LSU Tigers: travonte valentine

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU held its final spring practice this week, officially sending the Tigers into a crucial offseason.

An obvious point this spring was that Les Miles’ coaching staff was working with an incomplete roster. Seven underclassmen jumped ship to enter the NFL draft and only two of the Tigers’ 23 signees -- quarterback Brandon Harris and defensive back Edward Paris -- enrolled early to participate in spring practice.

That leaves plenty of questions as the team moves into the offseason -- five of which we’ll address now:

5. Do the Tigers have adequate depth in the backfield?

[+] EnlargeKenny Hilliard
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsOutside of Kenny Hilliard, there is not a lot of returning depth in the backfield and the Tigers will need to rely on incoming freshman.
The answer to this question during the spring was a resounding no -- Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard were the only scholarship tailbacks on the roster, and Magee missed a portion of the month after spraining an ankle in a scrimmage -- but that’s irrelevant. You don’t win or lose a game in March or April.

But even when freshmen Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams arrive this summer, will that be enough? An injury here or there could cause major problems. For example, look what happened at Georgia last season. When the season opened, it appeared as though the Bulldogs had one of the nation’s top backfields with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall leading the way and freshmen J.J. Green, Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman serving as backups. But then Gurley suffered a minor injury in the opener against Clemson followed by a serious ankle injury in Game 4 against LSU. The next week, Marshall suffered a season-ending knee injury.

All of a sudden, Georgia was down to a bunch of freshmen -- all of whom were mid-level prospects -- by the first week of October. It’s no mystery why the Bulldogs went 1-2, and very nearly 0-3, in that October stretch before Gurley returned to the lineup. A lack of backfield depth in the SEC can be a season killer when you make a living on the ground like Georgia and LSU typically do.

4. How many players will figure into the Tigers’ plans on the defensive line? And how good can they be this season?

Aside from quarterback play, this might be the most important factor for the 2014 Tigers. Brick Haley’s bunch was a bit erratic last season, and now it must function with youngsters replacing departed juniors Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson in the middle.

The good news is that there is plenty of talent on hand along the interior line. Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas worked as first-teamers, with redshirt freshmen Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron chipping in as reserves. There is an extremely high ceiling with that group, but they’re about as green as it gets. It will also bear watching during preseason camp to see whether a signee like Travonte Valentine can crack Haley’s rotation, too.

The end spots are also a bit of a mystery. Jermauria Rasco -- who missed the spring while returning from offseason surgery -- and Danielle Hunter seem locked in as starters, but will they improve upon middling results in 2013? And who fills in the depth chart behind them? Tashawn Bower seems like a safe bet, but who else? We’ll see.

3. Who will start at safety?

Jalen Mills and Ronald Martin seemed to have these jobs locked down during the spring, but Rickey Jefferson and Corey Thompson -- another player who missed spring practice due to injury -- will be in the mix in August.

Keep in mind that nearly every time this position came up in one of his post-practice press gatherings, Miles mentioned how the Tigers’ safety signees -- Jamal Adams, Devin Voorhies and John Battle -- will be part of the preseason competition, too.

2. Will this offense be productive enough to win a championship?

It probably was last season, but for once it was LSU’s defense that was in the middle of a retooling effort. John Chavis’ defense appears to be on the rise now, but Cam Cameron must replace nearly every significant skill player from last season’s offense.

Freshmen like Fournette, Harris and receiver Malachi Dupre don’t just look like serviceable college players, they look like superstars in the making. But it’s a lot to ask of true freshmen to be superstars immediately.

Cameron’s dilemma is that he will almost certainly rely on at least a half-dozen newcomers to make an impact this fall. It’s a tricky proposition, but his getting reliable production out of that group might mean the difference between LSU contending for the SEC West title this fall or having to wait another year or two until they mature and bring the Tigers back to national championship contention.

1. Will Harris overtake Anthony Jennings at quarterback?

We can’t post this list and fail to address the biggest question surrounding the Tigers this spring. After a month of practice, there doesn’t seem to be an answer, although Harris clearly outperformed his sophomore counterpart in the spring game.

LSU’s coaches understandably see no need to declare a starter five months before the season starts. They’ll battle it out this summer in passing sessions and then again in August. Harris looks to be the contender with higher upside, but he must prove he can avoid the decision-making problems that most freshman quarterbacks encounter when the pressure of the season arrives.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Brick Haley faces the blessing and the curse of coaching LSU’s defensive line each year around this time.

The blessing is that the Tigers’ coaching staff has attracted loads of NFL-caliber talent to Baton Rouge. Just check the stats. Eight LSU defensive linemen have been drafted since Haley joined the staff in 2009, a number that would grow to 10 if defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are selected this year.

The curse is that continuity is nearly impossible to maintain, particularly at defensive tackle. This is Haley’s sixth spring practice at LSU and the third where both of his starting defensive tackles -- whoever they might be in 2014 -- will be new to starting roles.

