Spring football in Louisiana got underway in April and recently wrapped up. While college coaches were on the road recruiting and evaluating talent, I did my part to follow suit and take a closer look at the best 2019 and 2020 prospects in the state.
Here are some of the main takeaways from my travels in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama:
1. LSU’s 2019 class has tremendous upside
We have anticipated the 2019 class in Louisiana to be among the best in recent memory, and so far, this group has lived up to the hype and then some. It starts at the top with a few prospects who sit atop the rankings at their respective positions: 5-star tackle Ishmael Sopsher, 5-star guard Kardell Thomas and 5-star cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.
Sopsher combines a unique blend of speed and power and is really sharpening up his pass-rush technique. His football IQ is off the charts. Thomas is a bulldozer, the prototypical run-blocker and a coach’s dream in the intensity he plays with. Stingley is as highly regarded a defensive back in Louisiana in a decade and perhaps the most college-ready prospect of the group. The obvious parallel was another LSU target, 5-star cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr., who signed with Alabama in February, and Stingley may be on a path to be as good or better.
Those three are certainly the headliners of the 2019 group, but don’t forget about names such as John Emery Jr., Devin Bush, Donte’ Starks and Tyrion Davis. Emery currently ranks as the No. 5 running back in the country and could bolster that position with a full senior campaign. He is so explosive out of the backfield and impressive both between the tackles and on the perimeter. Davis, another top-15 back nationally, is freakish at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds with the ability to bully defenders. Starks is one of the fascinating sideline-to-sideline middle linebackers that can alter a defense. He has a case as the top hitter in the class. Bush has worked at corner, nickel and safety this spring as he looks to become more versatile. In a loaded 2019 crop, he often gets overlooked, but has an argument as the best ball-hawking defender in the state.
More impressive: LSU is in the top group for all of these elite prospects. Some — like Thomas and Davis — are early commitments and remain solid, despite multiple colleges pushing to flip them. Stingley is an LSU lean, while Sopsher, Bush, Starks and Emery have been vocal about the Tigers pushing harder than the pack. If and when coach Ed Orgeron can keep the majority of these prospects in-state, it bodes well for the team’s chances of capturing the top-ranked class in 2019.
2. A busy summer ahead?
With 10 commitments already on board, LSU currently holds the No. 11-ranked class nationally with room for another 16 prospects between now and National Signing Day. A big surge in the class size and the ranking could be in store over the next few weeks.
Several of the prospects I had a chance to visit with over the past month discussed putting a bow on their recruitments either in June or right before their senior seasons. That includes Stingley, Emery, Bush, Starks, Christian Harris and Ray Parker.
Currently, I have Crystal Ball picks in for each of the aforementioned six prospects to fall into the Tigers’ lap, particularly as camp season and The Opening Finals get going in June, then July and August for those aiming to shut things down before their senior campaigns get underway.
Here’s who I feel most confident about landing at LSU (from most to least).
- Derek Stingley Jr.
- Donte’ Starks
- Ray Parker
- John Emery Jr.
- Christian Harris
- Devin Bush
3. Camp season could yield new offers
Camp season was the busiest stretch for Orgeron and Co. a year ago, with multiple position-specific camps to kick off June, followed by kicking camp, the annual 7-on-7 and offensive/defensive line camp and the elite high school camp June 21-23. Additionally, the Tigers will team up with Tulane for a second consecutive joint camp on May 27 and with other in-state schools at Southern for June 13.
That gives the LSU staff nine camp days to bring in prospects from all over the state and country to campus for visits, workouts and a chance to get closer looks at several targets up and down the board. Think about this: Last year, the Tigers nabbed commitments from Dare Rosenthal, Dantrieze Scott, Zach Sheffer, Tae Provens and Chris Curry in the month of June alone.
Other prospects such as Ja’Marr Chase, Damone Clark, Chasen Hines, Cameron Wire, Jaray Jenkins, Kenan Jones, Kelvin Joseph, Micah Baskerville and Travez Moore were all on campus working out, and offers to 2019 prospects like Parker and Davis — who committed a few days later —and 2020 4-stars Ashaad Clayton and Koy Moore were handed out.
