LSU finds treasure trove of Louisiana talent with signing class

Dave Moormann

Louisiana is a lot like Las Vegas and it’s not because it has casinos. Rather, it’s the fact that what happens in Louisiana stays in Louisiana.

More to the point, those who play football in Louisiana stay in Louisiana. That’s good news for LSU, which continues to land the best and the brightest of Louisiana’s prep gridiron greats.

Another case in point was last week’s national-signing-day haul. Of the 22 players LSU signed, 17 came from Louisiana. All told, 19 attended LSU camps. Coach Les Miles and his staff continued to blanket the state, thus leading to another Top 10 recruiting effort.

The players have come to refer to themselves as the “fam”, given their close association over the years and their desire to produce another national championship for LSU.

That’s a lofty goal but an attainable one given the quality of players LSU signed. Former New Orleans O.P. Walker defensive tackle Anthony Johnson and Patterson running back Kenny Hilliard already have enrolled in school and will begin spring practice with their new teammates March 11.

Johnson and Hilliard figure to get a leg up on their fellow freshmen, as if either of them really needs it. Johnson is the state’s reigning Mr. Football and Hilliard may well be the second coming of his uncle, the fabled Dalton Hilliard, who starred for LSU in the 1980s before tacking his act to the New Orleans Saints.

Also enrolled is quarterback Zack Mettenberger, a junior college transfer dismissed from Georgia last spring after running afoul of the law. For now, LSU backed off on early commitment Jeremy Hill, a highly decorated running back who was arrested last month.

Pending the results of Hill’s court appearance, the Tigers might still sign him. Better yet, there is a slim chance they could corral the nation’s No. 1 recruit in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. More than likely, though, Clowney figures to remain in his state and attend either South Carolina or Clemson.

At least LSU signed Hill’s Baton Rouge Redemptorist teammate in offensive lineman La’el Collins, who may well be the pick of the littler. On one video, the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Collins can be seen tacking out three defenders near the goal line, including one with a pancake block.

LSU can add one more signee after having self-imposed a two-scholarship reduction given previous NCAA infractions. LSU could have helped itself even more with two additional players, but given the quality of players signed, the loss shouldn’t make much of an impact.

It certainly didn’t temper Miles’ enthusiasm.

“I like the class,” he said. “I like the position we’re in, and it sure is fun to recruit at LSU. It’s a place that makes a strong impression on a young man when he comes to visit.”

It’s not that way at Michigan anymore. It may have been like that when Miles was an offensive lineman for the Wolverines in the 1970s, but the team and the state have fallen into disrepair. Detroit is a shell of the city it was when it ruled the auto-making world, and the same is true of the Wolverines, who couldn’t lure Miles back to be their next coach.

Instead, he chose to remain in his adopted home, which has its problems but continues to produce football players like no other state its size. The New Orleans area weathered Hurricane Katrina better than Detroit did the car-building collapse, while the rest of Louisiana remains rich and fertile ground for feeding LSU football stalwarts.

“The players that come out of this state have been trained,” Miles said. “Coaches in this state have coached them extremely well. They are very competitive on Friday nights….They’ve been trained and understands the way of discipline.

“Recruiting this state for us is imperative. If you look at the great teams that we’ve had, the leadership has always come from this state.”

Unlike Las Vegas, that’s a sure bet.