“That’s LSU,” said Christian LaCouture, who is attempting to take over one of the starting jobs after Johnson and Ferguson both bolted for the NFL after finishing their junior seasons. “That’s something where guys, we want to win a national championship, we want to win an SEC championship and a lot of the guys go to the league. You’ve got to prepare. It’s the next man in here and you’ve got to produce.”

LaCouture is perhaps LSU’s most experienced interior lineman, having appeared in all 13 games last season as a true freshman. But he faces plenty of competition for a starting job from junior Quentin Thomas and redshirt freshmen Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore. Redshirt freshman Frank Herron also took some practice reps at defensive tackle earlier this spring, but he appears to be playing end for now.

While LSU coach Les Miles said after Saturday’s scrimmage that there’s a chance that the defensive tackles “could be as successful as any group that we’ve had,” the dynamics in play this fall could be significantly different from a season ago. Ferguson and Johnson played the vast majority of scrimmage downs in 2013, but the workload might be spread more evenly between players this season.

“They definitely were the impact players of our defensive tackles. They definitely were, and it’s all good,” Gilmore said. “I think that was a good year for us to sit back, learn the plays, learn the techniques. So I think this year now we have everybody that’s equal, trying not to have a drop-off in the twos and try to rotate in.”

By redshirting Bain and Gilmore -- both of whom ranked among ESPN’s top 130 overall recruits in 2013 -- Haley put a particularly heavy burden on his two starters, and Bain said the effect of that workload was noticeable.

“Last year they were kind of tired between Ego and Freak [Johnson],” Bain said. “They were kind of tired and we told Coach Brick, ‘You wore them guys a little bit more. You can trust us.’ So now that he trusts us, he’s putting us out there in the spring and now he sees that we can do what Freak and Ego did.”

Of course, the candidates must prove to Haley that they deserve to share some of those snaps -- which is the same responsibility that signees such as Travonte Valentine, Trey Lealaimatafao and Davon Godchaux will face when they arrive in the summer.

Valentine, according to fellow Floridian Bain, could be a candidate for early playing time if he competes well in August.

“Hopefully when Tra Valentine gets in here, he’ll be the fifth man,” Bain said of the freshman signee fitting in with himself, LaCouture, Thomas and Gilmore. “But right now, it’s just a four-man rotation and that’s what we’re going with.”

Last season, Haley made the best of the hand he’d been dealt. Starting tackle Bennie Logan had eligibility remaining when he entered the 2013 NFL draft. Johnson and Ferguson were the returning linemen with whom Haley was the most comfortable, and he decided that the Tigers would be better off riding them as far as possible without relying on the raw freshmen.

Now nobody is particularly proven, and the resulting competition reduces any possibility of complacency within the group. That’s what their counterparts on the offensive line have noticed, anyway.

“They know they have less experience than the guys that left, so of course they’re out there trying to get better each and every day and they’re giving us their all,” senior offensive tackle La'el Collins said. “Last year we had a lot of veteran guys and those guys were just out there going through whatever they needed to go through. But these guys are giving a little bit more effort because they understand that it’s their time to play, so they’re really trying to focus on getting better.”

Center Elliott Porter added that “it’s a grind every day to block them,” which has created worthwhile practice competition for both LSU lines this spring. Although LSU’s offensive line carries a serious experience advantage over its defensive opponents, Miles indicated Saturday that the competition between the two groups has been close -- with two weeks of spring practice left to declare a victor.

“I think that these [defensive tackles] can be dominant players. I think improvement needs to take place,” Miles said. “Again, I think the offensive line and defensive line, they’re measured in the spring. It’s going to be interesting to see that competition as it plays out the next two weeks.”

Key spring position battles: DT

February, 25, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. – We're closing in on the start of spring practice at LSU, so this week let's take a look at five position battles worth watching this spring.

We started Monday with the wide receivers and move today to the defensive tackles, who must replace both starters from a season ago. Here are some players worth watching in what might be the most important position battle on the team this year:

Returning starters: None

Departures: Juniors Anthony Johnson (35 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, three sacks) and Ego Ferguson (40 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, one sack) played the vast majority of important downs last fall, but both players opted to enter the 2014 NFL draft.

Returning reserves: Freshman Christian LaCouture (11 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, one sack) earned immediate playing time last season after enrolling early, but he and then-sophomore Quentin Thomas (nine tackles, 0.5 TFLs) were the only reserves who contributed much behind the starters. Mickey Johnson played in four games and recorded three tackles while being plagued by injuries. The rising junior will be one of the oldest players in the mix this fall.

Newcomers: This could be a group worth watching. Not only are there some promising linemen who are coming off redshirt seasons -- including Greg Gilmore, Maquedius Bain and possibly Frank Herron, who last season was listed as a defensive end -- but the Tigers also signed three recruits earlier this month who could potentially be plug-and-play candidates in the fall. Signing day was big in that regard as Travonte Valentine (6-foot-3, 325 pounds) announced that he would sign with LSU over hometown Miami, Trey Lealaimatafao (6-0, 300) revealed that he would join the Tigers and Davon Godchaux (6-4, 271) stuck with his LSU commitment after making some late visits to other campuses. Getting all three was huge. They won't arrive until the summer, which puts them at a disadvantage compared to the players who have spent at least a season on campus. But very few of the contenders at tackle have much -- if any -- on-field experience. The rookies will get a chance to win some playing time.

