Jimmy Chase answered his phone and heard the unmistakable voice on the other end: “Jimmy, get the family ready — the whole coaching staff is coming.”
The limousine bus chugged to a stop in front of Chase’s New Orleans home. An SUV parked behind the bus. Out stepped Ed Orgeron. Then, the bus door swung open, and nine LSU assistant coaches followed Orgeron into the house, where Mardi Gras decorations hung from the fireplace wall.
It was Feb. 2, 2018.
Signing day was less than a week away, and the LSU coaching staff did not intend to allow one of the nation’s top wide receiver recruits to get picked off from their own backyard.
Comb through the data from LSU’s first two football games and you are left with one glaring fact: This is not a good offensive team.
Ja’Marr Chase’s choice eventually came between LSU and Auburn, and his father said LSU’s all-hands-on-deck visit was one of the main reasons Chase — now tied for the team lead with one touchdown reception — isn’t playing for the other Tigers on Saturday.
“They brought the whole staff,” Jimmy said. “And I’m like, ‘Ja’Marr, this is something that you can’t just minimize.’ ”
The entire LSU coaching staff visited Ja'Marr Chase in his New Orleans home on Feb. 2, ensuring that the highly-recruited wide receiver did no…
Orgeron spoke first, and one after another, each coach said their piece. Even defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, known for being reserved, told Chase they couldn’t find anyone who could stop him at their recruiting camps.
“It was amazing, because I had never spoken to Aranda,” Jimmy said. “He doesn’t do much talking. And he did that.”
Through two games of the 2018 season, LSU’s opponents haven’t found many players who can stop Chase, either.
In the 33-17 win over Miami, Chase shirked his one-on-one defender to make a 22-yard reception near the left pylon, which set up the touchdown that pushed LSU ahead by two scores.
Then, in the 31-0 win over Southeastern Louisiana, Chase caught a short, sideline route at the Southeastern 5, sidestepped a defender and dove headfirst into the end zone for the first touchdown of his career.
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“‘Now, why did you do that?’” Chase’s mother, Toleah, said she asked him after the game. “I didn’t want him to drop the ball. He was just excited.”
Perhaps relief was mixed in, too. Toleah said Chase likely didn’t sleep much the night before.
Chase was the soft-spoken son who, at 9 years old, used to wake up at the crack of dawn on park-ball game days in a nervous craze, gathering all his equipment to make sure he’d be ready for a game that was several hours away.
It was a characteristic trait Chase carried with him to Archbishop Rummel High, where he became the first receiver in the run-heavy school’s history to record 1,000 yards receiving in a season.
It was a desire for competition that drove Chase to recover from a grisly knee injury during his senior year.
It was an anxious anticipation of greatness, and it has led Chase to a campus once occupied by Pro Bowl receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.
Rummel itself has two wide receivers on NFL rosters — Steven Dunbar of the San Francisco 49ers and Cyril Grayson of the Seattle Seahawks — and Rummel head coach Jay Roth said he could see Chase “being the third sometime down the line.”
For now, Chase is among three players jockeying for playing time at receiver, and Orgeron said Monday that no one has yet “really taken that position, the bull by the horns."
Orgeron appeared to be extending a challenge, and Chase has found a way to break through before.
Changing the approach
A framed picture of Chase hangs in the hallway that leads to the Rummel locker room. The still shot freezes Chase in a left-handed touchdown catch in the 2017 season-opener against Gulfport High.
Roth chuckled as he entered his office, saying Rummel players have been trying to imitate Chase’s one-handed catches ever since.
Roth is in the middle of his 24th season as the Raiders head coach, and up until Chase’s senior year, his offenses had run the I-formation.
The electronic pill went down easier than expected.
The Rummel coaching staff knew there needed to be a schematic change when Chase set school records with four touchdowns and 226 yards receiving in a 28-14 win over University High at the start of the 2016 season.
Chase’s touchdowns covered 82, 61, 70 and 13 yards.
Those were his only catches of the game.
“We knew we had to find different ways to get him the ball,” said Bobby Sanders, Rummel’s passing game coordinator.
The following offseason, Roth and Sanders met with Memphis head coach Mike Norvell to learn more about a Tigers spread offense that ranked 15th in the NCAA with 38.8 points per game in 2016. They attended a coaching clinic run by Hal Mumme, who invented the Air Raid in the late 1980s.
In 2017, Chase recorded 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns on 61 catches — more than most Rummel players on the school’s all-time receiving list had caught in their entire careers.
Even that wasn’t enough.
“I probably didn’t use him like I should have,” Roth said. “I look back, and I always told myself people were double-covering him. But in essence, it didn’t matter who was covering him. In the clutch time, he made the play.”
The 6-foot-1 Chase possessed explosive leg strength that made him seem much taller.
He dunked regularly on Rummel’s varsity basketball team, and as a junior, he placed first in the state track meet’s long jump without ever having competed in the event before. His jump of 24 feet, 2½ inches was the 18th-longest jump in the country that year.
Chase overpowered Byrd High in the first round of the 2017 LHSAA playoffs. He caught one touchdown, two touchdowns, three. On the third, Chase landed flatfooted on his right leg, and his knee went back and back and back.
Roth said he still refuses to look at the film of the injury to this day. MRI tests revealed that the hyperextension partially tore a posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and bruised two bones that made up the patella. It was a fortunate diagnosis, Roth said. Nearly unbelievable.
It's unanimous -- at least across the "expert" polls of three sports news outlets.
“I’ve never seen that stadium go dead silent,” Roth said. “Here’s this top athlete, this athlete that may be ruined for his career. It was scary, and thank God he’s come back from it.”
Chase recovered in less than six weeks, and his right knee did not require surgical repair.
He was free to continue football at the university of his choice.
Auburn or LSU?
Chase still wears the cross around his neck that once belonged to his grandmother.
Thais Woods, Toleah’s mother, died on Jan. 16 from issues that stemmed from lung cancer. Woods had been at the heart of Chase’s recruitment.
On July 2, 2016, he was prepared to verbally commit to TCU on his grandmother’s birthday, so he could wear her favorite color, purple, live on NFL Network during a recruiting showcase program.
The network bumped Chase’s appearance from a Sunday to the following Monday, and again that Monday, because the network’s hour-long broadcast ran out of time.
Chase took that as a sign and did not commit to TCU.
When Woods died, Jimmy said the Chase family shut down its recruiting trips — Ja’Marr would commit to LSU.
“He didn’t want to deal with any of that,” Jimmy said. “We thought it was over. But Auburn was persistent. They kept coming after him. Finally, he just wanted to take a trip just to be hospitable.”
Chase and his father traveled to Auburn the day after the LSU coaching staff showed up to their house in their intervention-style caravan.
Jimmy said Chase began to consider Auburn.
Within an hour of signing day, Jimmy said he received a phone call from a reporter who told him, “Auburn says Ja’Marr is signing.”
“I had to call Ja’Marr,” Jimmy said, “and he told me he didn’t know what I was talking about.”
Chase was sitting at a table inside Rummel High. An LSU hat he’d borrowed from Roth rested in front of him. He was wearing a new chain around his neck. His aunt had given him his grandmother’s cross.
He was finally going to choose purple.