There’s a reason Nick Saban has been able to work his recruiting magic in Louisiana: He built LSU to the national power it is today.
Saban’s tenure as LSU’s coach from 2000-04 hasn’t left the memory of some of Louisiana’s top recruits today. So when Alabama’s four-time championship-winning coach invades LSU territory, recruits and their families have no choice but to listen.
“Saban built LSU into the national power that they are, so a lot of these kids today that sign with him have been watching LSU football with Nick Saban,” explained James Smith, recruiting analyst for NOLA.com.
“Their families are fully aware that he built that program, so there’s a carryover effect. The staff he’s put in place with guys like (Alabama assistant) Burton Burns and some other guys have been instrumental to building some pipelines from within Louisiana, especially Northern Louisiana.”
The Crimson Tide have secured at least one 4-star recruit from Louisiana in eight of Saban’s last nine recruiting classes.
Perhaps no blue-chip prospect has been more vital to Saban’s success in LSU territory than was Landon Collins.
Collins, a 5-star safety at Dutchtown High School (Geismar, La.), was the top prospect in the state back in 2012. More importantly, Collins’ commitment to Alabama set the stage for other big-time recruits to leave Louisiana to attend college.
“Collins was the first mega-recruit. LSU was doing everything it could, but Alabama swiped him from under them,” said Smith. “It stung even more that he was a Baton Rouge native within 30 minutes of the program. That’s where it started. (Alabama) used it on the recruiting trail for years, saying they had the top player in Louisiana and he came here and has been productive, so you can do the same thing. Collins played well, so other guys looking to get away could come there and be their own man outside of the state of Louisiana.”
Eddie Lacy (2009) and Collins (2012) heading to Tuscaloosa, Ala. were pioneers for the Monroe area trio of Cam Sims, Cam Robinson and Hootie Jones to do the same.
Robinson, a 5-star prospect and the top offensive tackle in the nation, bought into the same message that Alabama delivered to Collins.
“He could be his own man,” Smith explained. “At Alabama, there was immediate playing time, and LSU really couldn’t offer that. They had young offensive linemen and veterans chipped in on that offensive line. (Alabama) just out-recruited LSU at the time in all honesty.”
Alabama beat LSU for both Collins and Robinson, two prospects that Les Miles and the hometown Tigers truly coveted and wanted to stay home.
Alabama simply made a stronger push than LSU did, particularly in certain necks of the wood, said West Monroe coach Jerry Arledge, who’s been coaching in Northern Louisiana for a quarter-century.
“They’ve probably spent more time here than maybe LSU has,” Arledge said. “All of the SEC schools do a great job recruiting, but maybe he (Saban) does a little bit better.”
Arledge coached Robinson in 2013 and 2014 and believes the tackle’s decision to sign with the Crimson Tide was closer than people think.
Robinson’s mother wanted her son to stay close to home and attend LSU. However, Arledge said Robinson had a couple of uncles with ties to Alabama and worked at the team’s camps, which likely played a role in the ultimate decision.
“Those uncles had a great deal of influence,” Arledge said. “They (Alabama) probably got a foot in the door when he was in the eighth or ninth grade. Robinson’s mother wanted him to go to LSU. Most of us wanted him to go LSU, but that was his choice.
“(LSU) recruited him hard. It came down to the night before Signing Day. He was still undecided, as far I knew. (It was close) because of his mom. She was very influential in his life.”
Robinson and Collins represent some of Alabama’s major recruiting victories in the state of Louisiana, other LSU-Alabama recruiting battles have been a bit overstated.
LSU never offered Sims, according to Smith, and Jones fell on LSU’s board as his career at Neville (La.) went on. Instead, LSU pushed harder for out-of-state safety Jamal Adams (Hebron, Texas).
So has Alabama’s recruiting reach in Louisiana been as drastic as perceived?
“Not at all,” answered Smith. “There’s more LSU-caliber players within the state of Louisiana than LSU can sign in any given year. They’ve missed a guy or two here and there, but they have a lot of in-roads and prime recruiting areas outside of the state to supplement their classes with.
“The impact has been minimal and not what many perceive it to be.”
In fact, with the exception of Collins and Robinson, LSU has won its major battles with Alabama.
LSU missed out on Denzel Devall, Daylon Charlot and Tim Williams, to name a few, but landed commitments from two of New Orleans’ top prospects from the 2014 class in Malachi Dupre (John Curtis) and Leonard Fournette (St. Augustine).
“People don’t realize LSU and Alabama were battling for Malachi Dupre, and keeping him home played a vital role in their success,” said Smith. “LSU would have taken Leonard Fournette over anyone else (in that 2014 class) combined. He was a huge guy to keep home. He’s the LeBron James of high school football.”
As No. 4 LSU gears up to play No. 7 Alabama on Saturday, the two SEC West powers ranked inside the top 10 have enough talent on their respective sidelines to prove their recruiting classes have both worked out according to plan.
“After missing out on Cam Robinson, LSU came back with one of — if not — the top recruiting classes for offensive linemen and were able to bounce back nicely,” said Smith. “LSU missed on a few guys that would probably be on the field for them, but have done a good job replacing them with good prospects. Trying to battle public perception of victory goes a long way.”