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Recruiting battles: LSU vs. Texas A&M

10/17/2012

If you followed LSU football in the 1990's, or have at least done your homework in the Tigers' recent run of success, you know there's a lot more to this new SEC series than initially comes to mind. The Tigers and Aggies have played a surprising 50 all-time games -- more total meetings than LSU has with SEC rivals Auburn, Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and obviously Missouri.

Anyone with a basic understanding of geography also understands the recruiting implications of the two schools' proximity. It's no surprise that LSU's success in recruiting the eastern part of Texas in the past decade has coincided with 12 seasons where Texas A&M failed to notch double digit wins or claim a division or conference championship.

"I certainly know that we enjoy very much going into Texas, and we think Texas is a great place to recruit," coach Les Miles said. "They understand the style of play we have here at LSU, and they enjoy being a part of it."

You can see that case in point in some of the names the Tigers have been able to lure out of the Aggies' territory. With Texas A&M languishing behind Texas and Oklahoma in the Big XII South, LSU has been able to pry nationally prominent recruits like athlete Russell Shepard and safety Craig Loston -- ranked No. 3 and No. 7 in their class, respectively -- right out of the Aggies' backyard.

Shepard was enthralled with LSU from the early going, but Loston's recruitment shed some light on the dynamics at play. Loston was the No. 2 defensive back in the 2009 class and committed to both A&M and Clemson before settling on LSU. The spotlight and competition in the nearby SEC was simply too much to turn down at the end of the day, according to Loston.

"I wanted to play at the highest level of competition, and since the 2000s the SEC has been that highest level of competition," Loston said.

That old SEC selling point is a thing of the past now, at least as far as the Aggies are concerned. Texas A&M has a storied tradition, a successful young coach, a Heisman-contending quarterback and a national ranking -- and that's just in year one of their tenure in the nation's best football conference.

"I'm sure that's going to change some people's minds, because they are in the SEC now," Loston said. "But it's all up to whoever the kid is."

Logic dictates that the fight for top talent is only going to get more heated as Texas A&M continues to break onto the scene, and we're already seeing that just one year into this rivalry's renewal.

Ricky Seals-Jones (Sealy, Texas/Sealy), the nation's top wide receiver for 2013 and the No. 10 player in the ESPN 150, is down to a final two of LSU and Texas A&M as he prepares to come back from a knee injury. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound game changer would be a welcome addition to literally any recruiting class, but it's down to A&M and LSU after home state power Texas backed out of his recruitment.

Seals-Jones said last week he hopes to visit Texas A&M for this weekend's game against the Tigers, and his plan is to head to Baton Rouge for the Nov. 3 showdown against Alabama. A talent as potent as the Sealy standout could take an already formidable Aggies offense to another level, or it could give the Tigers the deep threat they are lacking in 2012. Whichever school signs him is sure to take it as a statement -- either of A&M's arrival or LSU's staying power.

And that competition is only bound to continue. Texas A&M currently boasts four Louisiana commits for 2012 in ESPN 150 cornerback Noel Ellis (New Orleans, La./Edna Karr), linebackers Darian Claiborne (Port Allen, La/Port Allen) and Edward Williams (New Orleans, La./Warren Easton) and safety Shaan Washington (Alexandria, La./Alexandria).

Granted, none of those four hold LSU offers. But the Aggies' push for LSU targets is going to remain consistent -- they are a major player for a big 2014 LSU target in wide receiver Trey Quinn (Lake Charles, La./Barbe), among others. Don't expect Miles to fret too much, though.

"The only thing I can tell you is that in this state there's a great loyalty to playing for these Tigers, and being in Tiger Stadium last Saturday -- anybody who was there would certainly understand that," he said. "The opportunity for other schools to come into this state is diminished because, in my mind, it's not only a fanbase but a tradition and a history of this state."

At the same time, on the other side of the border, the Tigers don't plan on leaving the Aggies' territory. One of their three commits for 2014, cornerback Chris Hardeman (Houston/Alief Taylor), comes from right in A&M territory.

"The schedule will bring them to our place, and us to there's, so there will be some familiarity," Miles said. "Obviously the familiarity allows some access. To what extent, time will tell."