Dinner in a suite overlooking Tiger Stadium’s football field was cool.
Learning about how LSU’s academic staff graduates players in three years was great.
Meeting with football players and staff members while mining them for information was nice.
But for Jaren Handy, a highly rated Mississippi defensive end in the 2019 recruiting class, nothing influenced his college choice more than head coach Ed Orgeron.
“The thing I felt comfortable with — and when I really knew I wanted to play there — was (that) the head coach helps coach the defensive line,” Handy said Sunday. “He’s going to put more time into the defense. He’s going to look out for us.”
Handy joined fellow Mississippian Zach Edwards, a linebacker from Starkville, in verbally committing to LSU’s 2019 signing class on Saturday night — a message Handy delivered to Orgeron after an eight-plus-hour junior day event Saturday on campus.
Orgeron and staff hosted about 40 2019 prospects for a full day of events, showcasing the football operations building, the Cox Academic Center, Tiger Stadium and more. The immediate impact was verbal pledges from the two Mississippi players. Orgeron hopes the long-term result is LSU signing the nation's top-ranked class next February.
Recruiting experts say this is a real possibility, in part because of the strength of Louisiana’s 2019 haul. The in-state class includes three five-star rated prospects.
Kardell Thomas shut down his recruitment two weeks ago.
The Tigers already have one committed: Kardell Thomas, the Southern Lab offensive guard who also participated in LSU’s junior day. LSU has three more commitments from players ranked inside the top 25 in the state this cycle: Southern Lab running back Tyrion Davis, Teurlings Catholic offensive tackle Thomas Perry and Haynesville defensive tackle Joseph Evans.
Handy and Edwards give Orgeron eight commitments in a class that now ranks third nationally behind Miami and Georgia in 247Sports’ composite team recruiting rankings. Defensive line coach Dennis Johnson, a Mississippi native, served as the lead recruiter for Handy, the sixth-best player in that state and the No. 7 strong-side defensive end in the class nationally.
“He’s cool,” Handy said. “That’s my guy right there.”
The 6-5, 265-pound Handy played defensive end and tight end as a junior at Perry Central in New Augusta, Mississippi, a town of 715 people just outside of Hattiesburg. LSU coaches want him to play end in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s 3-4 unit.
Handy, the oldest of five children and the center for his high school basketball team, has family in Louisiana. He spent Sunday with a cousin who lives in New Orleans. His aunt, uncle and another cousin attended Saturday’s junior day on campus.
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The day began just before noon with a meeting with Orgeron and staff. Visitors then moved to the Cox Academic Center before a trip to Tiger Stadium. Prospects walked out of the tunnel and into the 102,321-seat facility.
“It was great,” Handy said.
The day closed with dinner at Tiger Stadium’s club level suite, the site of Handy's and Edwards’ commitment decisions. The two discussed their potential commitment before agreeing together to do it.
“He’s like, ‘This feels like the place we can play at. We’ll make it down here,’ ” Edwards, a top-15 inside linebacker prospect, told Handy. “We felt comfortable.”
Handy called Orgeron after dinner.
“Got some good news to tell me?” the coach asked upon answering the phone.
“Yeah,” Handy told him. “I’m ready to commit.”
In the background, Handy could hear the coaching staff celebrating with an outburst.
The staff rolled out the proverbial red carpet for the 2019 prospects Saturday. In interviews with 247Sports, attendees described the day as “amazing, great and fun.” Mississippi safety prospect Jarrian Jones put the Tigers in his top three with Mississippi State and Oklahoma after the visit, and Alabama quarterback Paul Tyson told the site he got “chills” walking out of the tunnel and into Tiger Stadium.
Handy knows that feeling. He had the same.
“It was great,” he said. “When you walk out (the tunnel), it felt different.”
This is a 12-part daily series counting down the days until LSU football begins spring practice on March 11.
2019 commitment class
Nat. Pos. Rank
OG Kardell Thomas
Baton Rouge (Southern Lab)
CB Maurice Hampton
DE Jaren Handy
New Augusta, Miss. (Perry Central)
RB Tyrion Davis
Baton Rouge (Southern Lab)
ILB Zach Edwards
Starkville, Miss. (Starkville)
OT Thomas Perry
Lafayette (Teurlings Catholic)
DT Joseph Evans
LS Quentin Skinner
Buford, Georgia (Buford)