In this year’s crop, there’s a lot of 2019 and 2020 prospects who have been in contact with members of the coaching staff and could finally reel in offers. Of the 2019 class, some names to monitor include 3-star running back Mike Hollins (University Lab/Baton Rouge, La.), 3-star athlete Charvis Thornton (Southern Lab/Baton Rouge, La.), 4-star athlete Makiya Tongue (University Lab/Baton Rouge, La.), 4-star linebacker Bryton Constantin (University Lab/Baton Rouge, La.), 4-star quarterback Lance LeGendre (Warren Easton/New Orleans), 4-star cornerback Chester Kimbrough (Warren Easton/New Orleans), 3-star defensive back Greg Brooks Jr. (West Jefferson/Harvey, La.), 3-star defensive back Ishmael Burdine, wide receiver Kalil Lloyd (Helen Cox/Harvey, La.) and 3-star defensive back Jordan Clark (University Lab/Baton Rouge, La.).
In the 2020 group, all eyes should be 4-star athlete Kayshon Boutte (Westgate/New Iberia, La.), who is the clear-cut No. 1 prospect in the state among rising juniors. Additionally, wide receiver Khi Mathieu (St. Augustine/New Orleans), the cousin of former LSU standout Tyrann Mathieu, is in line to earn his offer. As is 4-star defensive lineman Jaquelin Roy (University Lab/Baton Rouge, La.), 4-star athlete Reginald Johnson (Southern Lab/Baton Rouge, La.), 4-star wide receiver Trenton Grow (West St. John/Edgard, La.), running back Kyle Edwards (Destrehan, La.) and 3-star quarterback TJ Finley (Ponchatoula, La.).
4. The legend of Derek Stingley Jr. grows
Stingley was recently named the No. 1 cornerback in the country in the 247Sports Composite rankings, an idea that’s been tossed around inside the state for several years. In SEC Country’s first nationwide prospect rankings, you can count on a strong argument to be made that Stingley will be the top prospect from Louisiana in 2019.
That’s not a shot to the others in contention — Sopsher, Emery, Thomas and Starks, among others. Stingley is so physically impressive. After posting eye-popping numbers at the Nike regional camp in North Texas, which included a 4.3 time in the 40-yard dash and a 40-inch-plus vertical, he locked down every receiver he lined up against. That’s been a given throughout the spring.
The 2019 class nationally features a ton of intriguing corners. California 5-star Chris Steele is uber-physical. Texas 4-star Erick Young is a dynamic cover corner. Even Bush is one of the better ballhawks in the nation, but Stingley combined all of the traits in addition to incredible physical gifts, high football IQ, size, strength and speed. In a class in which LSU is in need of a plug-and-player cornerback to replace Greedy Williams, the team remains in the lead position for Stingley, who provides just that.
5. John Emery Jr. flirting with 5-star status
The top running back on LSU’s board is soft-spoken and humble and prefers to keep his name out of the spotlight — not exactly typical of a blue-chip prospect.
Emery, who suffered a season-ending injury last year, tweaked his hamstring six days before the Destrehan (La.) High School spring game. However, the uber-competitive prospect made his way to the field for four snaps and impressed the impressive group of college coaches who made their way to St. Charles Parish for the event.
At 6-foot and 200 pounds, Emery runs with a certain speed that’s so rare. He’s explosive with the ball in his hands, can run between the tackles or break to the outside, and he runs mean. Emery fights for extra yards and has outstanding vision. There’s nothing he can’t do.
If Emery is able to remain healthy for his senior season, he will finish out the recruiting cycle as a 5-star prospect. I’ve been fortunate enough to see the top two backs in country (Trey Sanders, Noah Cain) and there is no reason that Emery shouldn’t be in that conversation.
From a recruiting perspective, LSU holds a commitment from Davis, a bonafide downhill bruiser, and in theory, Emery would be the perfect style of back to pair in this 2019 class. Georgia, who had two assistant coaches on the sidelines for Emery’s spring game, has emerged as the Tigers’ biggest threat in this race, which could come to a close as early as June.
6. Louisiana infusion on the DB board?
At the start of the spring, my way-too-early predictions for LSU’s defensive back haul in 2019 was an even mix of in-state and out-of-state talent. After all, the Tigers remain in good shape for both Stingley and Bush, the Nos. 1 and 2-ranked cornerbacks in the state. Bush is also working in the nickel and at safety as well as an outside cornerback position for the spring.
