Excited to have those guys.
Ja’Marr Chase out of Rummel, No. 3 player in the state of Louisiana — 6-1, 195 pound wide receiver with big hands and an excellent route runner. He had 61 catches, 1,100 yards and 14 TDs. Has great character, has a great family. His family was a joy to recruit. Brought the whole staff in his house, led by Mickey Joseph. A tremendous gift for the Tigers.
Him and Terrace Marshall remind me of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham when we signed them back in the day. I wasn’t here, but I remember when we signed them. We expect that tandem to be great.
Kelvin Joseph of Scotlandville High School, No. 2 player in the state of Louisiana. Corey Raymond did a tremendous job of recruiting this young man. Could have went most places. He decided not to take any other visits last weekend. Was an LSU Tiger. We went to his home. His family is from Baton Rouge. Couldn’t be prouder to be LSU Tigers.
Kelvin is 6-2, 200. He’s going to play cornerback for us, which is a need position. Very aggressive DB. Great tackler. He had 184 tackles and 5 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. Tremendous man from Scotlandville High School. Overall in this class, our emphasis this year was state of Louisiana first. We signed 8 of the top 10 players in Louisiana (according to 247Sports) and 13 players in Louisiana overall, which we’re most proud of.
We wanted to add linemen and we did. Four offensive linemen and five defensive tackles. We needed to add receivers. We signed four receivers, including two of the top five in the country. We needed running backs, signed two very talented running backs, one who’s already here.
Remember, nine of our signees are already enrolled and practicing with our football team right now.
As of now, we have two scholarships to be used — it was a plan. We didn’t want to waste our scholarships. We wanted to save them. Last year, we had scholarships available. We used them on (transfers) Breiden Fehoko, Jonathan Giles and Thaddeus Moss. I’m glad we had those scholarships available. We believe Breiden Fehoko and Jonathan Giles will start for us this year and be two of our best players on our team, and Thaddeus Moss will add to the mix. We wanted to save those scholarships for transfers from other universities that will fit specific needs or a graduate transfer, perhaps a graduate transfer quarterback or graduate transfer cornerback. That was the reason we didn’t sign 25. That was the plan and has always been the plan.
If we don’t lose those scholarships for transfers or graduate transfers, we feel like this is one of the top classes in the state of Louisiana (in 2019 so) we can add them for next class.
We’re excited about what happened today. Obviously disappointed with some of the losses, but we got the guys who wanted to fight for the Tigers.
These events usually begin with a high-pitched squeal or loud scream.
When you spend years recruiting a player, think he’s coming and he does not, how does that affect your class and approach?
It’s tough. One of those players (it was) three years, maybe four. Put a lot of work into it. All indications the whole time was he was coming here. Night before you get a call and he’s not. Obviously you’ve got to change your plans. You know what? That’s recruiting. We’re happy with the guys we got. We want guys who want to be at LSU.
You mentioned Kelvin Joseph playing cornerback instead of safety. Would you move any other players to corner?
We’re going to see. We have four cornerbacks on our team right now. Going to look for graduate transfers that may be available. Obviously, we wanted to sign one more. We didn’t, but that’s just the way it goes. We’ll find some guys who can play cornerback. We’ll be fine.
Ja’Marr Chase and Kelvin Joseph had tears in signing. What’s that mean to see that passion?
Those guys wanted to be in Louisiana and it meant a lot to them. One of my favorite parts of recruiting is going into home visits and see the families. All have LSU on and screaming for the Tigers. For them to all be a part of them when they come to LSU, that’s what makes it special. Ja’Marr Chase was at one point not coming to LSU. We fought and fought, stayed with the parents. (Receivers coach) Mickey Joseph did a tremendous job. Kelvin Joseph at one time de-committed but we kept with him, Corey Raymond kept with him and we captured the family.
Some fans may have some concerns lately that LSU is not going in the right direction. You feel like things are going in the right direction?
I can’t control that. I cannot let that affect the way we’re doing things. I know I’ve got a great coordinator. I feel that we did a great job last year after Troy going 6-1. I haven’t forgotten that. We can’t let the outside affect what we’re doing here. We’re working hard. We love this class and feel like we’re going to have a lot of success at LSU.
