The 2019-20 recruiting cycle was never going to go down as one of the all-time great years for talent in Louisiana.
So it was no surprise that LSU had to go out of state to fill a lot of its needs.
But the way it turned out, with 14 of the Tigers’ 19 signees Wednesday coming from nine states not named Louisiana, was still shocking to see.
LSU signed more players in the early period (players can also sign in February) from St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, than it did from any one address in Louisiana. LSU got new Tigers from Baton Rouge, Kenner, Alexandria, New Iberia and Pontchatoula. That’s it.
“I’d like to have 25 players in Louisiana who fit our needs,” Orgeron said. Undoubtedly a true statement, though it’s just as true that never happens.
Orgeron cited the high level of out-of-state interest in the Tigers and their erupting offense that has led to their 13-0 season to date and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming College Football Playoff. It is intoxicating to be wanted, pursued, to be told you’re the cool kid and that someone wants to join your group.
It worked out for LSU in a lot of respects. The Tigers needed a left tackle and got one in Marcus Dumervil, one of the two players who signed with LSU from St. Thomas Aquinas along with teammate Marlon Martinez, also an O-lineman.
The Tigers needed a pass-rushing outside linebacker and got one in Philip Webb from Buford, Georgia. Given that Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow is a senior and that quarterbacks (like Burrow) transfer at a dizzying rate these days, LSU needed quarterbacks and got two. One of them is TJ Finley from Ponchatoula, the other Max Johnson, son of Super Bowl-winning quarterback Brad Johnson, from Watkinsville, Georgia, in the shadow of the Georgia Bulldogs’ goal posts and the hometown of former Tigers signal-caller Zach Mettenberger.
A couple of times the Tigers rolled snake eyes. Longtime wide receiver commitment Rakim Jarrett, a five-star out of Washington, decided to stay close to home at Maryland. Another top receiver, Jermaine Burton out of California, was committed to LSU for months but at the last signed with Georgia. Virginia safety Malcolm Greene switched at the 11th hour from LSU to Clemson.
“Out of state, we missed on some big-time players, but that’s going to happen,” Orgeron said. “You’re always surprised. You talk to them at night (before signing day) and they’re coming, and then they don’t sign.”
This is the high-risk game of recruiting nationally. When it comes down to it, sometimes players don’t want to leave home. Or they don’t want to make your campus their home.
The risk also comes with straining relationships on the home front. Four-star Live Oak defensive tackle Jalen Lee decommitted from LSU in November and signed with Florida. Four-star Madison Prep safety Major Burns decommitted from LSU a week ago and signed with Georgia. Both are players you assume were encouraged to take their talents elsewhere, that their services were no longer held in such high regard by the hometown school.
That’s the hard and unforgiving world of recruiting. Happens every year, everywhere. But it may take some smooth talking by Orgeron, known the world over as an ace recruiter, to get the next big prospect from those schools.
While LSU’s recruiting makes the future forever tantalizing, there's plenty of news in the present. With the Tigers plowing through their last few home practices before heading to Atlanta on Sunday for their Dec. 28 date with Oklahoma in the CFP semifinal in the Peach Bowl, All-Southeastern Conference running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire suffered an injury near the end of practice Tuesday.
Orgeron was moderately forthcoming on details, though he didn’t specify the type of injury, and he apparently doesn't know whether his top tailback will be available for what by the name of it is LSU’s biggest game in years.
If Clyde can’t play, the Tigers will have to turn to their backup systems. That means freshmen Tyrion Davis-Price, John Emery and Chris Curry.
This is why you recruit — for instances like this, when one of your most critical players goes down, or at least has his availability cast into serious doubt. Orgeron expressed confidence in his backup band but admitted it would probably take all three of them to pool their talents to fill the hole left in LSU’s offense by Edwards-Helaire’s running, pass-catching and blocking.
If the Tigers beat the Sooners, perhaps Edwards-Helaire could play Jan. 13 in the CFP National Championship Game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, though no one knows. LSU is already holding out hope that senior linebacker Michael Divinity could return in the championship game after leaving the team in early November but returning to practice Nov. 18.
A few unwritten pages in the story of this LSU season will have everyone glued to the end to see how it turns out. Sort of like this recruiting class, whose final story won’t be written until February, but one that will already be defined by how many Tigers are coming from all over the map instead of from down the street.