WATSON — Live Oak High football head coach Brett Beard has directed the Eagles to several of the program’s milestones, but there was one it reached in June that had fans of Live Oak and LSU excited.
Jalen Lee, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive tackle committed to be a part of LSU’s 2020 recruiting class over offers from three other finalists — Alabama, Florida and Ole Miss. The commitment will make Lee the first player from Live Oak to play football for the Tigers, a distinction he is happy to fulfill after growing up 30 minutes away from Tiger Stadium.
Asked if staying close to home was an important factor, Lee didn’t hesitate to answer.
“It was very important. People down here, they bleed purple and gold,” he said. “I know I have a lot of people supporting me, and they’ll be at every football game. It feels great.”
At first, Beard didn’t know Lee was Live Oak’s first football player to commit to LSU, but it didn’t take him long to find out.
“It never really hit me until I heard it on the radio,” said Beard, who coached the Eagles to their first playoff win in 2015, and then to the Class 5A quarterfinals in 2017.
“It’s a testament to these kids trusting the process and working hard. When you’re blessed to be 6-4, 295, it makes it a little easier, but what a big deal for the Watson community and Live Oak High School. To have a kid like Jalen Lee go out and represent our program, it’s a big deal.”
In recent years, recruiting battles for the best Louisiana talent, even in the Baton Rouge area, have seemed to involve Alabama. It was no different with Lee’s recruitment, but LSU coach Ed Orgeron made sure Lee knew how much he was wanted.
“Its been crazy. Live Oak has never gotten this much attention,” Lee said. “Everyone would look at me and say, ‘Oh my god. Alabama offered him.’ Nick Saban, Coach ‘O’ — they all came on campus. I’ve just been enjoying the ride and soaking it all in because you only get it one time.”
For as much fanfare as LSU has received after unveiling its new football operations center, one that includes a glitzy new locker room, it wasn’t a deciding factor in Lee’s commitment. It came down to relationships and where he felt at home.
“All (Southeastern Conference) schools have nice facilities so it wasn’t because of that. It feels different (at LSU),” Lee said. “Coach ‘O,' he’s a down-to-earth guy and he treats me like family. I felt like I was already there even when I wasn’t. I felt like I was already on the team.”
According to Beard, Lee’s athletic ability alone would probably be enough for him to excel at the high school level. His attitude and work ethic mean LSU is getting a player who is already beginning to hone his technique. Among the adjectives Beard uses, he describes Lee as a player with heavy hands who hits his spots.
“The way he plays with his hands is the most impressive thing I’ve seen in a high school defensive lineman,” Beard said. “He controls the offensive lineman and he’s very violent with his hands. Some of those things usually don’t develop until later, but (Lee) has become more of a force than he already was.”
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With his decision of where to attend college out of the way, Lee will be able to focus that force on high school opponents one last time this fall.