LSU Tigers: Gerald Willis

When a football coaching staff signs one of the top few recruits at any position, it's cause for celebration. Therefore, grabbing two of the top three prospects at that position might warrant an Animal House-style party.

Between 2006, when ESPN began assembling recruit rankings, and 2013, individual programs managed to sign at least two of the top three players at a position 16 times. In many cases, one -- and sometimes both -- of those players became instant stars as true freshmen. Think Taylor Mays and Joe McKnight at USC, De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss and Sean Spence at Miami.

This was a relatively unique occurrence up until 2014, when it happened five times -- with four of the five instances occurring in the SEC: twice at Alabama, which signed the top two players at both center (No. 1 Josh Casher and No. 2 J.C. Hassenauer) and outside linebacker (No. 1 Christian Miller and No. 2 Rashaan Evans), plus at LSU (with No. 1 and 3 wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn) and Florida (with No. 2 and 3 defensive tackles Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley).

Clemson was the other school to accomplish the feat in 2014, signing No. 2 and 3 receiving tight ends Milan Richard and Cannon Smith.

In some of these cases -- particularly at LSU, which lost the vast majority of its receiving production from 2013 -- expectations are high that the star signees can immediately become valuable contributors as true freshmen. The Tigers have multiple alternatives at receiver, including Travin Dural and John Diarse, but Dupre and Quinn might rank among the leading contenders for playing time.

Judging by the long list of Freshman All-America and freshman all-conference honors won by those who previously signed as part of such a dynamic duo, perhaps it's not such a long shot that at least one of the newcomers will make a similar instant impact.

2006

Safety | USC
No. 2 Taylor Mays, No. 3 Antwine Perez

Mays appeared in all 13 games -- starting the last 12 at free safety after Josh Pinkard suffered a season-ending injury in the opener -- in 2006 and led the Trojans with three interceptions. Mays was fifth on the team with 62 tackles and tied for second with six passes defended, ending the season as Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and as a member of multiple Freshman All-America teams. Perez played in seven games and recorded three tackles.

2007

Center | Auburn
No. 1 Ryan Pugh, No. 3 Chaz Ramsey

Pugh started six of Auburn's final nine games at left tackle and appeared in eight games overall. He also backed up Jason Bosley at center and earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team honors after the season. Like Pugh, Ramsey appeared for the first time in Week 4 and went on to start nine of the Tigers' last 10 games at right guard. He also made the Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team.

Running back | USC
No. 1 Joe McKnight, No. 2 Marc Tyler

McKnight played in all 13 games in 2007, ranked third on the team with 540 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown and served as the Trojans' primary punt returner, with his 8.4 yards per return helping him earn a All-Pac-10 honorable mention nod. Tyler redshirted in 2007 while recuperating from a high school leg injury.

2008

Inside linebacker | Ohio State
No. 1 Etienne Sabino, No. 2 Andrew Sweat

Sabino played in all 13 games and notched six tackles. He notched the only touchdown in the Buckeyes' 16-3 win against Purdue by returning a blocked punt 20 yards for a score. Sweat appeared in the last nine games and recorded five tackles, also contributing mostly on special teams.

Outside linebacker | Miami
No. 1 Arthur Brown, No. 2 Sean Spence, No. 3 Ramon Buchanan

Not only did Miami sign ESPN's top three outside linebacker prospects in 2008, it also signed No. 5 Jordan Futch. That's an outstanding haul for one year. At any rate, Spence emerged as the key member of this group from the get-go, ranking third on the team with 65 tackles and leading the Hurricanes with 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2008. He was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and made multiple Freshman All-America teams. Brown (who later transferred to Kansas State) played in 11 games as a freshman, notching four tackles and shifting from outside to inside linebacker. Buchanan had six tackles in nine games, playing mostly on special teams and also contributing at safety and linebacker.

Offensive tackle | Ohio State
No. 2 Michael Brewster, No. 3 J.B. Shugarts

Brewster played in 12 of the Buckeyes' 13 games in 2008 and started the last 10 at center, earning Freshman All-America honors in the process. Shugarts appeared in seven games at offensive tackle and missed six other games with a shoulder surgery that required offseason surgery.

Safety | Florida
No. 1 Will Hill, No. 2 Dee Finley

Hill played in 13 games and ranked sixth on the team with 48 tackles. He also picked off two passes and notched 1.5 sacks. He made the SEC All-Freshman team and led the Gators with 22 tackles on special teams. Finley did not qualify academically and spent the 2008 season at Milford Academy prep school. He eventually enrolled at Florida and shifted from safety to linebacker, but transferred away from Gainesville in 2011.

