This is part of a series on recruiting in college football. It is based on a compilation of figures from Power 5 signing classes over the past decade (2008-17).
In 1992, Penn State coach Joe Paterno sent a young, wide-eyed assistant down south on a recruiting trip.
That assistant, Greg Schiano, found his way to Catholic High in Baton Rouge.
“He sat down in my office and introduced himself,” said Dale Weiner, then the school’s head coach. “I said, ‘We’ve got a few guys, got a lineman or two.’ ”
Schiano spoke up.
“Well,” he started, “coach Paterno said go down to Louisiana and get me some speed, because we can throw a rock from Penn State and hit 100 linemen.”
More than a quarter-century later, little has changed about this state’s production of football players. Louisiana churns out speed — fast receivers, quick defensive backs and swift running backs.
Over the past decade (2008-17), Louisiana ranks in the top 10 in the United States in producing major college running backs, receivers and defensive backs — as well as defensive linemen. Louisiana has generated the fifth-most Power 5 wideouts and DBs, a fact made more impressive given the state's population: 25th of 50.
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Louisiana’s fertility in athletic skill players is so strong it outpaces much more populated states. From 2008-17, 68 receivers from Louisiana signed with Power 5 teams.
Over the same stretch, 57 receivers from Ohio signed with Power 5 programs — even though Ohio is nearly three times Louisiana’s size (4.6 million).
Louisiana’s 96 defensive backs are 38 more than North Carolina, a state twice as populated. Its crop of 33 running back signees is more than Virginia produced despite 4 million more people than Louisiana.
“There’s not a simple explanation,” said Mike Scarborough, publisher of TigerBait.com, Rivals’ LSU affiliate, who has covered in-state recruiting for more than two decades. “It’s the same question as to why in the Acadia parish area — you’ve got a German ancestry — are the kids a certain height? Is it genealogy?”
Louisiana’s speed-leaning output is as puzzling as its lack of offensive linemen, quarterbacks and, to an extent, linebackers.
Of the seven primary positions in football, offensive linemen are rarest in the Bayou State. Just 46 Louisiana offensive linemen signed with Power 5 programs in the past 10 years, ranking 18th among states. At this position, Louisiana trails Ohio (146 O-line signees) and Virginia (69). The state produces just 4.6 O-linemen per signing class at a position that, with five starters, is on the field at the same time more than any other.
For comparison’s sake, Louisiana averaged nearly 10 defensive back signees per class over the past 10 years, and 84 defensive linemen from the state signed with Power 5 teams in that same stretch.
Where are the big, trench-going uglies on offense?
“There’s been a real deficiency, and there’s nothing from a recruiting perspective that I can point to,” said Sonny Shipp, a longtime recruiting reporter who now works for Geaux247, the 247Sports affiliate based in Louisiana.
“We have the Glenn Dorseys and guys that are big,” Weiner said, “but proportionally, the state doesn’t tend to produce the numbers of them.
“If we did,” he chuckled, “we’d play with them.”
LSU would, too.
The Tigers’ makeup is a reflection of its state’s production. Just look to the NFL draft. Sixteen LSU defensive backs were drafted in the past 10 years. That equals the combined number of drafted players at three positions: linebacker (eight), quarterback (two) and offensive line (six).
And just seven of those 16 linebackers, quarterbacks and offensive linemen were originally from Louisiana.
LSU leaves its fertile state mostly for two positions: quarterback and offensive line (as well as defensive line, albeit to a lesser degree). Of the 14 quarterbacks LSU signed in a decade, 10 are from outside of Louisiana (71.5 percent). Of the 40 O-line signees, 21 are from other states (52.5 percent).
LSU’s past three starting offensive lines, from 2015-17, have included more players from outside of the state (nine) than inside (six). LSU’s two most successful quarterbacks in recent years — Danny Etling in 2016-17 and Zach Mettenberger in 2012-13 — were from outside of the state, and both were transfers. In fact, the last Louisiana-bred LSU quarterback to get drafted was Josh Booty in 2001. (Booty was a sixth-round pick who had come to college only after spending five seasons in the minor leagues. He was the fifth overall pick in Major League Baseball's 1994 draft).
Five LSU quarterbacks — Matt Mauck, Rohan Davey, JaMarcus Russell, Matt Flynn and Zach Mettenberger — have been drafted since Booty, and none was from Louisiana.
Louisiana did not produce a major college quarterback signee in 2010 or 2012. The state cranked out just nine Power 5 QBs in an eight-year span from 2008-15 — and outside of Dak Prescott of Mississippi State and an up-and-down career of Jordan Jefferson at LSU, those QBs struggled in college. Three transferred, three moved positions and one was a career backup.