What to watch: The exciting thing about this group is that it almost certainly has a bright future. There is plentiful talent and depth here. The question is whether the group can perform well enough this fall to live up to LSU's exceptional tradition up front. Johnson and Ferguson are just the latest Tigers whose size and athleticism made them appealing defensive tackle prospects for the NFL. But the group is in rebuilding mode, searching for the right combination of starters -- and perhaps a few more reserves -- to slide into what was a fairly thin rotation a year ago. It seems like a safe bet that LaCouture and Thomas will figure into the mix, but how many of the young guys will prove that they deserve playing time? And can they steal a starting spot from one of the more established players? The developments in spring practice will help answer that question -- and it would be helpful if at least a couple of them make some good things happen in the next few weeks in order to develop some continuity heading into summer workouts and preseason practice.

Players to watch: Mickey Johnson

February, 20, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. – With spring practice approaching in just two weeks, this week we've been examining LSU players who could use a strong spring if they are to carve out some playing time in the fall.

So far this week we've discussed freshman safety Edward Paris Jr., receiver Quantavius Leslie and offensive guard Fehoko Fanaika. Today we move onto one of the few veterans at the rebuilding defensive tackle position.

[+] EnlargeMickey Johnson
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIMickey Johnson was a heralded recruit in the 2011 class.
Mickey Johnson (Defensive tackle, Jr.)

2013 review: An ESPN 150 prospect in 2011, Johnson played a minor role as a redshirt sophomore and was affected by injuries throughout the season. He appeared in just four games -- lopsided victories over UAB, Kent State, Mississippi State and Furman -- and recorded just three tackles.

Why spring is important: Both of LSU's starting defensive tackles, Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, entered the NFL draft after the season, so this feels like now-or-never time for Johnson. He faces spring competition from talented players coming off a redshirt such as Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain and the competition will only grow this summer when Travonte Valentine, Trey Lealaimatafao and Davon Godchaux arrive on campus.

Best case/worst case: Johnson must prove that he can stay healthy and produce or he faces the prospect of being left behind by the young upstarts who enter the mix during the spring and summer. He's been on campus for three seasons and has only appeared in five games, so Johnson has hardly established himself as a go-to player. He can start doing that this spring and could play alongside players such as Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas, who ranked among the Tigers' top line reserves a year ago. The worst case would be that he continues along the trend that marked his first few seasons on campus and fails to carve out a niche at a position that could use a veteran's presence.

LSU position groups to improve: No. 4

February, 11, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- With more than three weeks to go until LSU opens spring practice on March 7, we'll use some of the down time to preview the upcoming series of team workouts.

Today we continue this week's series listing five position groups with room to improve in the fall. Yesterday we discussed the tight ends, who could develop a more active presence in the passing game in Year 2 under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Now we move onto the defensive tackles, who were good but rarely dominant last season and now must replace both starters.

[+] EnlargeTrey Lealaimatafao
Tom Hauck for Student SportsCould incoming freshman Trey Lealaimatafao crack the defensive tackle rotation for the Tigers?
4. Defensive tackle

Battling for No. 1: High-profile departures on offense will draw the most attention between now and the season, but this position is every bit as important as who will replace the likes of Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Jeremy Hill. Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson bolted for the NFL after their junior seasons, leaving a great deal of inexperience at a key position. Rising sophomore Christian LaCouture (11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss and one sack last fall) and junior Quentin Thomas (nine tackles, 1.5 TFL, one fumble recovery) have the most experience, but that isn't saying much.

Strength in numbers: Rising junior Mickey Johnson (three tackles in four games) was a top 150 recruit when he signed with LSU in 2011 but has yet to make a major impact. Not only must LSU's coaches pick from a large group of signees and players coming off a redshirt season to fill out the depth chart, but they need some of them to push for starting positions. At this point, however, it's tough to predict which members of the group will earn a role in the rotation -- a traditional element of LSU defense that barely existed last year since Johnson and Ferguson played the majority of downs and LaCouture and Thomas handled most of the reserve snaps.

New on the scene: The good news here is that LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley has some talented players to add to the mix this fall. They're just young. Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain were both among LSU's highest-rated signees a year ago, and both are ESPN 300 prospects are coming off a redshirt season. So is Frank Herron, whom LSU lists as a defensive end, but who could develop into an interior lineman. Finally, the Tigers signed three players last week who they list as defensive tackles. Four-star, 300-pound tackles Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao both announced on signing day that they were LSU-bound. Davon Godchaux -- whom ESPN graded as a four-star defensive end -- stuck with his LSU commitment and is also listed as a tackle.

Sigh of relief at LSU

February, 5, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson seemed to be experiencing more than one emotion Wednesday as he and his fellow coaches put the finishing touches on the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class.

