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Wednesday, February 6, 2013
LSU's class unusually spread out

By Gary Laney

BATON ROUGE, La. -- When ESPN 150 defensive end Tashawn Bower gave LSU its only signing day drama Wednesday by picking the Tigers over Florida and Auburn, he filled the last spot in the signing class.

That’s true literally -- after Bower’s letter of intent arrived, LSU coach Les Miles said the Tigers are done signing players for the 2013 class -- but also in a geographical sense.

Bower, from just outside of New York in Somerville, N.J., gave the Tigers’ class a northeast presence, filling the one region of the country that was previously missing from what Miles described as the “most geographically diverse class in school history.”

Indeed.

If you want West Coast, you’ve got quarterback Hayden Rettig from Los Angeles and offensive lineman Fehoko Fanaika from Sacramento, Calif. If you want Midwest, you have offensive lineman Ethan Pocic from suburban Chicago and defensive tackle Christian LaCouture from Nebraska’s backyard in Lincoln.

Want mid-Atlantic? Try North Carolina defensive linemen Greg Gilmore and Lewis Neal. Add in eight players from SEC states outside of Louisiana, including the usual hot spots of Georgia and Florida.

In a class of 27, only 12 are from Louisiana and none from neighboring states Mississippi, Arkansas or Texas (although one might note LaCouture played three years of prep football in Texas before moving to Nebraska for his senior season).

More than ever, the Tigers spread their wings to find players. Miles described the extent to which LSU was willing to spread them -- and the reasons were clear.

“Our coaches were on the road tireless hours,” Miles said. “I can give you one example: We land in Connecticut at 4 (p.m.), do a high school, visit with the mom, catch a plane to New Jersey, finish with the prospect (presumably Bower), the father and grandparents, leave New Jersey at midnight, fly to Atlanta, drop off an assistant coach, then back to Baton Rouge.”

There were some crazy road trips, but they were also carefully calculated.

It wasn’t a random act to try to woo prospects from the nation’s three largest metro areas, none within driving range of SEC country. It was the result of where LSU’s staff saw the SEC’s brand and, by extension, its own brand.

“I think what’s happening in our conference, the fact that we’ve won a number of national championships in a row … when national championships are described, discussed, it’s generally the SEC that leads the discussion,” Miles said.

It’s been seven straight titles for the SEC, meaning high school seniors have to go back fifth grade to recall the last year in which did not see an SEC school win a national championship. That creates a draw to the SEC and LSU that Miles and his staff wants to take advantage of.

“When we walk in (to a home of player from outside of SEC country), there’s some excitement,” Miles said. “There’s a brand of young man out there that says, ‘I want to be challenged by the best. I want to play in the biggest conference, I want to play the finest defensive backs, I want to play the finest wide receivers, I want to see how good I am.’

“In this conference, there are a number of schools that present that to a young man.”

LSU recognized it and took advantage.

It’s not likely LSU will forget its recruiting base because of this experience. The 2014 class in Louisiana is widely thought of as being one of the best in recent history in the state. The Tigers already have 2014 commitments from Texas (cornerback Chris Hardeman) and Mississippi (athlete Devin Voorhies), so they are not about to neglect its neighboring states either.

But neither will LSU limit itself to its most local contacts. When Bower picked LSU, he chose the Tigers over two other SEC powers, despite the fact that he lives a short drive from the Meadowlands.

The SEC is a goal for players throughout the country. Now, LSU must fight to be the destination school within the sought-after conference.