Baseball coach Jay Johnson is still keeping much under wraps as his first season at LSU creeps closer. He is hesitant to name specific players at times, leaving himself room for preseason practice to make decisions on lineups.
But Johnson did have a big revelation Wednesday about how name, image and likeness is already impacting the program, giving LSU more wiggle room with its scholarships.
Speaking on Wednesday to the Baton Rouge Rotary Club, Johnson said NIL possibilities are wide-ranging, and that while the NCAA hasn't made a lot of specific rules about it, he's open to adapting to the era.
LSU has already benefited in a big way.
"I had one prominent player on our team made some money in terms of name, image and likeness, and his dad called me and said, 'Coach, I know you're trying to put together a roster. We're going to give you back the scholarship for this year,’ ” Johnson said.
"I don't think the NCAA really understood what they were doing with this and it's going to cause some issues, but no matter what it's been — the transfer portal, NIL — my job is, I can I can either cry about it or I can figure out how we need to do it to do well for us."
Johnson did not name the athlete who's family who gave back his scholarship, but moves like these could have a deep impact on powerhouse baseball programs with prominent players, like LSU.
College baseball teams are allotted 11.7 scholarships, which can be split to a maximum number of 27 athletes on a 35-player roster — all of which need to receive at least 25% of the cost of attendance.
Sizing up the pitching staff
Perhaps the No. 1 question regarding LSU in Johnson's first season is how the pitching staff looks. Johnson said the Tigers were low on left-handed pitchers when he started, which is why he recruited experienced left-handers Riley Cooper (Arizona) and Trey Shaffer (Southeastern Louisiana). He named both as pitchers to watch.
To stack the bullpen with more experience, Johnson added right-handers Bryce Collins (Arizona), Eric Reyzelman (San Francisco) and Paul Gervase (Pittsburgh Community College, Wake Tech CC).
"We're in an interesting situation and probably different than a lot of coach (Paul) Mainieri's teams and coach (Skip) Bertman's teams is: We don't have a guy that was 'a guy' back on the pitching staff," Johnson said.
"What we tried to do quickly was to add a lot of depth, so you may see some longer games this year. Our plan is to use more people than you probably traditionally see, if it takes five, six or seven guys to get 27 outs. My goal is to put the pitchers in position for them to be successful, No. 1. And No. 2 is to not ask them to do more than they're capable of."
Cooper, Johnson joked, is a "big boy" at 6-foot-2, 264 pounds. Gervase is 6-foot-8.
West Coast to Gulf Coast
Johnson had a funny anecdote about the first time he was contacted about the LSU job, when the person on the other line said, "I don't know if Skip (Bertman) is going to want a West Coast guy."
But then Johnson's Arizona Wildcats beat Ole Miss in the super regionals, winning the first game 9-3, dropping the second 12-3 and closing it out with a 16-3 victory. And then he got the call again about LSU.
While Johnson is from California and has had coaching stints along the West Coast, he said his hometown of Oroville is a "high-standard, blue-collar, working type of environment," 150 miles north of San Francisco.
"I'm full Louisiana. I survived the hurricane. When I landed, coach Mainieri made me eat alligator, and so I did that," Johnson said. "I spent a little time in the restroom after that."
When it comes to the diamond, he sees no difference. Regardless of region, he said, the standard is winning.
"I do believe the West Coast versus SEC and Big 12 comparison is a little bit overblown," Johnson said. "Big fields, small fields, doesn't matter. What matters is we have a complete arsenal to prevent the (opposing) team from scoring runs and complete the offense to be able to score runs."
The biggest challenge, he said, is the same: The MLB draft, and recruiting elite players who could skip college.
"I've come up with some pretty good arguments of why it's a good idea to turn down $2 million and come down to LSU, and if you (fans) got any more to add to that, I'll take it," Johnson said.