Secondary coach Corey Raymond had also put in a lot of work with 5-star California cornerback Chris Steele, top junior college cornerback Elijah Blades, Houston 4-stars Erick Young and Bobby Wolfe, as well as 3-star Houston cornerback Marcus Banks. Steele made two trips from the West Coast to Baton Rouge in the spring, including an official for the spring game, but excluded the Tigers from his top-7 list. Young and Wolfe are leaning in-state despite both admitting LSU was their leader last year. The same goes for Banks, who named LSU as his top school in March after a junior day visit. His mother has ties to Baton Rouge.
LSU is holding on to 4-star Tennessee defensive back Maurice Hampton, who can play either outside corner or safety. I feel confident about the team’s ability to nab commitments from Stingley and Bush over the summer, but the team needs at least five defensive backs in this recruiting cycle.
Kimbrough is the first name that needs to be addressed. A lockdown press-cover corner, camp seems to be the perfectly opportunity for the New Orleans native to garner an offer. The question is whether he’s willing to camp for it. Alabama, Florida, Texas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are pushing hard for the 4-star prospect, and the lack of an LSU offer is certainly a lingering presence around Warren Easton (La.) Charter School. Should Kimbrough find his way to Baton Rouge next month, expect a seismic shift in the 2019 cornerback board.
Safeties coach Bill Busch put an offer on the table to 3-star Madison Prep Academy (La.) defensive back Bertrand Carrell following a spring practice. Carrell will have to camp at LSU in June before claiming his spot, but Busch has already made a noticeable impression on the local product.
New Orleans area recruiter Mickey Joseph has come through West Jefferson (La.) High routinely to check on 3-star defensive back Greg Brooks Jr., who’s a natural nickel. Raymond has also dialed up communication with the talented athlete that can also return punts and kicks. He’ll camp for an offer at the elite camp on June 22.
Three-star Slidell (La.) High School defensive back Ishmael Burdine is being recruited as a corner by LSU and will camp in Baton Rouge on June 3. Raymond has been in steady communication with the 6-foot-2, 181-pound prospect since January and an offer could come next month. Burdine is also a candidate to shift over to free safety.
With a need for five or six defensive backs in 2019, only three in-state prospects currently hold offers from LSU, but that is very likely to change in June. Count Stingley and Bush are top candidates to join the class by August, leaving Brooks, Burdine and Carrell as potential new options for the staff to consider.
7. Kayshon Boutte is next up
Louisiana’s 2019 class is among the deepest group of top-shelf prospects since 2016, when there were multiple 5-stars and about 20 blue-chippers in the state. The 2020 group is certainly filled with notable elite talents such as Koy Moore, Jacobian Guillory, Ashaad Clayton and Kelin Burrle, but one name to begin to get familiar with is Kayshon Boutte.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Boutte competed in multiple events at the state track meet, including the 4×200-meter relay, the 110-meter hurdles and the 200- and 400-meter dash. Here’s how he fared:
- 200-meter relay: 21.76 seconds (second in Class 4A)
- 400-meter relay: 48.27 seconds (third in Class 4A)
- 110-meter hurdles; 19.93 seconds (ninth in Class 4A)
- 4×200 meter relay: 1:29.54 seconds (fifth in Class 4A)
Five days after a fantastic outing at the LHSAA state track championships, I drove out to New Iberia, La., to get a closer glimpse at the gifted athlete. Boutte worked as a wide receiver, catching a couple of go-routes and some short passes where he burnt defenders in space. He has good hands, but his game is centered around his uncanny athleticism and top-end speed.
LSU wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph watched Boutte that day, but defensive backs coach Corey Raymond has been recruiting his area for years. It would not surprise me if Boutte gets offered next month at prospect camp — as an athlete — and eventually morphs into a 5-star cornerback.
Think about it: Boutte is 6-foot with blazing speed. He can return kicks and punts. In the 2020 class, there are multiple receivers that can play at the SEC level, but only a few defensive backs in the state. Boutte has a chance to not only be the No. 1 prospect in Louisiana, but among the top corners in the entire 2020 class.
8. The vibe in Tangipahoa Parish
Amite is a polarizing town with just more than 4,000 residents. When it comes to LSU recruiting, the pressure is on for this 2019 class.