“Huge sigh of relief. Hard work vindicated,” Wilson said on the program's signing day special that aired on the school's website. “For such a long time, you've put in hard work -- not only our staff, the 10 on-field coaches, but the entire support staff from the top to the bottom.”

[+] EnlargeMalachi Dupre
ESPNLanding Malachi Dupre, the nation's No. 1 WR, helped LSU climb to No. 2 in the class rankings.
Wilson was obviously excited, as well, and for good reason. The Tigers not only landed one of the top three remaining uncommitted players in the ESPN 300 -- New Orleans receiver Malachi Dupre, the nation's top receiver prospect -- but they added a pair of four-star defensive linemen in Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao. They also flipped defensive end Sione Teuhema from Texas, which should help them sign Teuhema's brother, Maea, who will be one of next year's top offensive line prospects.

They also held onto at least one -- and probably both -- of the ESPN 300 defensive ends who wavered on their verbal commitments (Davon Godchaux and Deondre Clark) to the Tigers. LSU has yet to officially confirm Clark's signing, but received his national letter of intent paperwork.

Add the good fortune on signing day to a recruiting cycle that helped LSU land the nation's top overall prospect, tailback Leonard Fournette, and two more players ranked first at their position, plus three players who ranked second. Clark's signature would make 16 ESPN 300 selections in LSU's 22-man class.

“I like, more importantly than being a five star, that these guys are in our class, they were evaluated by our coaches and they fill our needs,” LSU coach Les Miles.

Wilson barely even had an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor on Wednesday, however. Shortly after LSU received the final NLI on signing day, the recruiting staff had already erased its 2014 wish list off the board in its “war room.”

“The board is cleaned off, '15 is up, '16's behind them, and I'm like, 'Wait!' It's minutes guys, you haven't even given me a chance,” Wilson chuckled. “That's the reality of it. It's forever moving at a fast pace.”

Signing day winners and losers

February, 5, 2014
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The ceremonies have concluded, the ink has dried and the fax machines have been turned off once again. And with that, the Class of 2014 is mostly in the books. As is the case annually, there were a number of winners but also some losers on national signing day. Here is a look at a few schools that excelled -- and a couple others that didn't.

THE WINNERS

LSU: The Tigers began the day at No. 3 in the RecruitingNation class rankings and ended with 2014's No. 2 class. The reason is simple: Les Miles and staff got the prospect they had to have in the nation's No. 1 wide receiver, Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian). The Tigers lost both Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson to the NFL, making defensive tackle a key position of need, and they inked a pair of talented tackles in ESPN 300 Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnant Catholic) and four-star Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio, Texas/Earl Warren). Under the radar but significant is three-star defensive end Sione Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller), who flipped from Texas to LSU. Teuhema’s younger brother Maea Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller) is the No. 38 junior in the ESPN Junior 300 and has pledged to LSU as well. Holding off Auburn and UCLA to keep ESPN 300 defensive end Davon Godchaux (Plaquemine, La./Plaquemine) was another win on Wednesday.

Florida State: The Seminoles entered signing day with the No. 4-ranked class but were poised to close with a vengeance, and Jimbo Fisher and staff did just that. While the Seminoles moved up only one spot to No. 3, the hits on Wednesday are significant. Leading the way was No. 2-ranked wide receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead). The Noles weren’t done at receiver either, as Fisher and staff flipped Virginia Tech commit and No. 117 overall Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen). No. 158 Roderick Johnson (Saint Louis, Mo./Hazelwood Central) and No. 253 Derrick Nnadi (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes) were key gets at offensive tackle and defensive tackle, respectively. Three-star offensive tackle Derrick Kelly Jr. (Quincy, Fla./East Gadsden) was another key win over rival Florida.

USC: The Trojans stood to have a big signing day, and Steve Sarkisian and staff certainly delivered. Not only did USC win the hotly contested battle for five-star athlete Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra), but the Trojans won the race for ESPN 300 No. 24 Juju Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and signed No. 67 overall Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) as expected. More than the names and rankings, Wednesday was a huge perception win for the Trojans and Sarkisian. USC jumped to No. 14 from No. 24 in the RecruitingNation class rankings.

Georgia: The Bulldogs didn’t have a big day in terms of number of commits, but quality ruled the day. Mark Richt and staff signed the player they had to have in five-star outside linebacker/defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross). While Carter’s announcement was the big one Wednesday afternoon, the morning started off with a bang for Georgia with the signing of No. 286 overall Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), who was first offered on Monday and never even visited Athens. Those two big signings kept the Bulldogs in the top 10 at No. 9.

South Carolina: One of the big movers in the class rankings on Wednesday was the Gamecocks. Not only did South Carolina make a jump from No. 27 to No. 19 throughout the day, but the Gamecocks also addressed major areas of need. Steve Spurrier and staff had key areas of need at cornerback and along the defensive front, and they delivered by picking up a pair of ESPN 300 corners in No. 87 overall Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) and No. 120 Wesley Green (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King), as well as flipping ESPN 300 defensive tackle Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) from Florida State and three-star defensive end Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) from Nebraska. Fighting off the late January runs by Alabama and Georgia for ESPN 300 linebacker commit Bryson Allen-Williams (Ellenwood, Ga./Cedar Grove) has to be included in the huge wins in recent days.