2009

Safety | South Carolina
No. 2 Stephon Gilmore, No. 3 DeVonte Holloman

Early enrollee Gilmore started all 13 games at cornerback, ranking fifth on the team with 56 tackles. He tied for the team lead with nine passes defended and ranked second with eight pass breakups, adding six tackles for a loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. The Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honoree also averaged 10.1 yards per return as a punt return man. Another early enrollee, Hollomon also played in every game, notching 30 tackles, an interception (which he returned 54 yards against rival Clemson) and a tackle for a loss.

2010

Athlete | Florida
No. 1 Ronald Powell, No. 2 Matt Elam

Powell played in 13 games at strongside linebacker and recorded 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack en route to winning Freshman All-SEC honors. Elam also played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams and at defensive back, and notched 22 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.

Defensive tackle | Florida
No. 1 Dominique Easley, No. 3 Sharrif Floyd

Easley recorded four tackles in six games. Floyd played in all 13 games, earning Coaches' Freshman All-SEC honors by making 23 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Wide receiver | Texas
No. 2 Mike Davis, No. 3 Darius White

Davis ranked second on the team with 478 receiving yards and 47 receptions (a record for a Texas freshman). He became one of only three receivers in Longhorns history to post multiple 100-yard games as a freshman. White appeared in 10 games in 2010, but caught just one pass for 5 yards and eventually transferred to Missouri after two seasons, citing a need for a fresh start.

2011

Athlete | Oregon
No. 1 De'Anthony Thomas, No. 2 Devon Blackmon

The speedy Thomas earned Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors and was named an All-Pac-12 kick returner and a Freshman All-American. He was the only player in the nation to post at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning in 2011, ranking as the Ducks' second-leading receiver (595 yards on 46 catches) and third-leading rusher (608 yards and seven touchdowns). His 983 kickoff return yards ranked second in school history. Blackmon redshirted in 2011 and appeared in two games in 2012 before announcing his plan to transfer. He played at Riverside City College before signing with BYU as a juco transfer in 2014.

2012

Defensive end | Florida State
No. 1 Mario Edwards, No. 3 Chris Casher

Edwards became the only freshman to start all season for a loaded FSU defense when he replaced the injured Tank Carradine in the ACC Championship Game. He also started in the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois. In all, Edwards finished the season with 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Casher played in two early games before suffering a season-ending injury and taking a redshirt in 2012.

2013

Offensive guard | Michigan
No. 2 David Dawson, No. 3 Patrick Kugler

Dawson and Kugler both redshirted in 2013. Dawson practiced during the spring at left guard and left tackle, while Kugler is among the candidates to start at center this fall.

Offensive tackle | Ole Miss
No. 1 Laremy Tunsil, No. 3 Austin Golson

Tunsil immediately became one of the better offensive tackles in the SEC, earning second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2013. He played in 12 games and started nine at left tackle, making him one of only two true full-time freshman starters at the position in the FBS. Tunsil allowed just one sack all season. Golson played in 12 games, mostly at guard, before missing the Rebels' bowl game because of shoulder surgery. He transferred to Auburn this summer, citing a family illness as the reason he wanted to move closer to his Alabama home.

Safety | USC
No. 1 Su'a Cravens, No. 3 Leon McQuay III

A 2013 early enrollee, Cravens started 13 games at strong safety, ranked eighth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for second with four interceptions. He made multiple Freshman All-America teams and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod after the season. McQuay played in all 14 games, picked off one pass and recorded 19 tackles.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Five years from now, maybe sooner, we'll be able to accurately assess the signing class that LSU assembled on Wednesday. Since we like to prematurely keep score, the crop of new Tigers must be judged on two fronts: How it appears today and how it could have been.

What it is is outstanding. Really, truly outstanding. It includes the top player in the nation, superstar tailback Leonard Fournette, two others ranked first at their respective positions (receiver Malachi Dupre and offensive guard Garrett Brumfield) and three more ranked second (safety Jamal Adams, inside linebacker Clifton Garrett and dual-threat quarterback Brandon Harris). In all, 15 ESPN 300 prospects in a collection of 22 signees and a class that ranked second in the nation once the dust settled on Wednesday.

