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 5-star cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr.‘s decision to sign with Alabama over longtime favorite LSU.
Patrick Surtain Jr. struggled to say no to LSU
The nation’s top-ranked cornerback didn’t make up his mind until close to midnight on the East Coast. Even then, he wasn’t entirely sure.
Patrick Surtain Jr. was open about LSU being his leading school for two years, but in crunch time, his heart and his mind were not on the same page. Late on the eve of National Signing Day, the 5-star cornerback gave the green light to coach Nick Saban and rival Alabama and informed LSU coach Ed Orgeron and defensive backs coach Corey Raymond of his decision.
Even an emotional Surtain struggled with the process in the 11th hour.
“It came down to late, late last night, a tough decision between LSU and Alabama,” Surtain told SEC Country on Signing Day. “LSU has been my favorite ever since, but stuff changes. … It was very hard. I was actually tearing because it was so tough. Coach Raymond had recruited me since the ninth grade and ever since then. After the phone call ended, I was still in tears, but I know that Alabama is going to be the right decision.”
When Surtain relayed his choice to Saban, the championship-winning coach began dancing in celebration.
When the U.S. Army All-American told the LSU staff he was Alabama-bound, Orgeron turned to his Plan B in the form of 4-star Missouri cornerback Mario Goodrich III. LSU’s coach spent the rest of Tuesday evening into the early part of Wednesday trying to convince Goodrich not to sign with Clemson.
That plan didn’t work, as Goodrich signed with the other Tigers and Surtain signed with the Crimson Tide early on Signing Day.
The difference between LSU and its SEC West rival was glaring.
“It’s about the coaching and the winning atmosphere,” Surtain said of his decision to pick Alabama over LSU. “Coach Saban does a great job with his players and I think I can fit into that situation. It’s a great fit for me and for my family.”
“It’s just the winning atmosphere and how it was with the players,” he added. “I felt that vibe and we were real tight and real close. It’s a great atmosphere [in Tuscaloosa] and I can’t wait to get up there.”
LSU signed one defensive back to its 2018 class in the form of 4-star Baton Rouge native Kelvin Joseph. With Surtain out of the picture, Orgeron is penciling Joseph into a cornerback spot in the secondary.
Missing on the 5-star South Florida cornerback was a tough blow to absorb for the Tigers, but the margin of defeat stings more. Surtain envisioned selecting LSU in front of the ESPNU cameras on National Signing Day, but Alabama’s recent triumphs in the National Championship Game were difficult to ignore.
“It was tough, but I wanted to be a part of a winning culture,” he explained. “That’s no disrespect to LSU. They’re doing a great job over there. I respect coach Corey Raymond and Coach Orgeron and I appreciate what they’ve done for me, but Alabama is the right choice for me. It was very tough, sitting there last night. I would have went to either school, but Alabama was the right fit for me.”
LSU’s close margin of defeat
The last time Surtain took in a home game inside of Tigers Stadium, LSU was hosting top-ranked Alabama back in November 2016. The environment is a memory the 5-star cornerback still recalls time and time again.
During that unofficial visit as a junior, Surtain was joined by his parents, both of whom are natives of Louisiana.
LSU was Surtain’s leader even back then. That theme continued for another year and change, so when the All-America cornerback announced he was signing with the Crimson Tide on Wednesday, even his father was taken back.
“I actually did,” said Patrick Surtain Sr. when asked if he thought his son signing with LSU was inevitable.
“That’s why he was so torn. He’s been liking LSU since he was a kid. He was their guy since ninth grade. The relationship he built with coach Raymond, man, that was a special relationship and hopefully that relationship can continue. They’re 17-year-old kids, man, so for an adult to fault a kid for going to a particular college, that’s not cool. He picked what was best for him and I’m happy for him.”
Ultimately, Alabama landed the No. 1 cornerback in the Class of 2018.
The Tigers reeled in Joseph, a versatile defensive back that will ultimately shift to cornerback instead of a nickel safety with Surtain electing to take his talents to Tuscaloosa, Ala.
It boiled down to a decision late on National Signing Day eve that involved a lot of back and forth and no shortage of tears. Emotion was certainly a part of it, and watching it all unfold as it did, Surtain’s father saw the struggle.
“We were sitting, we were praying, we were doing everything because he was truly agonizing over this decision,” he recalled. “He was torn. Some emotions came out. He made a decision that was best for him. I’m proud of him for it.”
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