SANTA ANA, Calif. — In the corridors bracketing Mater Dei High School’s deluxe basketball gym, complete with video message boards and on-court premium seating like you might find up “The 5” freeway at a Los Angeles Lakers game, the Monarchs’ astonishing athletic legacy is on proud display.
It is one of only two high schools — Woodrow Wilson High in Dallas being the other – to produce two Heisman Trophy winners: Notre Dame’s John Huarte in 1964 and Southern California’s Matt Leinart in 2004. The school was the launching point for eight Olympians, current UConn women’s basketball All-American Katie Lou Samuelson, former NFL quarterback Matt Barkley and former New York Yankees infielder Bobby Meacham, among many other familiar names.
Their pictures and names are splashed all over the walls, including one wall that features the names of all the school’s most highly decorated athletes over the years.
One day soon, Elias Ricks’ name will be on that wall.
The nation’s top-ranked cornerback for the Class of 2020 and 247Sports.com’s No. 9 prospect overall, Ricks quietly committed to LSU two weeks before Christmas and announced his decision Christmas Day.
Merry Christmas to LSU.
As you would expect, LSU coach Ed Orgeron took Ricks’ call rather well.
“He was pretty stoked,” Ricks said, standing in front of the long athletic mural near a picture of Huarte. “Yelling, screaming. He was pretty hyped.”
It’s a long-distance courtship for LSU, to be sure, but Orgeron has close ties to Ricks, his family and his coach at Mater Dei (pronounced “MAH-ter day”) from his days coaching at USC. Those ties worked to Orgeron's and LSU’s advantage.
“I’ve known Coach O since I was 7 years old,” said Ricks, 17, who also has some distant relatives in Louisiana. “I’ve known him since SC. He was big out here. He’s real close to my mom, too, so that helped.”
The daughter of Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson worked for Orgeron in the USC football office, forming another important bond.
“She was essentially his go-to girl,” Rollinson said. “He couldn’t come, but got invited to her wedding.”
The biggest drawing card for Ricks, though, is probably LSU’s other three-letter moniker: D-B-U.
“I’ve been knowing the tradition they have with their cornerbacks and their DBs,” he said. “They put out first-rounders every year, and I want to be a part of that.”
On his visits to LSU, Ricks spoke to All-American safety Grant Delpit and All-American cornerback Greedy Williams. The latter turned pro after the regular season and is widely projected to be a top-five pick in April’s NFL draft. Getting a phone call from Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, yet another LSU All-American, also didn’t hurt.
Ricks said he looks forward to starting at LSU opposite this year’s No. 1 cornerback prospect, former Dunham School five-star prospect Derek Stingley, who enrolled early at LSU to take part in pre-Fiesta Bowl practices. He is already looking forward to the 2021 season when LSU is scheduled to play UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
Some accomplishments by defensive back Derek Stingley Jr. sound like myths rather than reality.
“It’s just where I thought I would fit in best,” said Ricks, who traveled to Arizona to attend LSU’s 40-32 Fiesta Bowl victory over UCF.
Rollinson said Ricks has the tools to be the next of LSU’s long line of great defensive backs.
“He has the measurables,” Rollinson said. “He’s 6-3 with flat-out special speed. He lifts weights. He knows he has to get stronger to play in the SEC. I’ve seen that commitment from him.”
Ricks has flashed his talent on the biggest stages. He helped Mater Dei to a state championship and No. 1 ranking this season in the USA Today Super 25 national high school poll. The Monarchs got there in part thanks to what Ricks did in the state semifinals against No. 7 Corona Centennial.
Ricks returned three first-half interceptions for touchdowns in Mater Dei’s 48-14 victory.
“It was a lot of film and readiness for the game,” Ricks said. “That’s all I can really say.”
It was a new experience for his coach, however.
“I’ve watched and coached a lot of football,” Rollinson said, “but I’ve never seen that.
“It was a dominant performance by him against some of the most outstanding talent in Southern California.”
It is an eternity in recruiting time to Dec. 18 — the start of college football’s early signing period for 2019-20, the first possible day Ricks could sign a national letter of intent with LSU. He knows people will continue to probe the firmness of his LSU commitment and that he will continue to be pressed hard by other schools — Ohio State, right now, being the most persistent.
But standing in his school earlier this month, wearing a purple and gold LSU windbreaker, Ricks stood by his pledge.
“It’s a long road, but I’m solid,” Ricks said. “I’m 100 percent committed. I’m asking other players to come with me.”
It is the confident tone of a talented young man who knows he will one day soon be enshrined on Mater Dei’s walls.
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