Any time someone asks Hank Tierney why Louisiana high school football is so good, the Ponchatoula coach thinks back to a day in May 2014.
Hundreds of fans packed into a stadium ahead of Ponchatoula’s spring game. A Georgia Tech assistant coach, then recruiting Tierney’s quarterback, was in town. He looked around at the surroundings and leaned over to Tierney.
“Man, look at this,” Tierney remembers the coach saying. “It’s May 20th.”
Said Tierney: “It looked like a Friday night!”
The passion for high school football in Louisiana is seen, heard and felt year-round — not just on those electric Friday nights in the fall.
That passion, most say, is why the members of The Advocate’s 2016 Super Dozen are part of a historic group. The dozen players headline arguably Louisiana’s deepest recruiting class in recent history and have the state atop the nation again in per-capita recruiting.
Louisiana has 21 players rated four or five stars in 247Sports’ composite rankings. No other state produced more highly rated recruits (four or five stars) compared to state population.
There are 4.49 highly rated prospects for every 500,000 males in Louisiana this year, leading the nation — by a wide margin.
The number is double the amount of Florida, where there are 2.26 four- and five-star players for every 500,000 males. Texas, known nationally as the jewel of high school football talent, averages just 1.89 highly rated prospects for every 500,000 men.
Louisiana’s stiffest competition this year comes from Mississippi (3.67 for every 500,000) and Georgia (2.54). A whopping 17 states don’t have a single four- or five-star player this year, and two of those states — New York and Massachusetts — have a bigger population than Louisiana’s 4.67 million.
Alabama and Kentucky — the closest states to Louisiana’s population — have a combined nine highly rated recruits this year compared to the Bayou State’s 21.
And, to think, that number could be higher. Shea Patterson (five stars), the former Calvary Baptist quarterback, and receiver Drake Davis (four stars), the ex-Dunham star, transferred to IMG Academy in Florida.
“That further makes a statement on how deep Louisiana was this year,” said Sonny Shipp, Louisiana recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com.
“Every two or three years, there seems to be a really strong group. You can see it from a mile away, that that group is going to be extremely top-heavy,” said Mike Scarborough, Louisiana recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “This is one.”
The Super Dozen includes five defensive linemen: Neville’s Rashard Lawrence, St. Augustine tackle D’Andre Christmas-Giles, Edwin Alexander of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rummel’s Briston Guidry and Sci Martin of McDonogh 35.
John Curtis star Willie Allen and Donavaughn Campbell of Ponchatoula are the offensive linemen in the group, and there are two linebackers: John Ehret’s Michael Divinity and North Webster’s Devin White, who also plays running back.
Rummel defensive back Kristian Fulton, Kentwood cornerback Shyheim Carter and Donaldsonville receiver Stephen Sullivan round out the 12.
They represent a crew of highly touted athletes who have thrust Louisiana into the national spotlight — again.
When it comes to producing football recruits, being on top is nothing new for Louisiana.
In fact, Louisiana led the nation from 2008 to 2013 in players who signed with Football Bowl Subdivision teams, according to a study by SB Nation. During that span, Louisiana produced 1.83 FBS signees per every 100,000 male residents.
Alabama was second at 1.75, and Florida was third at 1.69. The national average during that six-year stretch was 0.75.
This year, Louisiana has some of the nation’s most sought-after talent, rivaling much larger states. Georgia has 26 prospects rated four or five stars — just five more than Louisiana. Georgia’s population is nearly two and a half times larger than Louisiana’s.
Georgia is thought of as the fourth-best recruiting state in the nation, trailing Florida, Texas and California, the country’s three largest states. Is Louisiana the fifth-best? Is the Bayou State the best of the rest?
It sure looks that way, said Barton Simmons, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports.
“You used to mention Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania,” Simmons said. “But, right now, especially talking about the elite recruits, it’s hard to argue Louisiana is not top-five.”
But why? What makes this state — the 25th-largest — so plentiful with top-flight talent?
“People are passionate about it,” said Tim Detillier, the longtime Lutcher High football coach and athletic director who retired after this past season. “South Louisiana, it’s just how it is. You grow up in it, and you realize what people expect and what people want. It becomes a goal if you’re any type of athlete, becomes a goal to succeed in athletics but especially football.
“Here, it is a way of life. On a Friday night here in Lutcher, it’s the thing to do. If you don’t come to the game, I don’t know what you’re doing. There’s nothing else in town.”
The rural areas of Louisiana are fertile, football-hungry places, but they’re not alone, Simmons said. New Orleans, Shreveport and Baton Rouge churn out football talent, specifically at the skill positions (running back, defensive back and receiver), he said.
New Orleans lurches over the rest in football player production. That has been the case for decades, but Katrina sent the city and its football talent scurrying. That’s changing.
Five of the state’s top 12 prospects are from New Orleans or the surrounding area. The city’s back to cranking out top-flight recruits, experts said.
“After Katrina, schools were closed and the talent changed,” said Tierney, who spent much of his career at Archbishop Shaw. “Now I think it’s coming back up.”
The proof is in the numbers. The state has produced three of its best recruiting years in the past six signing classes.
Remember 2011? That group included La’el Collins, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Anthony Johnson and Trai Turner — all current NFL starters.
Then came 2014: Leonard Fournette, Cam Robinson, Malachi Dupre, Davon Godchaux and Brandon Harris were all college starters as sophomores.
And now? A 2016 crew loaded with defensive line talent and, experts said, future pro players. It has helped hand this football-crazed state a No. 1 ranking.
“You can just chalk up whatever is in the water down in Louisiana,” Simmons said. “They’re just built different.”
Louisiana: It’s a football state
Louisiana has the most four- and five-star prospects in the 2016 class per capita. Louisiana has 4.49 four- and five-star prospects for about every 500,000 males in the state. Louisiana’s total four- and five-star recruits (21) ranks fifth nationally but is first per capita:
1. Louisiana 4.49 (21)
2. Mississippi 3.67 (11)
3. Georgia 2.54 (26)
4. Florida 2.26 (46)
5. Texas 1.89 (52)
6. Maryland 1.83 (11)
7. Alabama 1.44 (7)
8. North Carolina 1.39 (14)
9. Hawaii 1.39 (2)
10. Tennessee 1.21 (8)
11. South Dakota 1.16 (1)
12. California 1.14 (45)
13. Ohio 1.03 (12)
14. Kansas 1.03 (3)
15. South Carolina 1.02 (5)
16. Arkansas 1.01 (3)
17. Michigan 0.90 (9)
18. New Jersey 0.89 (8)
19. Arizona 0.73 (5)
20. Virginia 0.71 (6)
21. Pennsylvania 0.70 (9)
22. Utah 0.66 (2)
23. Iowa 0.64 (2)
24. Indiana 0.60 (4)
25. Illinois 0.54 (7)
26. Oregon 0.49 (2)
27. Kentucky 0.45 (2)
28. Washington 0.41 (3)
29. Wisconsin 0.34 (2)
30. Oklahoma 0.25 (1)
31. Colorado 0.18 (1)
32. Minnesota 0.18 (1)
33. Missouri 0.16 (1)
NOTE: Seventeen states do not have a four- or five-star prospect: New York, West Virginia, North Dakota, Connecticut, Vermont, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Alaska, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nevada, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maine, Montana and Idaho.
ONE STRONG YEAR
Louisiana’s four- and five-star recruits each year for the past 10 signing classes:
Note: 247Sports composite rankings are used throughout this report.