Welcome back to the weekly LSU football and recruiting mailbag.
Every week, LSU reporter Sam Spiegelman goes through his stack to answer some of the most pressing questions submitted by you, the readers.
This week’s edition comes after a quiet week on the recruiting front and right before the start of fall camp. LSU is up to 18 commitments in its 2017 class, and more could be on the way before the 2016 season kicks off in a few weeks.
So what’s next? Let’s take a look:
How does LSU manage the recruiting process? They make more offers than they can accept. They can take one more WR in 2017, but how do they communicate to those prospects with offers? (@adamsmr123)
I can see why this might be a point of confusion, so let me make a comparison that might help you better understand. When the NFL draft rolls around, teams compile a list of needs at different positions and an overall big board of players. They make the pick at, let’s say, No. 13 in the first round based on who’s available and their biggest need.
Recruiting is similar in a lot of ways, but the big difference is that college football teams want to reel in prospects at each position to re-stock their roster. However, some years lead to more pressing needs at certain positions.
After 2016, LSU will lose seniors Christian LaCouture, Rickey Jefferson, Tashawn Bower and Kendell Beckwith, as well as juniors Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams, Davon Godchaux and Malachi Dupre, who are all strong candidates to leave early for the NFL. Losing multiple defensive linemen, linebackers, safeties and wide receivers creates an obvious need at those positions.
In my Mock Signing Class 3.0, I project LSU to take five, possibly six defensive linemen, four linebackers, three safeties and three wide receivers. There are also two quarterbacks in the class, and shows how the team is addressing needs at positions where they’ll be thin.
On to that big board I mentioned. Right now, LSU has three wide receiver commits: Stephen Guidry, Mannie Netherly and Jhamon Ausbon. The team would make room for a player like Devonta Smith, Racey McMath or Jeremiah Holloman, if one of those other wideouts wanted to commit. Those three wide receivers sit high on LSU’s big board — perhaps ahead of some of the linebacker or cornerback targets that also are uncommitted.
In other words, the LSU coaches would prefer Smith over cornerback X, and would accept the wide receiver’s commitment ahead of that cornerback, even if that is a greater area of need.
Keep in mind that the LSU coaches maintain communication with the prospects, their families and their high school coaches and have a good idea of where each prospect stands in his recruitment. If for instance LSU was set on taking a fourth receiver and got the impression that Smith, McMath and Holloman were going to commit elsewhere, the staff might elect to offer another wide receiver and increase communication with him. They could also decide to focus their attention on other positions of need such as linebacker, safety or defensive line.
Update on Travonte Valentine? His summer classes should have finished up or will soon. (@Johsc24)
Arguably the biggest storyline for this week’s start of fall camp is whether Valentine, the former LSU defensive tackle, reports on Wednesday and is eligible to practice on Thursday.
There still hurdles for Valentine to overcome in order to return to LSU: approval from the SEC and the assurance that he succeeded in his summer classes at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
If Valentine’s grade are up to par, he would be eligible to immediately return to LSU. All indications are that the defensive tackle will be on hand this week for the beginning of fall camp. The 345-pound former Tiger was on LSU’s campus in July visiting with the coaching staff, a positive step toward Valentine returning to the team.
Valentine committed to LSU out of high school in 2014. He was one of the most highly touted defensive lineman in that star-studded class, but was dismissed from the team in 2015 for violating team rules. Since then, he’s attended Arizona Western Community College and most recently Mississippi Gulf Coast. LSU is the only Division I college he can attend without being forced to sit out a year. He would have three years of eligibility if he’s approved to return.
Update on Phidarian Mathis? (@MatthewStrahan3)
Mathis has been one of the more difficult prospects to keep tabs on because of his quiet nature. However, that mild-mannered personality does not equate to the field.
The 4-star defensive tackle most recently made a stop at Georgia for its prospect camp, then spent time at Alabama and LSU for both of the SEC West powers’ recruiting events. Mathis was in Alabama on Friday and returned to Louisiana on Sunday for LSU’s inaugural recruiting barbecue.
The 6-foot-4, 287-pound lineman hails from Neville High School (Monroe, La.), which is where LSU plucked 5-star defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence for its 2016 class. Like Lawrence, Mathis has kept his recruitment under wraps pretty well since earning an offer from the Tigers in early May.
LSU is on the hunt for four to six defensive linemen in its 2017 class. The team already holds pledges from Tyler Shelvin, Aaron Moffitt and Neil Farrell, and remains in a very advantageous position with 5-star Texas tackle Marvin Wilson and 4-star junior college end Isaiah Buggs. As I alluded to earlier, the team will have to replace Godchaux, Neal and LaCouture along the defensive front and needs more depth on the inside and the edge as it continues to make the transition to a 3-4 front.