Kentucky: Sure, Kentucky plucked only one key target on Wednesday in three-star former Vanderbilt and Penn State defensive end commit Lloyd Tubman (Louisville, Ky./Seneca), but it was still a huge day at the finish line for the Wildcats. The 2014 class marks the first time in the nine years that ESPN has ranked recruiting classes that the Wildcats have finished with a top 25 class, and that includes a big win over Alabama for in-state four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam (Elizabethtown, Ky./John Hardin). Signing six defensive backs fills a huge need as well.

Michigan State: The Spartans had a near dream season on the field, and followed it up by closing strong in recruiting. Not only did Michigan State jump nine spots in the class rankings from No. 38 to No. 29 on Wednesday, but it did so while filling a big need on the defensive front with big-time talent. ESPN 300 defensive end Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) was a big win over Ohio State, Florida State and Michigan, while flipping four-star defensive tackle Craig Evans (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie) from Wisconsin earlier in the week was another huge win for the Spartans.

Pac-12: The conference as a whole was quite possibly the big winner on signing day. Of the 13 live commitments on ESPNU throughout the morning and afternoon, seven committed and signed with Pac-12 programs. The winner within the Pac-12 was USC, but Stanford also enjoyed a big day with No. 25 overall Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) and three-star corner Terrence Alexander (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian).

THE LOSERS

UCLA: Along with USC and South Carolina, the UCLA Bruins came into today with the most to gain. While Jim Mora and staff scored with four-star linebacker Kenny Young (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian), it was mostly misses throughout the day. Jackson and Smith picked crosstown rival USC, while Dupre opted for home-state LSU. At defensive end, the Bruins missed out twice on Wednesday with Thomas selecting Stanford and Godchaux sticking with LSU. And finally, No. 52 overall Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) stayed in state by picking Alabama over Auburn.

Ole Miss: It’s difficult to place the Rebels' No. 17 class with the losers on signing day, but that was the case in Oxford, Miss. Not only did Ole Miss drop a spot in the class rankings, but it also came up dry with explosive ESPN 300 receiver and return man Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), after Hugh Freeze and staff worked the Under Armour All-America Game standout all the way up until Wednesday morning before McKenzie announced for Georgia. While Dupre was a long shot, he was yet another prospect who went elsewhere. The Rebels also lost out on Alexander, who selected Stanford over Notre Dame. The bright spot for the Rebels on Wednesday was signing former Notre Dame transfer and No. 22 in the ESPN JC 50, Tee Shepard

Signing day wrap: SEC

February, 5, 2014
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The Southeastern Conference had a strong finish the 2014 recruiting class. Alabama, which received a commitment from four-star outside linebacker Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) on Wednesday, finished with the top overall class by a landslide, and seven of the top 10 recruiting classes in the country are in the SEC. Here’s a closer look at some of the top news from around the SEC on national signing day.

Top class

[+] EnlargeRashaan Evans
AP Photo/Butch DillESPN 300 OLB Rashaan Evans, who chose Bama over Auburn, made a great class even better.
There is no question Alabama had the top overall class. The Crimson Tide finished with 27 signees, including 19 ranked in the ESPN 300 and five five-star prospects. In addition to the incredible class Alabama put together leading up to signing day, the Crimson Tide were also able to land Evans, the No. 52 player in the country. Evans chose Alabama over arch-rival and hometown Auburn Tigers.

The Alabama class was led by the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country, Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe), the No. 2-ranked defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) and the No. 2-ranked cornerback in the country Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen), who is already enrolled.

The SEC West alone had three schools, Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M, finish in the top five of the final recruiting team rankings. In all, 13 of the 14 SEC schools finished in the top 40 of the team recruiting rankings.

South Carolina, LSU and Georgia finish strong

South Carolina had arguably the best finish of any class in the SEC. The Gamecocks were able to flip ESPN 300 defensive end Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) from Florida State and defensive tackle Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) from Nebraska. They were also able to land ESPN 300 defensive backs Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) and Wesley Green (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King) giving the Gamecocks a very athletic secondary.

If South Carolina was the best, LSU wasn’t far behind. The Tigers were able to land the No. 1 wide receiver in the country Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis) and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnat Catholic). Dupre chose LSU over UCLA, Ole Miss, Alabama and FSU. Valentine had decommitted from three different schools – Louisville, Florida and Miami -- over the course of his recruitment before finally settling on LSU. The Tigers were also able to hang on to defensive end Davon Godchaux (Plaquemine, La./Plaquemine), who had been wavering on his commitment leading up to signing day.

