On Sunday, hours after he completes his first regular season as LSU’s permanent football coach, Ed Orgeron gets an early Christmas gift — recruiting.
Orgeron and most of his coaches are bound for the road Sunday, the start of the first week of the NCAA’s open contact period. It is a three-week stretch preceding the new early signing period, Dec. 20-22, in which coaches are allowed to visit prospects off campus.
But first, the Tigers are set to host five prospects on campus for official visits this weekend — none more highly touted than Parkway receiver Terrace Marshall. He’s the No. 1 player in the state, top-ranked receiver in the nation and eighth-ranked overall player in this 2018 class.
His visit coincides, of course, with the clash between No. 19 LSU (8-3, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) and Texas A&M (7-4, 4-3) on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. The game might cap the regular season, but it gives way to the kickoff, some might say, of the recruiting season — early December until national signing day on Feb. 7.
“This is a difficult week,” Orgeron said. “You are preparing for your last game. And on Sunday you've got nine coaches or 10 coaches going on the road recruiting. … We know it is a crunch.”
The real fun begins next week.
Open contact periods span the first three weeks of December and the last three weeks of January. During these periods, assistant coaches are allowed to visit prospects once a week off campus, paying them visits at their homes or high schools.
There’s no avoiding the Christmas spirit for LSU football players.
Assistants are sprinkled throughout the nation during the week before returning on weekends to cater to waves of official visitors. All the while, the staff is attempting to re-recruit underclassmen to return for their senior seasons.
An addition to a busy December this year is the early signing date, which allows prospects to sing for a 72-hour period starting Dec. 20.
“How many guys are going to sign on December 20?” Orgeron asked rhetorically during his weekly news conference Monday. “Obviously, we're pushing for all our guys that are committed to sign on December 20.”
The Tigers hold 18 commitments, with room for about seven more. As many as five current commitments could enroll early in January: Evangel players Davin Cotton and Micah Baskerville, Alabama running back Tae Provens, Mississippi center Cole Smith and Florida H-back Zach Sheffer.
Two more top targets could join that group in enrolling early: offensive linemen Badara Traore, the top-ranked junior college tackle, and guard Damien Lewis of Mississippi. Both plan to visit LSU on official trips this weekend.
Justin Rogers, the second-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the nation and a TCU commitment, will join his Parkway teammate Marshall on this weekend’s official visit. The fifth visitor is Justin Watkins, a Florida receiver once committed to LSU.
NCAA rules allow prospects in their final year of high school or junior college to take one official visit — meaning expenses paid — to five schools.
Before all of this — the weekends of official visitors, re-recruitment of underclassmen and in-home visits — the Tigers have a game Saturday.
“It's everything. Everything that we built, everything that we have done, it's all in on the line this game,” Orgeron said. “And we want to finish with nine wins. We want to go to a good bowl. These guys deserve that.”