Coming off of 2019’s national championship, Joe Burrow’s Heisman Trophy and the three day-long informercial for the program that was the NFL draft, the Tigers’ football brand couldn’t be hotter.
But the coronavirus pandemic that has had a chilling effect on everything from small businesses to the entertainment business to elective surgeries has also put LSU’s recruiting efforts in the deep freeze in a sense.
Don’t misunderstand. The Tigers are off to a strong start. St. James defensive end Saivion Jones became LSU’s 12th commitment Wednesday. His pledge pushed the Tigers’ ranking to No. 6 nationally in the very early national recruiting standings compiled by 247Sports.com.
Remember how during last season Ed Orgeron pulled out an imaginary cell phone to show how quickly recruits now call him back after he leaves a message? These days they’re probably just calling him, period, fish eager to jump into the LSU boat.
“They’re a hot brand,” said Shea Dixon, recruiting analyst for Geaux247, 247Sports.com's LSU website. “And over the past month, Orgeron and his staff have done an incredible job adjusting to the times.”
But adjusting only takes Coach O and LSU so far.
Though the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference will allow schools to bring student-athletes back on campus next month — the NCAA set June 1 as the re-start date but the SEC opted for June 8 — schools are still prohibited from on-campus recruiting until practically the scheduled start of preseason camp. Earlier this month, the NCAA extended the recruiting dead period through July 31. That includes the all-important summer football camps, where college coaches get prospects on campus and put them through the kinds of drills they want to see them in to make the evaluations they want.
Orgeron and his assistants have been trying to fill the void with Zoom video conferences that he said are like putting him in the recruits’ living room with their families. Much better than a traditional phone call, imaginary or otherwise. But Dixon said LSU is missing out big time on the opportunity to get recruits and their families on campus with an impression-making official or unofficial visit.
“I believe LSU is up there with the teams hurt most by this,” Dixon said. “So often in recruiting they get kids in to camp in the spring and summer, and its those offseason visits that often sell a kid. They fall in love with the school.
“LSU is coming off arguably the best season in college football history. They won the NFL draft. They’ve got this new football ops building and nutrition center, all these trophies. But LSU is having to do it all with Zoom calls and phone messages.”
In other words, LSU can’t maximize what it has to sell when it has more to sell than it ever has.
Not to say LSU is failing at recruiting. It’s obvious the Tigers are again recruiting nationwide while trying to cherry pick the best players Louisiana has to offer.
The commitment Wednesday by St. James defensive end Saivion Jones to LSU was significant for a couple of reasons. One is that he is one of the nation’s best players at his position, a four-star prospect ranked No. 246 nationally.
But Jones (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) is just the second in-state commitment for the Tigers in this recruiting cycle, joining punter Peyton Todd (6-5, 210) of West Monroe. The other 10 are from a class that again spans coast-to-coast, from LSU’s top commitment so far, five-star linebacker Raesjon Davis (6-1, 215) of Santa Ana (California) Mater Dei to three-star defensive tackle Anthony Hundley (6-3, 270) from Booker T. Washington High in Miami. The Tigers have even made a rare raid into Burrow territory with a commitment from four-star running back Corey Kiner (5-10, 205) out of Francis Bacon High in Cincinnati.
“Of all the coaches at LSU in the past 20-30 years you would be hard-pressed to find someone who wants to recruit Louisiana more than Ed Orgeron,” Dixon said. “He takes a lot of pride in having Louisiana kids stay home and play for LSU.
“But at the same time, as head coach he realizes his job is to get the best players in the country regardless of where they are. So coming off a 15-0 season and back-to-back CFP bowl appearances, their entire high school career LSU has been front and center for them. He’s going around the country trying to find the best fits for the program, whether they’re from Louisiana or not.”
There are other strong prospects in Louisiana aside from Jones that are at the top of LSU’s board. Lafayette Christian safety Sage Ryan (5-11, 193) recently moved up on the 24/7 Sports board to be the No. 1 player at his position the country. In the state, though, he ranks behind Houma Terrebonne defensive tackle Maason Smith (6-5, 316), ranked No. 20 nationally and at the moment the state’s only five-star prospect. Both are projected to be strong LSU leans along with Zachary’s Chris Hilton (5-11, 169), one of a host of highly regarded wide receivers in the state this cycle along with Walker’s Brian Thomas (6-4, 185) and Edna Karr’s Destyn Pazon (6-0, 170).
“They’ve prioritized those guys for a long time,” Dixon said. “But it would be surprising for me if LSU reached double-digit signees in Louisiana this year. Not that that there’s not talent in Louisiana, but Orgeron is trying to capitalize on what LSU’s national brand has become. They’re trying to get guys into the program they feel will be instant difference makers.”
LSU signed only five in-state players from a 24-man class in the last recruiting cycle, a stunningly low number especially considering the Tigers’ pulled in the nation’s No. 4-ranked class for 2019-20.
It’s all part of the new normal for LSU football recruiting, apparently, though this year new normal doesn’t exactly work in the Tigers’ favor as much as it probably should.
LSU football 2020-21 recruiting class (12)
Raesjon Davis - Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei OLB 6-1 215 ***** Nation's No. 3 OLB
JoJo Earle - Aledo (Texas) HS WR 5-9 170 **** Nation's No. 73 overall recruit
Khari Gee - Atlanta Woodward Academy S 6-3 185 **** Nation's No. 22 S
Deion Smith - Jackson (Miss.) Provine WR 6-1 172 **** Nation's No. 90 overall recruit
Corey Kiner - Cincinnati (Ohio) Roger Bacon RB 5-10 205 **** Nation's No. 10 RB
Garrett Nussmeier - Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus QB 6-1 182 **** Nation's No. 8 PRO style QB
Landon Jackson - Texarkana (Texas) Pleasant Grove WDE 6-6 240 **** Nation's No. 5 WDE
Saivion Jones - St. James (HS) WDE 6-5 240 **** Nation's No. 19 WDE
Zavier Carter - Atlanta Hapeville Charter OLB 6-4 193 **** Nation's No. 13 OLB
Dakota Mitchell - Winter Park (Fla.) HS S 6-0 184 *** Nation's No. 28 S
Anthony Hundley - Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington DT 6-3 270 *** Nation's No. 35 DT
Peyton Todd - West Monroe (HS) P 6-5 210 N/A N/A