This group forms the backbone of one of the finest classes Les Miles' staff has assembled over the last decade, but fairly or unfairly, it might also face a perception problem in the short term.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Miller Safrit/ESPNLSU kept the nation's top prospect, RB Leonard Fournette, at home, but missed on a few in-state stars.
Make no mistake, LSU will win a ton of football games with this group playing leading roles. Maybe even championships. Perhaps it will win so much -- Miles predicted that “we ought to compete for a national title or several” after adding Wednesday's signees -- that any hint of a shortcoming will be proven incorrect. But such a hint exists now, largely because LSU didn't live up to its reputation as a program that fences off its home state as well as any other major program.

“We identify the best players in the state of Louisiana and then we work outward and find the best players in the United States,” LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson said on the program's signing day special that aired on its website. “We're appealing to some of those kids and we're fortunate enough that we're able to go to Illinois, able to go to Nebraska, able to get six players out of Texas and Florida and all of those things. It's great.

“It's just tough when it happens to us. When one of ours leaves the state, we [say], 'How dare he leave!' But it happens. But for the most part over the year in and year out, I think we've done a great job of wrapping our arms around the best players in the state of Louisiana that fit what we do.”

You see, this could have been the nation's top signing class if LSU sealed shut the state's borders the way it has at points in the past. The state was brimming with top-end talent -- it typically is, but this year was particularly special -- although an unusually large portion is heading elsewhere for college.

When a school competes in the SEC West, particularly against a school like Alabama -- which landed the top recruiting class for the third year in a row -- it's imperative to capitalize on every opportunity to keep pace with the Crimson Tide.

But in Louisiana, No. 3 overall prospect Cameron Robinson, the top offensive tackle, picked rival Alabama. So did safety Laurence Jones and receiver Cameron Sims. Versatile wideout Speedy Noil -- the No. 7 overall prospect and top athlete -- opted to play in Texas A&M's spread offense. Gerald Willis III, the No. 2 defensive tackle, is Florida-bound, and the top overall junior college prospect, receiver D'haquille Williams from LaPlace, La., enrolled at Auburn last month.

To be fair, LSU didn't truly pursue all of those prospects, while some combination of personal issues or simply personal preference led the others to their respective choices. But when your reputation is that of the overwhelming recruiting force within your home state, this was the wrong year to only sign half of a dynamic in-state top 10.

“There were at least two players in the state that we coveted and I can tell you that we recruited to those positions and I thought that we helped ourselves significantly,” Miles said.

That's how it looks today, with only two members of the class already on campus. Adams looks like a good trade for Jones, and the collection of talent LSU assembled at receiver is phenomenal even without Sims, Noil or Williams. Missing out on Robinson, in particular, might hurt the most, and Miles was already in sales-pitch mode to 2015 offensive linemen about the biggest need LSU must fill this time next year.

“In my time here, if we've had a real area of need, we've been able to go out there and answer it very effectively. I'm certain that we will,” Miles said. “But those offensive linemen in the sound of my voice, the opportunity is certainly great to join these Tigers and have an opportunity to compete to play.”

As we all know, recruiting rankings are only general predictions of how the group might turn out. The Tigers have had eight players earn Associated Press All-America honors in the last three seasons and there was not a single five-star prospect in the bunch. In fact, half received a three-star grade or worse.

It would be incredibly silly to criticize this class today, months before most signees arrive on campus and years before their full impact will be apparent. To the contrary, it looks to be one that not only will help LSU extend its unprecedented recent run of success, but it might just help the Tigers hoist a crystal football sometime within the next few years.

Today it's understandable to at least address the misses that could have pushed LSU's class over the top from a perception standpoint. It's also worth wondering whether two or three years from now, LSU fans will chuckle over ever having felt any disappointment whatsoever when some in-state stars announced at last month's Under Armour All-America Game that they would play elsewhere.

Let's revisit this conversation in a couple years to settle which of those options reflected the correct viewpoint. At this point, it's up to the 22 newest Tigers to determine how that conversation will go.

Three takeaways from Outback Bowl

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
11:30
AM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- Aside from notching a 10th win for four consecutive seasons, LSU's 21-14 win over Iowa in Wednesday's Outback Bowl didn't mean a great deal. However, it gave us a glimpse into the future -- one that will become a bit clearer over the next few days.

Let's examine three takeaways from the Tigers' bowl win and what the coming week might hold for the LSU program.

Next few days are huge: This is shaping up as a roller coaster couple of days for LSU's 2014 roster. It starts today with the Under Armour All-America Game, where the Tigers could wind up as the day's biggest winner. ESPN will air the all-star game at 4 p.m. ET, and LSU targets Leonard Fournette, Speedy Noil and Gerald Willis will announce their college decisions.