“I don’t ever really remember steady quarterbacks emerging from that state,” said Barton Simmons, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports. “Maybe it’s the system these guys are operating in.”
That’s starting to change. As Louisiana high schools shift toward the spread offense, Weiner said, the state is churning out a new kind of player: the dual-threat quarterback.
“We have guys who can do both,” said Weiner, now retired from coaching but still teaching at Catholic High.
Sixteen quarterbacks from Louisiana signed with Power 5 programs since 2008, 13th-most among the 50 states. Seven of those were in the past two signing classes, and six of those were considered dual-threat QBs.
Weiner points to that as proof that Louisiana is back in the quarterback game after a lull between now and a generation ago, when the state had players like Brock Berlin, Peyton and Eli Manning and Josh Booty.
“It spreads from one end to the other,” he said. “There are some darn good quarterbacks.”
The lack of quarterbacks in the state over that rough stretch forced LSU to look beyond the borders.
And the Tigers missed on a handful of QBs who eventually had successful careers at major college programs: Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), Marquise Williams (North Carolina), Gunner Kiel (Notre Dame to Cincinnati), DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame) and Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State).
The Tigers signed Bossier City native Brandon Harris instead of the latter two. Harris started 15 games before losing the job and transferring to North Carolina, where he threw eight interceptions and one touchdown in 71 attempts this fall.
Harris was one of many QBs to leave Baton Rouge before his career ended. Under former coach Les Miles, LSU signed 18 quarterbacks in 12 recruiting classes. Of the 18, just three completed their careers at LSU (although Mettenberger and Etling arrived on campus as transfers), and a whopping 13 transferred, were dismissed or switched positions.
That’s no real shocker, recruiting experts and former coaches say. Players who sign with out-of-state schools seem more willing to transfer for playing time elsewhere.
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“No matter where you’re at with quarterbacks, it’s never real easy,” said Gary Crowton, LSU’s offensive coordinator and QB recruiter in 2007-10. “There’s so much in the inner workings of the mind. There are some guys we passed up and ended up being pretty good players. It’s the hardest position to recruit.”
It is more difficult when your state goes through a dry spell.
The same goes for offensive line.
In a stretch of seven years, from 2007-13, LSU had just two offensive linemen drafted — a startling number that caused a coaching change, Scarborough said. Miles forced out offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, ending a tenure that spanned those seven seasons.
“They were getting battered on the recruiting trail,” Scarborough said. “You can do the DBU thing all day long. You can’t do OLU, but that’s getting a lot better.”
LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, who will become offensive coordinator at BYU after the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, has overseen a unit that has produced four NFL draft picks in the previous four years. That group doesn't include La’el Collins, a surefire first-round selection who dropped out of the draft.
LSU’s offensive line relies heavily on Texas prospects. Houston’s Toby Weathersby is in Year 2 at right tackle, and true freshman Ed Ingram, a native of DeSoto, Texas, has started 11 games at right guard. Maea Teuhema, a Texas native who transferred before this season, started 21 games at guard in 2015-16.
“No question: LSU’s production is tied to recruiting in Louisiana,” Shipp said, “but if you’re not getting the talent in your backyard on a consistent basis, you have to recruit more nationally.”
Landing out-of-state linebackers — especially the burly inside linebackers — has not been as easy.
Since 2013, the Tigers have offered scholarships to 68 out-of-state linebackers, according to recruiting databases. Just three have signed with the program, including two last year: Tennessee’s Jacob Phillips and Georgia’s Tyler Taylor. Over that same span, the program offered just seven Louisiana inside linebackers.
Louisiana ranks a respectable 11th in producing linebackers over the past 10 years, having 46 sign with Power 5 teams during that stretch. But that figure is 25 fewer than produced by Alabama, a state of similar size.
Just like with the quarterback position, Louisiana hit a lull.
In 2012 alone, Louisiana produced nine linebackers ranked in the top 50 nationally at their position. The next four signing classes produced a combined 13.
This is not to say that Louisiana does not produce NFL-type linebackers. It does, and it has done so even fairly recently: Kendell Beckwith, Deion Jones and Duke Riley.
The state just doesn’t produce linebackers as frequently as it does other positions.
But that lull, too, might be coming to an end.
LSU’s current commitment class includes two in-state inside linebackers, both ranked in the top 18 nationally. Last year, the state produced two top-10 inside linebackers in Dylan Moses, a Baton Rouge native, and Chris Allen, a Southern Lab graduate.
“More recently,” Shipp said, “you’re starting to see the state produce more linebackers.”