Amite is home to 5-star defensive tackle Ishmael Sopsher and teammate 4-star receiver Devonta Lee. The team has a handful of intriguing 2019 and 2020 options in quarterback Amani Gilmore, athlete Kyle Maxwell and fast-rising 2020 safety Daran Branch.
Down the road in Kentwood is 4-star wideout Trey Palmer. South-bound, there’s blue-chip tight end/defensive end Dustin Dyson, who garnered an offer from Les Miles as an eighth-grader. Ponchatoula is home to the state’s top 2020 quarterback, TJ Finley.
So, yeah, Tangipahoa Parish is a hotbed for LSU recruiting.
Alabama has swung in and landed blue-chip targets such as Shyheim Carter (Kentwood, 2016) and DeVonta Smith (Amite, 2017) and is aiming to do the same with big fish such as Sopsher, Lee and Palmer this year. However, Orgeron has assigned defensive line coach Dennis Johnson, receivers coach Mickey Joseph and special teams coordinator Greg McMahon to the area to ensure that trend is bucked come February.
Among the 2019 prospects, Sopsher has played coy, but admits LSU is pushing hardest. As anticipated, Alabama is surging with the 5-star tackle and this battle between the Tigers and the Tide will likely last through Signing Day. The same goes for Lee, who LSU likes at receiver and Alabama likes at safety. A position choice looms large in whether the 4-star prospect stays in-state or not.
Palmer, conversely, is favoring the Tigers but is in no rush to make a decision. The same goes Finley, who will try to secure an offer from the staff during camp next month. Dyson, too, is an LSU lean that could shut things down at some point in the fall.
9. All eyes on 2021 WR Quincy Brown
One prospect who has seen his recruitment balloon this spring is 2021 Destrehan (La.) wide receiver Quincy Brown, who, at 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds, is a long, big-bodied wide receiver with tremendous hands and a knack for getting vertical and making plays downfield. Brown is the newcomer in Destrehan’s offense, playing opposite of Mississippi State verbal Quinton Torbor and 2020 slot receiver Carl Lewis. Of course, Emery, a priority LSU target, highlights the Wildcats’ backfield.
This spring, Brown has reeled in offers from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee, among others, which begs the question of when LSU will follow suit. Area recruiter and wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph has strolled through Destrehan a few times already during the evaluation period and the rising sophomore wide receiver is expected to camp in Baton Rouge next month to try to become the first in-state prospect to earn an offer from LSU.
Brown did this during his team’s spring game …
2021 WR Quincy Brown goes YARD pic.twitter.com/ExalVHTy7O
— Sam Spiegelman (@samspiegs) May 17, 2018
10. Position decisions loom large
Perhaps it’s a growing trend in Louisiana, but there are some notable blue-chip prospects being recruited as different positions on different sides of the ball across the state.
Beginning up north in Ruston, La., Ray Parker is being courted as a tight end by LSU and Ole Miss, but his future is almost certainly as a left tackle. At 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds, Parker is an athletic tackle with a great frame to pack size onto. He’s a priority for the Tigers, who’ll allow him to compete at tight end first.
The state’s most loaded squad resides in Baton Rouge, La., where two of the premier athletes are Christian Harris and Makiya Tongue. At 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, Harris is getting looked at as a receiver, H-back and linebacker, depending on the school. Alabama views the 4-star athlete as a middle linebacker; LSU is willing to let him camp and pick his position.
Harris’ teammate, Tongue, is a dynamic playmaker at wide receiver, safety and as an edge rusher. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, most schools view Tongue as an athlete and are willing to let him figure out a position after he arrives on campus. The majority of colleges recruiting him are willing to let him play receiver, but others — like LSU — prefer him on the defensive side of the ball as an in-the-box safety or outside linebacker.
Lee is one of the best jump-ball receivers in the country, but because he plays for 2A Amite, he got snaps at safety last season and is now flirting with the idea of playing on the defensive side of the ball in college. LSU likes Lee at wide receiver; Alabama sees him as a safety. Lee is capable of getting vertical for grabs and thrives in red-zone situations. He can also deliver big pops at safety and covers well. Lee’s decision between offense and defense will likely determine his next destination.