Georgia, meanwhile, added five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross), who chose the Bulldogs over LSU, FSU and Florida. They also added four-star wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage). The ESPN 300 wide receiver wasn’t even considering Georgia until earlier this week, but a late offer from the Bulldogs was enough for McKenzie to pull the trigger and sign with Georgia.

Several schools lose commits

Signing day was full of surprises, including several prospects who backed off of their commitments and signed with a different school. Three-star defensive tackle Cory Thomas (McCalla, Ala./McAdory), a long-time Tennessee commit, spurned the Volunteers and signed with Mississippi State. But not all was good news for Mississippi State. Ole Miss was able to steal junior college defensive back Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Holmes CC), the No. 22-ranked player in the ESPN JC 50. The Vols took another hit when three-star offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge) unexpectedly signed with Oklahoma. The Volunteers, however, were able to land four-star defensive tackle Michael Sawyers (Nashville/The Ensworth School), and had the No. 5 recruiting class in the country -- one that included 11 players ranked in the ESPN 300.

Quarterback Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) backed off his pledge to FSU and signed with Florida. Offensive tackle Andrew Mike (Tucson, Ariz./Sabino) was only a part of Vanderbilt’s class for one short day, but the three-star tackle flipped on Tuesday night and signed with Florida on Wednesday. Four-star Alabama safety commit Chris Williams (Kingsland, Ga./Camden Co.) flipped and signed with UCF because of personal family reasons. Four-star wide receiver DeSean Blair (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) flipped his commitment from Louisville and signed with Missouri.

Vanderbilt able to rebound

The Vanderbilt class may not be filled with four- and five-star prospects, but the job new head coach Derek Mason did to rebuild the Commodores’ class is nothing short of amazing. After James Franklin left to take the head coaching job at Penn State and a string of decommitments followed, Vanderbilt was down to eight verbal commitments. After an impressive few weeks of recruiting the Commodores finished with 22 signees, including 17 prospects ranked three stars or higher.

The class is led by ESPN 300 defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian) and four-star running back Dallas Rivers (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson). After losing ESPN 300 quarterback Kyle Carta-Samuels to Washington, Vanderbilt was able to flip Pitt quarterback commit Wade Freebeck (Fort Lauderdale, Fla/St. Thomas Aquinas) and former ECU commit Shawn Stankavage (Raleigh, N.C./Cardinal Gibbons).
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Capitalizing on one of the largest collections of premium in-state talent in recent memory, LSU wrapped up a dramatic national signing day by jumping to second in ESPN's class rankings.

Among the four previously uncommitted prospects who announced Wednesday that they would join the Tigers was Malachi Dupre, ESPN's top-rated wide receiver and the No. 17 overall prospect in the ESPN 300. He joins class headliner and No. 1 overall prospect, tailback Leonard Fournette, among 15 ESPN 300 honorees in the Tigers' class of 22 total players.

[+] EnlargeMalachi Dupre
ESPNMalachi Dupre, the nation's top-ranked receiver, gave LSU's recruiting class a big boost on national signing day.
“I think you'll like this group,” LSU coach Les Miles said at an afternoon news conference where he first discussed the 2014 class. “I think there's a number of elite players and guys that are good students. They're a very, very talented group and a very quality character group. So if you look at this class like I do, we ought to compete for a national title – or several.”

The class could grow by one should ESPN 300 defensive end Deondre Clark hold to his verbal commitment to the Tigers. LSU received Clark's signing paperwork on Wednesday afternoon, but has not officially announced his signing.

The Tigers still had a shot at the top three uncommitted players in the ESPN 300 -- cornerback Adoree' Jackson, defensive end Lorenzo Carter and Dupre -- as signing day approached, but Carter picked Georgia and Jackson USC on Wednesday.

Dupre flirted with multiple schools over the last few weeks, but he picked the home-state Tigers to become the third LSU signee who ranks first nationally at his position. LSU signed Fournette and No. 1 offensive guard Garrett Brumfield, plus inside linebacker Clifton Garrett, safety Jamal Adams and dual-threat quarterback Brandon Harris – all of whom rank second at their respective positions.

“All the schools that I had it down to, I had a good relationship with all the coaching staffs,” Dupre said on ESPNU's live broadcast of his announcement. “I just felt it was right to stay home and play football for the state of Louisiana and try to bring a national championship back to the state.”

His addition helped LSU claim its second-best class ranking since ESPN entered the recruiting business in 2006, trailing only the 2009 class that finished first nationally. The Tigers' class might have ranked even higher had it landed Carter, Jackson or any assortment of the top in-state prospects who signed with other programs, but LSU still made a splash on signing day with a number of late additions:

" Travonte Valentine, the No. 164 overall prospect and No. 11 defensive tackle, picked LSU over home-state Miami.

" Four-star defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao signed with LSU over Oregon.

" Three-star defensive end Sione Teuhema flipped from Texas after making a surprise visit to LSU last weekend. Teuhema's signing could make an even bigger impact, since his brother Maea, the No. 38 overall prospect and No. 2 offensive guard on the ESPN Junior 300, has long maintained that he will sign next year with the program Sione picked.