The problem: Alabama continues to be a thorn in LSU’s side in recruiting. The Tide signed both Moses and Allen. Nick Saban culls his former state more than any other Power 5 coach nationally — from offensive linemen to Louisiana’s almighty skill players.
From 2015-17, the state produced eight skill players ranked inside the top 10 nationally. Alabama signed three of them.
That said, LSU’s grip on in-state talent is as good as it’s ever been. Weiner remembers the days 20-30 years ago when schools descended on Louisiana, plucking its best talent — mostly speed — out of LSU’s backyard.
Some examples: Kordell Stewart went to Colorado; Marshall Faulk left for San Diego State; Ike Hilliard to Florida; Reggie Wayne and Ed Reed to Miami. Two of Weiner's best players at Catholic, Warrick Dunn and Travis Minor, headed to Florida State.
Weiner harkens back to the meeting 25 years ago with that young Penn State assistant who was searching for speed in the deep South.
“He hit the nail on the head,” Weiner said of Schiano. “Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois … they’ve got big ol' dudes up there. They don’t have shortages of linemen. They’re looking for the speed merchants, and that’s why they come down here.”
WHERE THEY COME FROM
In the past decade, Louisiana ranks in the top 10 nationally at producing four of seven positions in football. Offensive line, quarterback and, somewhat, linebacker lag behind the rest, and those have been, at times, problem areas for the Tigers.
1. Texas 126 (15.9 percent of all QB signees)
2. California 121
3. Florida 80
4. Georgia 48
5. Ohio 32
6. Pennsylvania 28
7. North Carolina 26
8. Illinois 24
T9. Alabama 20
T9. Virginia 20
13. Louisiana 16
1. Texas 163 (14.5 percent of all RB signees)
2. Florida 158
3. California 118
4. Georgia 99
5. Ohio 50
6. North Carolina 44
7. Alabama 38
8. Louisiana 33
9. Virginia 30
10. Maryland 29
1. Texas 274 (16.3 percent of all WR signees)
2. Florida 268
3. California 197
4. Georgia 123
5. Louisiana 68
6. Ohio 57
7. North Carolina 52
8. Virginia 48
9. Pennsylvania 45
10. South Carolina 44
1. Texas 322 (13 percent of all OL signees)
2. California 276
3. Florida 204
4. Georgia 164
5. Ohio 143
6. Illinois 105
7. Pennsylvania 81
8. Virginia 69
9. North Carolina 66
10. Mississippi 61
18. Louisiana 46
1. Texas 318 (12.3 percent of all DL signees)
2. Florida 299
3. California 252
4. Georgia 243
5. Ohio 115
6. Alabama 91
7. Louisiana 84
8. Virginia 80
9. North Carolina 78
T10. New Jersey 70
T10. South Carolina 70
1. Florida 241 (14.2 percent of all LB signees)
2. Texas 209
3. California 174
4. Georgia 168
5. Ohio 103
6. Alabama 71
7. North Carolina 60
8. Virginia 55
9. New Jersey 50
10. Pennsylvania 47
11. Louisiana 46
1. Texas 378 (17.5 percent of all signees)
2. Florida 371
3. California 262
4. Georgia 218
5. Louisiana 96
6. Ohio 84
7. Maryland 73
8. Alabama 58
9. North Carolina 58
10. Virginia 52
Sixteen Louisiana quarterbacks have signed with Power 5 teams over the past 10 years. Seven of those have come in the last two classes.
Destrehan (St. Rose)
Was 24-8 as starter and 6th in passing yards
Moved to WR and started 3 games
Catholic (Baton Rouge)
Career backup who started 1 game
2-time All-American; Had 114 career TDs
McDonogh 35 (NOLA)
Moved to WR; Transferred
Backup before transferring to Texas St.
Parkway (Bossier City)
Started 15 games; Transferred to UNC
Transferred to SLU; Played in 6 games
Catholic (New Iberia)
Moved to tight end as a RS sophomore
Moved to WR where he’s caught 18 balls
Started 4 games for injured Brandon Allen
Transferred to junior college
Parkway (Bossier City)
Has attempted 3 passes as a RS freshman
Warren Easton (NOLA)
Has not yet attempted a pass
Backup to starter Nick Fitzgerald
St. James (St. James)
Planning to redshirt as a freshman this year
IN THE DRAFT
Louisiana’s production of certain positions is reflected in LSU’s draft production. The Tigers have had 64 players drafted in the last decade.
LSU draft picks (from Louisiana)
Louisiana’s national rank in production
OUTSIDE THE BORDER
The Tigers rely on the state of Louisiana for running back, receiver and, mostly, defensive back. They look beyond the border for others.
Out of state signees
Top non-Louisiana state
Texas, Mississippi (3 each)