One hour before national signing day arrived, Ed Orgeron received the phone call he dreaded.
Patrick Surtain, the most decorated and highly ranked uncommitted player entering Wednesday, was not, in fact, planning to sign with Orgeron and LSU — as had been long thought by Tigers coaches, fans and even national recruiting reporters.
What’s worse was the school he planned to and eventually signed with: Alabama.
“It’s tough,” Orgeron said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, describing that 11 p.m. call Tuesday. “Put a lot of work into (recruiting him). All indications the whole time was he was coming here. Night before you get a call and he’s not.
"Obviously you’ve got to change your plans. You know what? That’s recruiting. We’re happy with the guys we got. We want guys who want to be at LSU.”
Those guys on Wednesday included just two: Scotlandville defensive back Kelvin Joseph and Rummel receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Surtain chose the Tide, Alabama quarterback James Foster picked Texas A&M, and Missouri cornerback Mario Goodrich signed with Clemson — all out-of-state prospects who snubbed the Bayou State.
In all, the Tigers went 2-for-5 on targets who received committable scholarship offers, giving Orgeron’s program a total of 23 signees, two short of the maximum prospects the Tigers are allowed to sign.
Orgeron said he refused to “waste” the two scholarships on prospects whom coaches did not have ranked high on their board. Instead, to fill the openings, he’ll search for potential graduate transfer cornerbacks and quarterbacks, the two need areas following Wednesday’s up-and-down results. He can also use the scholarships in 2019, expanding that class to as many as 27 signees.
“We’re excited about what happened today,” the coach said Wednesday. “Obviously disappointed with some of the losses, but we got the guys who wanted to fight for the Tigers.”
PLANTATION, Fla. — Just like that the path to LSU was over.
Those guys — all 23 of them — aren’t ranked as a group as high as this program is used to. As of 6 p.m., LSU was No. 15 in the 247Sports’ composite team rankings, the first time an LSU signing class has finished outside of the top 10 since 2012.
Said the coach: “I trust my rankings. I chose this class."
Orgeron’s first full signing class wasn’t all bad, of course. The Tigers fell short, yes, of signing a quarterback and cornerbacks, but they plugged the biggest areas of need during the early signing period: offensive and defensive linemen (11 total).
They secured the state’s two top-ranked receivers, both in the top 15 in the nation in Chase and Shreveport’s Terrace Marshall, a tandem Orgeron likened to Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
They signed nine players who play on the defensive front seven, another area the coach claimed he’d boost upon taking over last year. That group includes Evangel linebacker Micah Baskerville and Dallas defensive end Jarrell Cherry, both top-15 nationally at their position, as well as the No. 1 end in junior college, Travez Moore.
Surtain’s decision, though, tossed a wrench into Orgeron’s plans.
Coaches offered committable scholarships to just four players for their four open spots: Joseph, Chase, Surtain and Foster. They had a backup plan, too, in Goodrich, a defensive back who was leaning purple and gold before Clemson offered him a committable spot earlier this week.
When the Tigers learned of Surtain’s decision at 11 p.m. Tuesday, Orgeron called Goodrich. But Goodrich had accepted Clemson’s spot in its class by then.
“It was too late. He had taken a commitment on Monday night. That happens,” Orgeron said. “I stayed on the phone with him all night trying to change his mind last night, but, hey, he committed. James Foster, we were one of three (finalists with A&M and Florida State). We didn’t have another quarterback on the board that we wanted.”
Ed Orgeron isn’t concerned by LSU’s lack of cornerbacks or quarterbacks in this year’s signing class.
These events usually begin with a high-pitched squeal or loud scream.
And, thus, here the Tigers and their second-year coach sit, dreaming of what could have been had Surtain just signed.
LSU would have climbed into the top 10 in at least one outlet’s rankings, and the Tigers would have likely left Joseph at safety instead of moving him to cornerback, as they are expected to do. And, of course, you’d have the splash of getting two, not one, 5-star products — Surtain and Marshall — and taking the former from the rival Crimson Tide.
Alabama and coach Nick Saban nabbed another highly touted signee from the Tigers, this one not from Louisiana, but Surtain had serious ties here. His father played at Edna Karr before starring in the NFL, and both of his parents have family in the BayouState.
“It was a tough decision,” Surtain said from his signing ceremony in Plantation, Florida. “LSU was my school, and last night when I was thinking about this, I broke down in tears. That’s how tough it was. I think this was the right decision.”
Said Surtain’s father, the former Pro Bowler Patrick Surtain Sr.: “I’m still torn, because I have such a love for LSU. Everybody was expecting him to go to LSU, but Alabama came in, and he just couldn’t pass on it.”
Dave Brousseau contributed to this report.
No one can accuse Ed Orgeron of not being aggressive enough on the recruiting trail.