Gone with the wind

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere.

LSU's 2014 signing class was supposed to be special. It was supposed to be the first step in bringing another championship to Baton Rouge, but instead, it has brought more headaches than triumphs.

The talented crop of youngsters helped the Tigers finish second to only Alabama in most class rankings. Some thought that the haul could end up being the greatest recruiting class in LSU history.

Some players did actually live up to the hype this past season.

Without question, top recruit Leonard Fournette emerged as one of the best running backs in the SEC.

Fournette struggled early in the season. It took him a while to adjust to the speed of the college game, and he lacked the patience needed to be a great running back.

However, the young thoroughbred got better with every game.

He rushed for 140 yards against a very good Florida defense, 113 yards in a huge upset win over Ole Miss and in the regular-season finale on Thanksgiving night, he reeled off 146 yards against Texas A&M.

Although the Tigers lost to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, Fournette had a coming-out party – rushing for 143 yards and two scores and also returning a kickoff for a touchdown.

He heads into his sophomore campaign as a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy.

Another player who lived up to his high billing this past season was safety Jamal Adams. Adams was the 18th-ranked prospect in 2014 and the second-ranked safety in the country.

He worked himself into the starting lineup and finished the year with 66 tackles, one sack and five pass breakups. He'll head into 2015-16 as one of the Tigers' top defensive players.

Receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn showed impressive flashes last season but overall, they were inconsistent. Then again, it's hard to judge them with LSU's quarterback situation being so putrid.

Speaking of the quarterback position, Brandon Harris had some nice moments at the beginning of the year, but after he struggled in his only start against Auburn, Les Miles gave him the hook for the rest of the season.

The jury is still out on him, Dupre and Quinn. They all have the potential to become great players like Fournette and Adams.

Unfortunately, three of the Tigers' biggest recruits from 2014 won't have that chance. Just one year after bringing heightened expectations and fervent fan fare to Baton Rouge – they've left.

Clifton Garrett was one of the best inside-linebacking prospects in the country. He was ranked 31st overall.

The Illinois native quickly fell behind during summer workouts as he struggled to acclimate to the unforgiving Louisiana heat.

When the season came around, he spent most of his time on the sideline. He saw minimal action in just three games and never recorded a single tackle.

This summer, he transferred to Arizona Western Community College. He was quickly joined by defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao.

With the Tigers having so little depth on the defensive line last year, many thought Lealaimatafao would step in and make an immediate impact his freshman season. Instead, he didn't play a single down.

Lealaimatafao stayed in trouble. He was arrested for allegedly stealing a bike and later punched through a window in the weight room, causing a nasty wound that sidelined him for the season.

This summer, he was arrested once again. This time, the charges were simple battery and simple robbery after an altercation outside of a Baton Rouge bar.

Having more arrests than career tackles, it was an easy decision for Miles to kick him off of the team.

Finally, a third heralded recruit from the 2014 class jumped ship just last week.

Miami native Travonte Valentine was viewed as a huge acquisition for LSU when he de-committed from Miami and signed with the Tigers. Many thought he could be a starter by the opening game.

As it turned out, Valentine wasn't as good in the classroom as he was in the trenches.

He was never able to become academically eligible to play at any point during his freshman year. As a result, he was put on academic suspension.

So, a 350-pound monster who was ranked as the 164th prospect in the nation has left Baton Rouge without playing a single down for the Tigers. He never even suited up in 2014-15.

Like Garrett and Lealaimatafao, he has transferred to Arizona Western. I don't know much about the Matadors, but I think it's safe to say they're going to have one heck of a defense this season.

With the departure of these three highly-touted prospects, the 2014 class has proven to be hit-or-miss. LSU must be hoping that they'll start seeing more hits with the players who have stayed.