The biggest prize is tailback Fournette, whom ESPN rates as the nation's No. 1 overall prospect. LSU commits Garrett Brumfield, Brandon Harris and Jacory Washington are also competing in the game. The Tigers could make a huge jump from their current No. 12 spot in the ESPN's class rankings with a big day today.

Landing some combination of the elite prospects in today's all-star game will help absorb the roster hit that is almost certainly coming. Nobody officially announced a decision after Wednesday's game, but it seems likely that the Tigers will lose a number of underclassmen to the NFL draft. Receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, tailback Jeremy Hill, offensive tackle La'El Collins and defensive linemen Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are all names to watch -- and their decisions should come shortly.

Defense made strides: This was a maddeningly inconsistent season for an LSU program that prides itself on stifling defense. But Wednesday's finale provided glimpses of what this group can be. Iowa totaled just 233 yards, went 6-for-19 on third down (1-for-9 in the first half) and twice tossed interceptions inside the LSU 10-yard line.

There were only two seniors among LSU's bowl starters -- linebacker Lamin Barrow and safety Craig Loston -- and we'll see what Johnson and Ferguson decide to do, but this defense will return the bulk of its two-deep, regardless. For a group that will finish the season ranked in the nation's top 20 in total defense (they were 21st entering the bowl game and end it by surrendering an average of 340.7 ypg), that seems like a sign that 2014 will be a big year for the defense.

Jennings has work to do: After his remarkable performance in leading LSU to a comeback win against Arkansas when Zach Mettenberger went down with an injury, expectations were high for first-time starting quarterback Anthony Jennings on Wednesday. Jennings played like a freshman against Iowa, though.

On an unusually cold, nasty day in Tampa, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron initially took the game out of Jennings' hands, calling 12 straight running plays to open the game. The freshman was mostly shaky once he started putting the ball in the air, finishing 7-for-19 for 82 yards and an interception (he also ran for a touchdown).

That wasn't terribly surprising against an Iowa defense that is considerably more effective than Arkansas', but it served notice that this will be an enormous offseason for Jennings -- particularly with Harris, the No. 58 overall prospect on the ESPN 300 and No. 3 dual-threat quarterback, planning to enroll this month and participate in spring practice.
The practices are in the books and now is the time for the nation’s top prospects to showcase their skills under the bright lights of the Under Armour All-America game (4 p.m. Thursday, ESPN). With an outstanding collection of talent taking the field, it can be easy to feel a football sensory overload. No matter where you look, you will see a promising prospect in action, but to help guide your focus, we put together a few viewing tips. You can’t go wrong wherever your eyes take you on the field, but the following could be a good place to start.

If you want to know where next year's top college freshmen will play …

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Oregon State coach Mike Riley launched a new Twitter campaign on Tuesday to help the Beavers connect with recruits across the country; LSU’s Frank Wilson didn’t make the first edition of the ESPN recruiting power rankings, but he could be leading the poll by signing day; and a question and answer session on Wednesday helped identify what topics are most important with recruiting fans today.

#SmartRecruitingTool
Oregon State coach Mike Riley has more than 18,900 followers and is great communicating with fans on Twitter. So it was no surprise to see him launch a campaign Tuesday called “Tweet Film Tuesday” where he asked recruits to send him links to their film, and he and his staffers will then select 10 recruits to evaluate each week. With only 140 characters to work with, Riley didn’t explain how he and his assistants would pick the 10 recruits to evaluate, but the idea is ingenious. Not only does it help Riley and the Beaver coaches communicate with prospects in a way they’re already familiar with, it also allows the OSU coaches to find prospects they might not have been familiar with who are truly interested in the program. Also with Riley’s track record of uncovering hidden talent, you can all but guarantee there will be a story a few years down the road where the Beavers found a sleeper through this approach.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Top SEC recruiting rivalries 

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
8:00
AM ET

From year-to-year the Southeastern Conference is full of recruiting battles. This year it appears that Alabama and LSU could have some of the best recruiting battles we've seen in a while. Here's a closer look at the five top recruiting rivalries in the SEC.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

LSU instant impact recruits 

June, 25, 2013
6/25/13
10:00
AM ET


BATON ROUGE, La. -- With LSU after so many ESPN 150 players, which ones would likely make an impact earliest? Here are the 10 most likely candidates:

1. RB Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine)
6-foot-1, 232 pounds
ESPN 300 rank: 1

Why he would make an impact: The nation's top-ranked player would make an impact for anybody, but LSU seems to have gone out of the way to thin its once deep running back herd. If Jeremy Hill departs after this season (assuming he's out of his legal hot water), there's not reason to think Fournette wouldn't be the Tigers' starter as soon as he arrives.

