Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the Blioxi Sun-Herald.
PERKINSTON, Miss. -- Sometimes it’s hard to ignore the pull from home.
The desire to play in front of family and hometown fans, people who come from where you were raised, can be strong.
The question is just how strong?
Isaiah Buggs is one of the more highly coveted junior college recruits in the country.
Chances are, by the time you finish this column he’ll have picked up another offer. Just Tuesday morning Southern Cal offered the talented Mississippi Gulf Coast defensive end. The Trojans are the latest on a who’s who list of offers that includes most of the SEC, Oklahoma and other elite programs.
When the Ruston, La., defensive end arrived in Perkinston prior to last season, the Bulldogs staff was giddy to land him. Without any offers in his pocket just yet, Buggs went to work and produced almost immediately, recording six tackles in his first collegiate game, a 40-23 win at Northeast Mississippi Community College.
Division I colleges took note. First the likes of Kansas State and Iowa State started to show interest.
‘Blessing from God’
At last Wednesday’s scrimmage, which wrapped up Gulf Coast’s spring season, representatives from Texas A&M, Auburn, Minnesota, Memphis and elsewhere were on hand to see Buggs and a handful of his top-end teammates like former LSU signees Brandon Martin and Travonte Valentine, and offensive lineman D’Marcus Hayes. A few days before LSU’s Ed Orgeron -- more on the Tigers later -- swung by Perkinston.
“It’s just a blessing from God,” Buggs said of his recruitment. “I continue to be a good person on and off the field and just leave it all up to Him. I’m a coachable player. They tell me what I need to do and I do it. I try my best and work hard every day.
“I leave it all out on the field every time I come to work.”
As a 6-foot-4, 260-pound freshman, Buggs recorded 59 tackles with four sacks and eight tackles for loss. Up to 280 pounds now, Buggs is working to improve his numbers as a sophomore. The additions of Valentine and former Auburn commit Daquan Newkirk along the line should help, too.
Handling the attention
Some players seem to become overwhelmed by recruitment and withdraw the attention.
Not Buggs. He’s active on social media, typically retweeting most mentions -- regardless of the message.
That’s where MGCCC coach Chad Huff said Buggs -- who called the whole recruiting process “exciting” -- has to remain grounded.
“He’s grown as a player mentally as well. He is still growing, not only physically but mentally as well,” Huff said. “He just needs to continue to grow and improve his game and be consistent and be an every down player.”
Huff has a simple message for elite recruits like Buggs.
“Can’t get caught up in all the hype. You still have six more months,” he said. “Make yourself different. Why are you different. What makes you different from the other 6-5, 280 guys out there. Be special, stay humbled and never be content.”
At the beginning of the month, Buggs tweeted his Top 10 (IN NO ORDER!). Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas A&M, Baylor, Miami, Ole Miss, Auburn, Arkansas, Georgia and Florida all made the cut. One interesting omission from the Ruston product: LSU.
“Top 10s, that really doesn’t mean nothing,” Buggs said last Wednesday, 20 days after the tweet. “That’s just who I’m looking at right now.”
So what about LSU? Where do the Tigers stand?
“That’s home,” Buggs said. “I know everybody is waiting on that answer. You never know what might happen.”
Buggs continued to talk about building relationships with coaching staffs, regardless of the school. Perhaps the Tigers figured Buggs was a foregone conclusion and started to sleep on the defensive end’s recruitment. Whatever the case, the list must have woken up Les Miles’ staff because LSU has been showing Buggs much more love as of late.
“It’s all about building relationships with coaches. Once you build a relationship with the coaches you’ll be able to make an opportunity to go anywhere and play,” Buggs said. “... They’ve been keeping in contact with me. They came down (April 25). Great coaches. It has always been a great coaching staff there.
“Just getting a relationship with them. That’s the key thing.”
Is there pressure to go ahead and pick the Tigers when Buggs announces this summer, ahead of his sophomore season?
“Being from Louisiana, everybody’s all, ‘hey, you’ve got to go home and play. That’s hometown. You have to come play in front of your home fans. Get your first sack in front of your home town,’” he said. “There’s pressure but it’s also about getting to somewhere where you’ll be able to play, get one good year and get ready for the NFL level.”
Isaiah, Baton Rouge is callin’.
Patrick Ochs, a Sun Herald sports reporter, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at PatrickOchs.