- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Based upon his good fortune over the past few weeks, Jeff Grimes should consider buying lottery tickets.
Three weeks after learning that draft-eligible starters Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins would return for another season, LSU’s offensive line coach cleaned up on national signing day -- effectively addressing the Tigers’ biggest area of need for this 25-man recruiting class.
“We signed five offensive linemen and Grimes was a point guy on all of them,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He just really did a great job.”
LSU’s coaching staff closed out this class of linemen with a flourish. Within the past week, Grimes added a pair of ESPN 300 offensive linemen -- Chidi Valentine-Okeke and Toby Weathersby, a onetime Texas commitment who announced his decision on Wednesday -- to go along with previous commitments from guard Maea Teuhema and tackles Adrian Magee and George Brown Jr.
Teuhema -- ESPN’s No. 71 overall prospect and No. 2 guard -- is arguably the star of the group. ESPN rated Teuhema as the top offensive line prospect in Texas and Weathersby -- No. 149 overall and No. 9 at guard -- as No. 2.
“The biggest need in this class of course was offensive line, not only because of the guys that graduated in Elliott Porter and La’el Collins and Evan Washington and all those guys, but also because of what we have departing next year,” LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson said. “So we lost several guys and then we have a senior-driven class next year with Jerald Hawkins, with Vadal Alexander and some of those guys who will be draft eligible.
“So we wanted to make sure that we had quality depth in a year where offensive line was heavy, especially from a national perspective. So it was our greatest emphasis in this class.”
Highlighted by their recruiting hauls at offensive line and in the secondary, the Tigers wrapped up national signing day with the nation’s No. 10 class in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings.
It was a relatively quiet day at LSU compared to the soap operas that developed at some other programs, but it was not without some drama.
The Tigers landed a signature from Weathersby early Wednesday morning, flipped ESPN 300 athlete Derrick Dillon from Florida, ESPN 300 receiver Brandon Martin from Missouri and closed with Arden Key -- ESPN’s No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end -- who committed to LSU late Monday night. They also added late signatures from tight end Foster Moreau and Australian punter Josh Growden while holding on to commitments from running backs Nick Brossette and Derrius Guice.
Conversely, LSU did not sign linebacker Leo Lewis (Mississippi State), receiver Daylon Charlot (Alabama), quarterback Torrance Gibson (Ohio State) and defensive back Justin Reid (Stanford), all of whom had considered the Tigers at some point.
Lewis is probably the most painful miss out of the bunch, as the Tigers failed to sign a single linebacker in this class once former defensive coordinator/linebackers coach John Chavis split for Texas A&M after the season. That will be a key position for LSU’s staff to address in its 2016 class, as the Tigers will also lose several veterans after this fall.
“Certainly we missed on a linebacker that we thought we had as we look into the end of recruiting,” Miles said. “But when you change staff, there’s a point in time where there’s some guys who’ve made relationships with some of our old coaches, and when they left, so did their interest in the school. So we went and made our case the best we could, but what will end up having to happen, certainly, is next year’s class will have to be a very, very heavy linebacker class.”
LSU landed one of the nation’s best groups of defensive back talent, led by five-star cornerback Kevin Toliver -- ESPN’s No. 10 overall prospect and one of four early enrollees along with quarterback Justin McMillan, tight end Hanner Shipley and fullback David Ducre.
Joining Toliver in the secondary will be cornerback Xavier Lewis, junior college safety Jeremy Cutrer and multi-talented athlete Donte Jackson, whom Miles said could get touches on offense and special teams in addition to playing cornerback.
“There’s no finer prospects in America than Toliver and Jackson,” Miles said.
Adding Ducre, Brossette and Guice was also key for a Tigers squad that lost two scholarship fullbacks and two scholarship tailbacks from the 2014 club.
“We didn’t have any scholarship fullbacks, so we needed to address that need at that position group. And then we have two sophomores and bring in two freshmen [at tailback],” Wilson said. “It gives us some leeway some next year where it’s not a position of demand in next year’s class.
“But we like where we’re at in that, only because it gives you quality depth and it’s not stacked. At times we’ve been as high as six, so four is a good number for us because the rotation becomes realistic.”
LSU signed five of ESPN’s top six prospects in Louisiana and seven of the top nine: No. 1 Tyron Johnson, No. 3 Guice, No. 4 Martin, No. 5 Dillon, No. 6 Brossette, No. 8 Lewis and No. 9 Jackson.
Overall, 15 signees will hail from LSU’s talent-rich home state, which Miles and Wilson both said remains their staff’s first priority in recruiting.
“It feels this way to me that there’s a certain style of man that grows up in Louisiana and says, ‘Are you kidding me? This is the only place I want to live,’” Miles said. “I think the degree that comes from LSU, the experience in that stadium of 102,000 that are wildly rabid and very faithful LSU fans, there are those men that just can’t have it any other way. So we present a tremendous opportunity for those people who want to stay in this state.”
655dBrad Bournival and Tom VanHaaren