Mathis has a lot of size and deceptive quickness, and in watching his Hudl you can see he’s the prototypical 7-technique. He spent much of his junior campaign as the 4-3 defensive end to the left side of defensive tackle Lawrence and could feasibly take on a similar role under LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. He also is a candidate as the 3-4 defensive end, and like 3-star commit Farrell has the versatility to play multiple spots up front.
Mathis’ recruitment just started to pick up late in the spring and he’s made it to Georgia, Alabama and LSU since then. Don’t expect a commitment anytime soon. He’s a candidate to receive even more attention this fall and decide later in the process.
What factors into the size of the 2017 class? Why would it go beyond 25? (@LSUPETERadams)
This is an absolutely fantastic question. Please don’t mind the very long and complicated response.
In my Mock Signing Class 3.0, you’ll notice I list 25 prospects. That’s a safe guess, but is nowhere close to a guarantee at this early stage in the recruiting cycle.
Here’s the scoop: every year the NCAA limits college football teams to 85 total scholarships. Bylaw 18.104.22.168 indicates that teams can have a maximum of 25 “initial counters,” or signees, in each class.
For example, if LSU was set to return 60 scholarship players for the 2017 season, the team would be fine to sign the maximum of 25 prospects in its recruiting class. That would amount to 85 scholarship athletes entering the season.
Easy enough, right? Well, not so fast.
It gets tricky when you begin to factor in early departures and early enrollees. Basically, any player or prospect doing something earlier than expected adds confusion to the equation.
If LSU was losing 15 seniors to graduation and five early to the NFL draft, the team would be losing a total of 20 scholarships for the following season.
Early high school graduates and junior college transfers who enroll in January offer some flexibility because they can count against the scholarship numbers of the previous signing class.
Figuring out the number of scholarships lost and returning, the number of early enrollees and the number of overall signees in the Class of 2017 remains a fluid situation. However, here’s my best educated guess to determine a rough estimate of how this should work:
- LSU could lose 19 scholarships after the 2016 season. That includes 15 seniors and four potential players heading to the NFL draft
- Based on LSU’s roster on the day prior to the start of fall camp, that leaves 58 returning scholarship athletes
- Simple math has 85 allotted scholarships returners minus 58 returning scholarships equals 27 available signees.
Should we really be interested in the kid who committed to his high school team? Will he cause distractions for the team or do you think he could grow to be a team player and not so self-centered? (Tyler Ordoyne on Facebook)
Tyler, here’s the situation: Todd Harris, the prospect mentioned, is as team-first and kind-hearted a person there is in the nation right now. He’s as quiet, humble and team-oriented off the field as he is fast, hard-hitting and elite on it.
What occurred Sunday evening was a coach’s attempt to motivate his team before the start of its two-a-days. Harris is the star of Plaquemine (La.) High School, which should come as no surprise considering he’s the No. 7-rated safety in the country. At times, he’s been ranked as high as the No. 3 safety.
His coach, Paul Distefano, was simply trying to show that even Harris is putting his personal endeavors aside — for now — to focus on his high school program’s success this coming season. Harris, as a team-first player, agreed to the stunt because 1.) his coach asked him to and 2.) he did not expect the kind of backlash that ensued.
As someone who covers recruiting and has been around Harris for years, I was quick to forgive and forget. I spoke to Distefano and Harris immediately following the prank and realized what their true intentions were.
In truth, it should have been done behind closed doors and not offered up to the media to cover frantically. Having said that, there was no harm and no foul, as most members of the media were keeping tabs on Twitter and did not drive all the way to the high school to cover the event, which was publicized on short notice for that reason.
LSU is extremely interested in Harris because of both his on-the-field instincts as well as the kind of person he is at 17 years old. Consider Alabama and Ole Miss in that category, too. I project Harris as one of three safeties LSU will take in its 2017 class, but expect the Tide to make a push as well considering they don’t have a safety yet.
I don’t think it will take any time for Harris to grow as a team player and not be self-centered, because he is a team player and has never been labeled as self-centered before. If LSU does in fact land the 4-star safety, the Tigers’ secondary will be better off for years not only because of Harris’ ability to cover in space and make crushing blows at the line of scrimmage, but because of the high character he already displays.
Sam Spiegelman covers LSU football recruiting for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play in Tiger Stadium.