It was a win-win for LSU.
Linebacker Kendell Beckwith and cornerback Tre’Davious White will return for their senior seasons, the team announced Monday — good news for a program that has been ravaged by early leapers in recent years.
Beckwith’s and White’s return mean left tackle Jerald Hawkins is the only draft-eligible junior who plans to bypass his senior year. That’s the fewest early departures since 2010 and continues a positive trend for a squad ranked in the top 10 in extremely early preseason polls.
But the news has the potential to get better.
Hawkins has until Thursday night to reverse his decision — if he hasn’t signed with an agent. As of this past weekend, Hawkins had not signed with an agent, multiple LSU sources told The Advocate.
The deadline to submit draft paperwork to the NFL was 4 p.m. Monday, and players have 72 hours to pull that paperwork.
The Tigers are set to return a whopping 18 starters from a team that finished 9-3. Coach Les Miles, in a statement released by the school, called keeping all but one junior a “windfall.”
“For the first time, we return a big senior class,” he said. “Anytime that you have a senior-dominated team, you recognize that you are going to play with leaders, and guys always play their best year of football when they are most mature. This is a great decision for all of these guys. They are going to get their college degree, and they will all improve their draft position. This is a great day for LSU and our program.”
LSU lost 23 players early to the draft over the previous four years — believed to be the most in the nation. The Tigers lost 10 after the 2012 season and seven more after 2013, prompting Miles and his staff to begin what many term as “re-recruiting” — when the staff meets with draft-eligible players and sometimes even visits them at their homes before the deadline to declare.
LSU lost three underclassmen last year but, for now, just one this time around.
Beckwith’s return is a massive boost to a linebacker crew that’s one of the thinnest position groups on the team. LSU is losing senior Deion Jones, and the Tigers have little experience remaining.
Beckwith and White were the most highly rated of LSU’s half-dozen underclassmen who requested evaluation grades from the NFL College Advisory Committee. Both were projected as second-round picks, according to CBSSports.com, and some websites had White as a potential first-round selection.
“These are special guys,” Miles said of White and Beckwith. “They have a real fondness and enjoyment for this football team. They are leaders; Kendell makes all the calls from the Mike linebacker spot and Tre’Davious wears No. 18, which has always been the mark of a leader. Decisions like this aren’t easy to make. These guys took their time, got all of the information necessary to make a real educated and quality decision.”
White, a Shreveport native and former five-star recruit, started 35 of a possible 38 games in his three-year LSU career. He developed into one of the nation’s best cornerbacks, landing on The Associated Press’ All-SEC second team after last season. He also returned punts last season, averaging 11.4 yards on 20 returns and taking one 69 yards for a touchdown.
“Decisions like this are never easy to make,” White said in the statement. “Getting a college degree and becoming the first member of my family to graduate from a school like LSU has always been important to me. Playing in Tiger Stadium in front of our great fans is something that I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye to.”
Beckwith, a 6-2, 252-pound Clinton native, started all 12 games last season after surging into the starting lineup mid-year in 2014. He landed on several preseason All-SEC teams ahead of the 2015 season. Beckwith finished second on the team with 84 tackles, had 10 for loss and forced two fumbles.
“I feel as if I have a lot of unfinished business here at LSU,” Beckwith said in the statement.
Of the six players who requested a draft grade, Hawkins became the first to announce Jan. 6, posting on Twitter that he’s bypassing his senior season for the NFL. Defensive tackle Christian LaCouture and center Ethan Pocic announced their intentions to stay two days later, and defensive end Lewis Neal posted a message last week that he’ll remain in school.
Receiver Travin Dural, draft-eligible for a second straight year as a fourth-year junior, announced his decision to stay Friday night — an expected move. Dural is recovering from hamstring surgery. He would have missed the NFL combine and possibly LSU’s pro day.
Beckwith and White kept their decisions secret until the final day despite rumblings of their intentions. Tony Pauline, NFL draft analyst and publisher of DraftInsider.net, had reported for several weeks that both players were leaning toward a return to school.
White’s father, David, told The Advocate on Friday that he had not made a decision but that his son had returned to Baton Rouge for classes — a good sign that he’d remain in school. As of a week ago, Beckwith’s mother, Urhonda, said her son had not made a decision.
The return of the pair is a positive for an LSU program during what’s always an unsteady time. LSU’s re-recruitment of players seems to have paid off. For example, Jalen Mills and Hawkins both said last year that Miles’ re-recruiting efforts convinced them to return for 2015.
Miles insists that juniors return if they do not receive a first-round grade from the committee. Miles and staff began re-recruiting meetings this year a day after the Texas Bowl win Dec. 30, meeting with Pocic and his parents. A meeting with Beckwith followed a day later.
RETURNING A TON
LSU offense returning
LSU defense returning
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @RossDellenger.