In Tiger Stadium on Saturday, De’Vion Warren will return kickoffs.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron would prefer he be collecting kicks for his team and not from his team.
“I'd love to have De'Vion Warren on my football team right now,” Orgeron said earlier this week. “He's an excellent football player.”
Warren, Arkansas’ freshman returner, is from Louisiana, just like 12 other Razorbacks. It’s a homecoming for the baker’s dozen when LSU (6-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) hosts Arkansas (4-5, 1-4) at 11 a.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
The list includes leading tackler linebacker De’Jon Harris (Harvey), potential starting quarterback Cole Kelley (Lafayette) and third-leading tackler defensive back Santos Ramirez (Shreveport). Ramirez is one of three of Arkansas’ Louisiana-bred players who received offers from the Tigers. The other is Monroe’s Brandon Martin, a receiver who signed with LSU in 2015 before going the junior college route.
“Those guys have done a good job of recruiting Louisiana,” Orgeron said of Arkansas. “They’ve done a good job of evaluating Louisiana talent. I've got to give them some credit.”
LSU’s athletic graduation success rate hit the 90 percentile.
They’ve got coaches familiar with this state and its most talented area.
Arkansas linebackers coach Chad Walker and receivers coach Michael Smith are from New Orleans. Walker served as a defensive assistant on LSU’s 2003 national championship team.
“A lot of (our) guys were recruited by LSU and, fortunately for us, chose to come to Arkansas,” Smith told reporters in Fayetteville, Arkansas, earlier this week, “but it's another football game with just a little bit of extra sauce on it for those guys. I know a lot of the coaches down there, I know a lot the players on their team.”
The connections between these programs go much deeper, too. LSU quarterback Danny Etling chose the Tigers over the Razorbacks upon transferring from Purdue after the 2014 season. Orgeron himself has plenty ties to Arkansas. He was a member of the strength staff in 1986-87, and he visited UA coach Bret Bielema in the fall of 2014 – his year off of coaching – to learn about Bielema’s pro-style scheme. Orgeron’s wife, Kelly, is from a small town just outside of Jonesboro, Arkansas.
The player connections for LSU end with Etling. The Tigers don’t have on their roster even one player from the state of Arkansas, an area not known for producing top-flight football talent.
Louisiana, of course, is. And the Hogs till the state with the best of them, led by Smith.
“The proximity and Michael Smith coming from Louisiana has allowed us to recruit in there,” Bielema said. “(We have) a lot of recruiting battles with LSU on guys. Not just Louisiana players, but maybe players we're on in Texas and Florida. So there's a lot that, that goes with it. Then because we've developed a roster with so many Louisiana players it's become a bigger deal.”
Orgeron expects the group of Louisiana-bred Razorbacks to be "fired up" on Saturday. Smith hopes to keep reeling them in. He's been integral to signing 14 Louisiana players in the past four signing classes.
“It's been huge," Smith said. "To have the opportunity to go down there and recruit in a state that's right below us. And to get the type of players that we've had, it’s been huge. We hope to continue the success that we've had down there.”
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