“When an opportunity allowed itself for us to continue to pursue them, we seized the moment. We're very fortunate to get that defensive end, Sione Teuhema, who's an outstanding prospect. And coincidentally there may be some other guys that may come,” LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson said on the signing-day special that aired on LSU's website, humorously acknowledging that he is unable to publicly comment on Maea Teuhema's new commitment for 2015.

His signing in 2015 would be good timing for the Tigers with three seniors potentially starting on LSU's offensive line this fall -- perhaps one reason Miles said Wednesday that “we're going to have to have a great class next year on the offensive line.”

LSU also held onto at least one commitment from an ESPN 300 defensive end who wavered late in the process. Davon Godchaux signed with the Tigers after considering offers from Ole Miss and other suitors, while Clark seemingly picked LSU over home-state Oklahoma although the school has yet to confirm his signing.

That series of positive signing-day developments helped LSU's 2014 class appear to rank among Miles' best even when LSU missed out on several of the headliners from the deepest group of in-state standouts in years.

Louisiana produced 18 players ranked in the ESPN 300 and LSU signed nine: Fournette, Dupre, Harris, Brumfield, Godchaux, No. 3 receiver Trey Quinn, tight end Jacory Washington, outside linebacker Donnie Alexander and receiver D.J. Chark. Meanwhile, Alabama signed three of the state's top nine prospects (No. 3 overall prospect and top offensive tackle Cameron Robinson, safety Laurence Jones and receiver Cameron Sims), all of whom rank among ESPN's top 50 national products.

Speaking to the quality of this class of prospects, the state of Louisiana never had more than seven players ranked among ESPN's top 150 between 2006 and 2013. This year it had 11, including nine who ranked in the top 50.

Miles acknowledged that there were at least two in-state prospects who landed elsewhere despite being “coveted” by his coaching staff. He also insisted that this class leaves very little to be desired, even if LSU didn't dominate within the boundaries of its own state.

“You would have to think that with so much right here in the background of this organization … that people of this state just want to stay. I think that that's happening more than not, but occasionally, somebody's just got to get away. I don't necessarily agree with that, but some of those decisions are being made that way,” Miles said.

“The question is is LSU attractive to people in really every state. I think absolutely that's true,” he added. “I think the success that's been had over time here has made our uniform more recognizable. … I think LSU is becoming it, and has always been, but is becoming more marketable if you will.”

Signing day has been a complete turnaround from the Under Armour All-America Game for LSU, as the Tigers missed on a few elite recruits. But they put the finishing touches on another recruiting win when defensive tackle Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnat Catholic), who is ranked No. 164 in the ESPN 300, signed with LSU.


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BATON ROUGE, La. – National signing day isn't always dramatic, but this could be a memorable one at LSU.

Between the half-dozen spots still available, the uncommitted heavyweights who are reportedly still considering the Tigers and the players who have already committed to LSU and recently considered other options, Les Miles and his staff have plenty of work to do before the end of the day Wednesday.

We'll start our look at how LSU is addressing its positions of need with the group that is the source of the most intrigue -- the defensive line -- before discussing how premium talent such as tailback Leonard Fournette, receiver Trey Quinn, linebacker Clifton Garrett and offensive lineman Garrett Brumfield should make this one of the nation's top signing classes regardless of what happens with the Tigers' uncommitted targets.

Defensive line: Position coach Brick Haley might not sleep too well tonight, as even he is probably unsure of who will become a Tiger on Wednesday.

Not only have committed ESPN 300 defensive ends Deondre Clark (Oklahoma, Arizona State) and Davon Godchaux (UCLA, Auburn) looked around a bit lately, but several prospects are still flirting with LSU late in the process.

The biggest fish was ESPN's No. 14 overall prospect Lorenzo Carter -- most recruiting analysts predict he will sign with home-state Georgia -- but LSU also seems to be in the mix for No. 164 overall prospect and No. 11 defensive tackle Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnat Catholic) and four-star tackle Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren). The Tigers also received a weekend visit from three-star end Sione Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller), a Texas commit whose brother Maea -- the No. 38 prospect and No. 2 offensive guard in the ESPN Junior 300 -- seems likely to sign next season with the school Sione chooses Wednesday.

As of now, Godchaux (Plaquemine, La./Plaquemine) and Clark (Oklahoma City/Douglass) are LSU's only publicly committed defensive linemen, so the quality and size of this group is far from set. Stay tuned.

Receiver: The good news is that LSU is on the verge of signing one of the nation's top groups of wide receivers regardless of what happens with ESPN's top player at the position, Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis). Dupre is set to announce on Wednesday -- he visited UCLA over the weekend after a whirlwind of trips to LSU, Alabama, Florida State and Ole Miss -- and LSU seems to be the favorite.

