The LSU roster lists JaCoby Stevens as being from Tennessee.
Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to be exact.
The roster isn’t wrong. He was born in Tennessee and raised there. He developed into one of the nation’s best high school safeties there, competing at the National Playmakers Academy, a Nashville-based training facility.
He graduated from high school there, completing his classes at Oakland High a semester early. He first learned to walk there and first learned to drive there.
He grew accustomed to the snowy winters there, and he’s used to the mountainous terrain there. In fact, as a child, he wanted to attend college there, attaching himself to Vanderbilt.
But this is no Tennessee guy.
“I consider myself a Louisianan,” Stevens said. “People ask me that all of the time — Louisiana or Tennessee? I was born in Tennessee, but I have Louisiana blood flowing through my veins. If you ask me, I’ll always claim Crowley, Louisiana.”
The Stevens family, as you might imagine, is from Louisiana. And, now, they’re all back together here in the state, reunited after Stevens’ parents and sister moved with him to Baton Rouge in December.
When he enrolled early at LSU, Jeremy and Dionne Stevens and their daughter, Janai’, moved here as well, returning to the place where it all began and where the rest of their family resides — an uncle in Baton Rouge, aunts and cousins in Bogalusa and grandparents in Crowley, Jeremy and Dionne’s hometown.
“It’s kind of been surreal,” Jeremy Stevens, JaCoby’s dad, said. “For the first couple of weeks, I’m like, ‘Man, we’re back in Louisiana.’ Seeing family and friends and the weather… I’m like, ‘Damn, we’re in Louisiana!’”
His son on Saturday participated in his first LSU football practice, something he’s anxiously anticipated for years. In his No. 3 purple jersey, yellow LSU helmet and purple shorts, JaCoby participated in backpedaling drills with other defensive backs, catching darts from secondary coach Corey Raymond.
JaCoby’s desire to practice with LSU reached a pinnacle, his dad said, about 10 weeks ago when JaCoby wanted to ditch playing in the Under Armour All-American Game. He wanted to instead watch LSU practice for the Citrus Bowl in the same city, Orlando, Florida.
“I was like, ‘JaCoby, you can’t practice with them!'” Jeremy said.
He did Saturday, showing his skills as the most highly touted of six mid-year enrollees who participated in the Tigers’ first practice of spring drills.
Spring ends with the April 22 spring game, by which time JaCoby hopes to be LSU’s No. 1 safety opposite projected starter John Battle.
Is it optimistic? Of course.
Is it possible? Sure.
Stevens signed with the Tigers as the nation’s No. 1-ranked safety, according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings. His senior year stats back up that lofty position: 61 tackles and nine interceptions as a safety and 34 catches for 689 yards and 12 touchdowns as a receiver.
He’s no longer competing with 16 and 17-year-olds.
Grayson Augustus, JaCoby’s uncle and Jeremy’s younger brother, played offensive guard at UL-Lafayette. He lasted just one season.
“I learned everybody’s big and fast once you get to college,” Augustus said. “I stressed that to JaCoby early on. He’s been a standout athlete since seventh grade, but the competition now is different.”
A positive for JaCoby: He’s competing at a position that’s more up for grabs than any this spring. The group battling to start opposite Battle includes senior Ed Paris, redshirt freshmen Cam Lewis and Eric Monroe, and fellow mid-year enrollee Grant Delpit.
Three of those players have never played in a college game, and Paris is a converted cornerback with two starts in three years.
“It’s a great opportunity. I know there are guys out here competing for my same spot,” JaCoby said. “I’m pretty sure we’re all going to make the decision hard on Coach (Corey) Raymond to make.”
His first practice Saturday completed one of many goals in a plan that ultimately ends with JaCoby graduating in three years and leaving after his junior season for the NFL, his father said.
He’s got a vision, a plan of who he wants to be by 2020 — a blend of two current NFL and former LSU stars and an ex-NFL Super Bowl champion from Destrehan.
“I’ll take Eric Reid, a big physical safety. I’ll take Ed Reed, a ball-hawk free safety. I’ll take Tyrann Mathieu who can cover the slot, can cover a tight end,” JaCoby said. “I want to put all of that together, put it in my game and make it a bunch and call it 'JaCoby Stevens.'”
He’s on the road to that end. Halfway through the semester, JaCoby has all As. He’s created buzz around the football program with his offseason training, too. On Saturday, he got to flash some of the skills that made him such a hot priority.
For example, he had four SEC scholarship offers in ninth grade, and the nation’s top-ranked program hovered over him for much of last fall.
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Alabama assigned three assistant coaches to recruit JaCoby after LSU fired Les Miles in September. One of the Tide assistants, secondary coach Derrick Ansley, texted JaCoby multiple times each day and “tried to get me on the phone every night,” JaCoby said.
Nick Saban and JaCoby talked through FaceTime each Wednesday, and even then-Bama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin got involved in his recruitment.
“One of my trainers said he’d never seen Alabama go for an athlete like they did when they were going after me,” JaCoby said. "There were sometimes where I thought Alabama would be the best choice for me, just because of the stability."
The stabilizing factors at LSU kicked in. They included Raymond, the Tigers’ longtime defensive backs coach who signed a contract extension in December, and general manager Austin Thomas, a close friend to the Stevens family who is originally from Tennessee.
Thomas calls JaCoby his “little brother.” Their relationship is so tight that Thomas says he'd trust JaCoby to care for his young son, Austin III, if anything were to happen to him or his wife. JaCoby’s athleticism and talent match his maturity and brains.
“I remember him coming down for camp the spring of his sophomore year,” Thomas said, “and seeing him and knowing, ‘This is going to be a big-time guy.’”
A bond formed between the two.
“He personally looks after me,” JaCoby said.
There was, of course, one other factor in his decision to choose the Tigers over the Crimson Tide: Louisiana.
“Believe it or not, that was part of the deal if he went to LSU,” Jeremy Stevens said. “He was like, ‘Dad, I want you in Baton Rouge.’”
For a while upon arriving in Baton Rouge, Jeremy, Dionne and Janai’ bunked with Jeremy’s brother, Grayson, and his wife, Heather. They have three boys, including eighth-grade twins. That’s eight people in one house.
“They made it work,” JaCoby laughed.
The Stevens are now splitting their time living at Dionne’s parents’ home in Crowley and Grayson's home in Baton Rouge. Jeremy transferred jobs to the Baton Rouge hub of the Old Dominion Freight Line, and Dionne is distributing resumes, hoping to latch on somewhere as a substitute teacher. The family will soon move into a rental home.
Janai’ began school at Dunham this semester and plays volleyball. She stands 5 -foot-10, the same height as her grandmother. Her mother, Dionne, is 5-9. Jeremy and JaCoby are 6-2. Grayson is 6-6. They have cousins who stand 6-7 and 6-9.
“We have good height in the family,” Jeremy said.
And, now, they’re all back together, right here in Louisiana, where it all began, where JaCoby fell in love with the Purple and Gold.
It happened while 4-year-old JaCoby visited the cage of Mike the Tiger. The family returned each summer to visit family. JaCoby always knew what that meant.
“He had to see Mike the Tiger," Jeremy said, "before we left Louisiana."
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