Ed Orgeron isn’t concerned by LSU’s lack of cornerbacks or quarterbacks in this year’s signing class.
Now that you’ve experienced the early national signing day, what have you learned for the future?
Being more selective as far as in the beginning of the recruiting period. This year in the state of Louisiana, we feel like we have some of the top players in the country. We’re going to be more selective with our scholarships, fill specific needs, go to Houston a lot more. This year is a great year in Houston. We are already on some of the top players in Houston, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Stay close to home. All the players we lost, that didn’t come here, were from out of state. We feel like we do a good job in state, we’ll be very successful at LSU.
Where would you have ranked cornerback and quarterback on your list of needs in 2018?
If you look at quarterback and cornerback, it was one of the things we wanted to do with the last four. Obviously, we were going after (QB James) Foster. We didn’t have another guy we wanted, but we also know there’s some graduate transfer (QBs) out there. We feel like we have three outstanding quarterbacks on our team. Obviously if something happens to one, we’ll be very thin. That was the concern. We feel like in the Year 2019, we’re on a lot of great quarterbacks and are ahead in that recruiting.
Cornerbacks — we always thought Patrick was coming. He was our No. 1 cornerback on the board. That never changed. We he didn’t become available we went after Mario Goodrich, it was just a day too late. We weren’t going to settle for anybody else. We’re going to find another cornerback in next year’s class, and moved Kelvin from safety to cornerback. That was always the plan. That’s what we’re doing.
Is it fair to say cornerback is the biggest concern right now?
Having Kelvin Joseph puts us … we’re going to put him at cornerback. We were only going to sign one cornerback anyway, and it was always going to be Patrick. So Patrick would have come, Kelvin was going to go to safety. Moving Kelvin to cornerback. He can play cornerback very well.
Do you plan on hiring a 10th assistant coach?
We’re going to add the 10th coach, add a guy that fits our staff the best. We have some ideas in mind. It should be happening soon.
You talked about Ja’Marr and Terrace and when you couple them with other wideouts in the class. How confident are you in that group?
Very confident. Very confident in Jonathan Giles. Here’s a guy who we couldn’t cover last year. Add him to that mix and we got five new guys coming in. All do things different and are very talented. Obviously, four of them are young. I do believe having Terrace here early (is a plus). I do believe that Ja’Marr is close to our program and can pick up things in June. Kenan (Jones) can too, so can Jaray (Jenkins). All four of those guys are going to be expected to play next year and two of them may start for us.
I know Jonathan Giles is on our starting roster on offense, one of our better players on offense and I’m glad to have him.
When did you learn Surtain would not be coming and what do you do?
About 11 (Tuesday night). Get on the phone and start calling other people.
You mentioned grad transfer QBs. You’d be OK with adding one?
It all depends on who’s available. That was always the plan if James didn’t come, that we weren’t going to use that scholarship on anyone else, that we’d look for a grad transfer or another transfer. All depends.
First time you don’t have a Leonard Fournette or Derrius Guice in the backfield. Would you change how you’ve run offenses in the past?
Sure. We want to be 50/50. We’re going to have a four receiver set, three receiver set. We feel like the addition of these receivers is going to help us. All depends on what the defense gives us. Always wanted to be 50/50 since I’ve been here. Now I have Steve Ensminger (calling plays) and I know he’s going to do it. We have some quarterbacks that can throw the ball. We feel the addition of the receivers is going to help us.
Right now this is the lowest ranked LSU’s been since 2005. What do you need to do to get back?
Let’s see what happens with this class. We have some defensive linemen and offensive linemen that are very good. I trust my rankings. I chose this class. I trust my ability to evaluate and develop better than anybody else. I’m not going to trust anybody else’s evaluation. Now, we could have had a higher class. I understand. We missed on some so-called … guys. To get two of the best receivers in the country, that’s something we wanted to do. To get five defensive tackles, signing 8 of (top) 10 in Louisiana, we’re proud of that.
No one can accuse Ed Orgeron of not being aggressive enough on the recruiting trail.
The best player in Baton Rouge is moving across town.