[+] EnlargeMalachi Dupre
Courtesy of IntersportIf LSU signs Malachi Dupre, the nation's No. 1 wide receiver, the Tigers would have a fantastic class of wide receivers.
Generally considered the must-have prospect among LSU's remaining targets, Dupre would join record-setting receiver Quinn (Lake Charles, La./Barbe), ESPN's No. 3 wideout, and fellow ESPN 300 honorees D.J. Chark (Alexandria, La./Alexandria Senior) and Tony Upchurch (Pearland, Texas/Glenda Dawson) in the class. The Tigers also continue to pursue four-star TCU commit Emanuel Porter (Dallas/Lincoln).

With Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham entering the NFL draft after exceptional junior seasons, LSU has an immediate need at receiver because the Tigers have no proven options at the position. Some members of this signing class will almost certainly become immediate contributors in the fall.

Secondary: As with Carter, five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) -- ESPN's No. 9 overall prospect and No. 3 cornerback -- makes LSU recruitniks' hearts go pitter-pat. There has been heavy competition from USC, Florida and UCLA, but LSU gave Jackson its best sales pitch. And he could make an immediate impact if he picks the Tigers. LSU returns almost everyone from a young secondary, save senior Craig Loston, but will almost certainly feature one or two 2014 signees in some role this fall.

Early enrollee Edward Paris Jr. (Arlington, Texas/Timberview), ESPN's No. 50 overall prospect and No. 4 safety, is the first name that comes to mind, as he will participate in spring practice. But No. 18 overall prospect and No. 2 safety Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) -- a huge get when the Tigers missed out on in-state prospect Hootie Jones – could also figure into the mix.

LSU also has a commitment from ESPN 300 athlete Devin Voorhies (Woodville, Miss./Wilkinson County), who should play safety, and three-star defensive backs John Battle IV (Hallandale Beach, Fla/Hallandale) and Russell Gage (Baton Rouge, La./Redemptorist).

Running back: Every recruiting analyst has thoroughly covered by now that LSU's commitment from No. 1 overall prospect Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine) was massive. With Jeremy Hill leaving for the draft, the Tigers needed to sign a top-tier back and Fournette should more than fit the bill. The Tigers are also adding three-star back Darrel Williams (Marrero, La./John Ehret), whose north-south running style should fit well in the Tigers' running game.

Offensive line: The Tigers return four starters along the offensive line, so it's not an immediate need. Rarely does a school sign high school offensive linemen looking to fill immediate needs, however. Down the road, ESPN's No. 1 guard and No. 54 overall prospect Brumfield (Baton Rouge, La./University Laboratory) should become a fixture in the lineup. The Tigers also have a commitment from four-star guard William Clapp (New Orleans/Brother Martin) and continued to pursue three-star tackle Derrick Kelly Jr. (Quincy, Fla./East Gadsden) late in the process.

Linebacker: This much we know: No. 31 overall prospect and No. 2 inside linebacker Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield South) looks like LSU's next great run-stopping linebacker. He and ESPN 300 outside linebacker Donnie Alexander (New Orleans/Edna Karr) are the Tigers' two committed linebackers. LSU is also among the leading suitors for Dupre's teammate Kenny Young (River Ridge, La./John Curtis), who will also announce on Wednesday.

The Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale also reported Monday that LSU reiterated its interest in Miami commit Terry McCray (Pompano Beach, Fla./Blanch Ely), a three-star outside linebacker.

Key recruiting visits -- SEC 

January, 31, 2014
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The last official visit weekend is here. While the majority of prospects have committed and are set for national signing day, there are still several uncommitted ESPN 300 prospects for whom SEC programs are battling down to the wire.

Here is a look at 10 key visits this weekend. Numbers indicate ranking in the ESPN 300.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 27, 2014
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Less than two weeks remain until national signing day, and this was the second-to-last official visit weekend before Feb. 5. There were a couple of big decommitments, a few commitments and several key official visits. Here’s a closer look at all the latest recruiting news around the SEC.


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Key recruiting visits -- SEC 

January, 24, 2014
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The Class of 2014 is down to two official visit weekends remaining. As expected, there are several official visits that potentially impact the SEC this weekend, including visits by some of the top national prospects on the board.


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HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Not every top prospect in attendance at Saturday’s South Florida Express tryout was taking part on the field.

One talented player who was there to support teammates and watch the action was Class of 2014 defensive tackle and No. 164 overall Travonte Valentine (Palm Bay, Fla./Champagnat Catholic).

The 6-foot-3, 330-pound athletic defensive tackle is down to LSU and Miami. Official visits are scheduled for Baton Rouge on Friday and Coral Gables on Jan. 31.

“Both recruiting classes are looking very good,” Valentine said. “Both have classes ranked in the top 5, the Miami coaches and LSU [defensive line] Coach Brick [Haley] stopped by on Thursday. Coach Brick said what he had to say, and Miami said what they had to say, and it was great talking with them."


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Under Armour All-American and LSU commit Kevin Toliver II, the nation's top cornerback, joins ESPN's Matt Schick to discuss the new ESPN 300, keys to managing success and the rising senior's plan to visit other colleges.Tags: Kevin Toliver II, Trinity Christian, LSU Tigers, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Matt Schick
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