Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Eye on the Tigers, a rundown of everything happening in LSU Tigers recruiting, with Sam Spiegelman. Today, we discuss the latest with Justin Watkins, a top-50 prospect in the 2018 class that recently de-committed from Texas. The 4-star athlete is a one-time LSU commit who is again considering the Tigers.
Find every post of SEC Country’s daily Eye on the Tigers recruiting notebook right here.
Justin Watkins favoring LSU, Alabama
Recruiting often has its twists and turns.
Take Justin Watkins for example. The top-50 prospect in the Class of 2018 committed to LSU in April 2015. Watkins de-committed 10 months later before committing then to Florida State.
Watkins’ pledge to Florida State lasted eight months before the 4-star athlete flipped to Texas. He reopened his recruitment for a third time on June 25.
Watkins is preparing for one last commitment. He has no timetable for a decision, but it will likely follow official visits to each of his three finalists this fall. LSU, Alabama and Florida will each host Watkins before he makes a decision close to Feb. 7 National Signing Day.
“Those are the only schools I’m going to look at,” Watkins told SEC Country.
While the in-state Gators are certainly in the mix and have an advantage in terms of proximity to family, Watkins’ decision is shaping up to be an LSU vs. Alabama battle.
Watkins made stops in both Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa earlier this summer to get better acquainted with both coaching staffs. Both schools are recruiting him as an athlete — either as a slot receiver or a defensive back — the race is so close that he could only find one difference between the two SEC West powers.
“At Alabama, you got Nick Saban,” Watkins laughed. “It’s going to come down to how comfortable I am there and how I bond with my position coach. You’ve got to have a good vibe.”
A recent stop in Baton Rouge
Watkins committed to LSU in April of his sophomore year before ever stepping foot on the Baton Rouge campus. That all changed late last month when the 4-star athlete made his first unofficial visit to the Bayou.
Watkins spent time touring campus, meeting with the Tigers coaches and spending quality one-on-one time with some current players. After connecting with the LSU coaches for the past three years, the face time quickly reminded him of why he committed in the first place.
“Before I committed, I had never been there,” Watkins explained. “When I went a couple of weeks ago, I liked it. All of the people were together; it was like family. I like the coaching staff, [defensive backs] coach Corey Raymond. That was my first time and it was great. I liked it. It was like a family thing, and that’s really a major of thing when you’re going through schools.”
When Watkins first committed, he did so with the intentions of being a future member of the Tigers secondary.
This time around, the 5-foot-11, 172-pound athlete is considering LSU as a wide receiver in Matt Canada’s offense. Watkins is the No. 8 wideout in the Class of 2018, per the 247Sports composite rankings, and projects as a slot receiver in the newly installed system.
At LSU, he’d be comfortable in both roles.
“Honestly, either,” said Watkins. “It doesn’t matter just as long as I’m on the field playing. Slot receiver is probably my best position, so I might have to go with that.”
LSU’s edge over the Tide
The interesting wrinkle to note is the fact that LSU, Raymond and coach Ed Orgeron never shied away from courting Watkins.
Two-and-half years later, even Watkins is amazed that his relationship with the Tigers coaches remains intact.
“One of the things I like about LSU is that when I de-committed, they said that they would stay on me. They never stopped recruiting me even when I de-committed from their school,” Watkins said.
Then, factor in Orgeron’s push.
Once Orgeron landed the job, he reached out to the one-time LSU commit and made it clear that he was a priority for the Tigers’ 2018 class. LSU’s head man remains in regular communication with the 4-star athlete and gives the Tigers an edge when being compared and contrasted with fellow finalist Alabama.
“I talk with Coach O, and when Coach O first got to LSU he reached out to me. He told me that he wanted me there and told me that the best players play, no matter what, and he said that he would focus on,” Watkins recalled.
“My closest relationships are with the LSU staff,” he added, “but Alabama is pushing me the hardest.”
Over the next five to six months, LSU and Alabama will continue to push for Watkins. Expect a decision soon after he makes his official visits to both SEC West campuses.
Consider the Florida native’s relationship with Raymond and Orgeron as a key factor because the longevity of those connections could certainly come into play.
“It does [help],” said Watkins, when asked if being committed to LSU makes a difference. “When I went there, I got to stay with a couple of players and heard what they’re doing. I saw how the practices were set up and the coaches were cool, too.”
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