It’s difficult to rival first loves. For JaCoby Stevens, it was nearly impossible.
The 5-star safety committed to LSU over Alabama, Georgia and Auburn on Monday in front of a jam-packed crowd at Oakland High School in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Stevens, the No. 2-ranked safety in the Class of 2017, rescinded an earlier commitment to the Tigers last November, but settled on them again in mid-June. He had a gut feeling that he was once again going to commit to home-state LSU when he made a visit to campus in March for a spring practice.
Stevens had named both Georgia and Alabama as his leading schools since that visit to Baton Rouge, La., but couldn’t forget that Tuesday in March when he was reacquainted with coach Les Miles, defensive backs coach Corey Raymond and director of player Personnel/assistant athletic director Austin Thomas.
“It was finalized when I visited LSU during the spring,” Stevens told SEC Country. “I got the feeling that I thought I could commit. I didn’t want to admit it, so I kept going on visits. LSU was always that dark horse, though. That spring visit was the secret. The thing people knew is that I was there, but they didn’t know it had that sort of effect.
“LSU played fastball. When Austin came back (from a short stint at Southern California), he came hard after me — not just about going to LSU but about life. I can tell he legitimately cared about what was going on with me, and the one thing I like is someone who cares about me. LSU is my dream school. All my family is in Louisiana. Coach Raymond is ‘DBU,’ and Coach Miles is someone I can come in and talk to, so it seemed like a perfect fit.
The Thomas factor cannot be overlooked.
LSU’s ace on the recruiting staff has been integral in luring Stevens back to Baton Rouge, La., after he backed out of his initial verbal pledge. Stevens — whose parents both are from Crowley, La. — maintained close communication with Thomas even after he decommitted, and Southern Cal even made a run at Stevens when the Trojans hired Thomas away from the Tigers.
Thomas spearheaded Stevens’ recruitment, never applying pressure and appealing to the 6-foot-2, 200-pound safety with care and commitment instead. Raymond and Miles played secondary roles, Raymond relying on his reputation among defensive backs and Miles his ability to be both caring and comical from situation to situation.
“Coach Miles was funny,” Stevens said. “He’s a character and (when I committed) he was excited, he was pumped, telling me I was the guy he always wanted. He was glad I committed my junior year and me coming back spoke volumes about their program and how I understood there was no other program better than theirs. They were excited and I was excited, so excited (Miles) was at a loss for words.
“Coach Raymond is kind of cool, breezy, but he was excited. He told me he was going to push me hard, that some days I’ll hate him and some days I’ll love him. Austin is like a big brother. He was glad, but reminded (me) I had business to take care of in high school. He said he’d be there for me whether I was a top-five pick or I go into my career as a business major. It’s good to have guys like Austin and get excitement from the head guy, but also to have the in-between guys like Coach Raymond that play it cool no matter what.”
Stevens is scheduled to graduate early and enroll early at LSU, where he’ll compete for a starting spot in the secondary in the spring once Jamal Adams heads to the NFL and Rickey Jefferson graduates.
While Thomas played a key role in bringing the 5-star athlete in, he played second fiddle to family, which Stevens named as the most important reason he will be a Tiger in the spring. He has three young cousins — Chase, Jase and Brayden Augustus — who hail from Baton Rouge.
Whether Stevens’ mother and father return to Crowley or Baton Rouge remains up in the air.
“Family holds a huge part in my life,” Stevens said. “I have my little cousins right there in the city of Baton Rouge. They’re more than cousins; they’re like my little brothers. Them being excited about me wanting to play football not only at LSU but in front of them (was the biggest factor).”
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.