Will he sign? It's far from decided. LSU and Alabama are at the top of the list, but there are several other suitors.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ESPN 300 targets: LSU 

June, 18, 2013
6/18/13
9:00
AM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With the ESPN 300 released Monday, here's a look at the top targets on LSU's board, ranked from most likely to commit to the Tigers to least likely.

[+] EnlargeMalachi Dupre
David Helman/ESPN.comLSU is pursuing many elite ESPN 300 recruits, but the Tigers might have the best chance of landing WR Malachi Dupre.
1. WR Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis)
6-foot-3, 187 pounds
ESPN 300 Rank: 28

Why they want him: LSU has stockpiled its receiving corps with shorter, quicker slot types. Dupre marks a return to bigger downfield threats in the mold of past Tigers like Rueben Randle.

Who else wants him: Dupre has been quiet on his suitors, but UCLA, Michigan, Alabama and Florida State lead the list of contenders.

Odds they get him: 65 percent


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ESPN 300 analysis: LSU Tigers 

June, 17, 2013
6/17/13
11:54
AM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's been since Jordan Jefferson in 2008 that one could find a Louisiana quarterback who met the four-star threshold.

Back then, before RecruitingNation issued stars, Jefferson was given an 80 score, which translates to four stars.

Brandon Harris (Bossier City, La./Parkway) broke that drought this year. And now he's done something no Louisiana quarterback has done in the RecruitingNation era.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Tales from the Road: LSU 

May, 29, 2013
5/29/13
10:00
AM ET
Every Wednesday, GeauxTigerNation will take a look at LSU's week in recruiting in Tales From The Road.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- It almost felt like football season over the weekend in Baton Rouge.

Fans surrounded Tiger Stadium, tailgating in adjacent parking lots. Then, when the time was right, they poured into the stadium for the main event.

Only this weekend, it wasn't football, but the annual Bayou Country Superfest, featuring Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, the Zac Brown Band and Luke Bryan, who headlined the stadium for Memorial Day weekend.

But it sure did feel like a football weekend, and it just so happened there were football players on campus. Some of the state's top recruits were on hand for LSU's Bayou Picnic event, getting a little taste of a game day.

Happy accident? We think not.

This week's targets: LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson and wide receiver coach Adam Henry were at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans for the New Orleans Karr/New Orleans Brother Martin spring scrimmage.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

NEW ORLEANS -- Tad Gormley Stadium once hosted the 1992 U.S. Olympic Track and Field trials, a meet so fast the great Carl Lewis finished sixth in the 100 meters.

It was in that same venue on Thursday where Speedy Noil was, quite simply, fast, even in the context of the world class speed the venerable, 76-year-old New Orleans City Park icon has seen gallop up and down its turf and track.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Quiet weekend at LSU's picnic 

May, 28, 2013
5/28/13
10:00
AM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Sometimes a picnic is just a picnic.

LSU hosted its annual Bayou Picnic recruiting day Saturday, an invitation-only event targeting select high-profile recruiting targets. And while some recruits were on "commitment alert," the Tigers had not landed any new commitments by the time Memorial Day weekend ended.

That's not to say it wasn't a significant event in the recruiting process.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

BATON ROUGE, La. -- GeauxTigerNation writer Gary Laney took your questions:

From: Hunter Johnson: Do you think LSU would rather sign Racean Thomas or Darrel Williams at running back with Leonard Fournette, and does Kwon Alexander being from the same high school as Thomas helps us? Also any update on the situation at kicker?


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The stage was set for Brandon Harris.

The 2014 quarterback, whose stock has risen steadily throughout the spring, had the stage to himself when his school, Bossier City, La.'s Parkway High, hosted Alexandria, La./Alexandria Senior High for a spring game.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Now that spring ball has started, ESPN 150 defensive tackle Gerald Willis III has been inundated with interest from college recruiters visiting New Orleans Edna Karr High School. He expected that.

That’s why, even if he’s comfortable with naming his top four schools, his list remains a fluid one. New schools are working hard to get in the mix, and Willis is ready to hit the road for more visits this summer.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

LSU's Talented Youth
LSU head coach Les Miles talks about the loss of talent to the NFL Draft, how he will replace quarterback Zach Mettenberger and his expectations for running back Leonard Fournette.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 8/28
Saturday, 8/30
Sunday, 8/31