It's been a while since I've had a post (blah blah live intervenes nobody cares) but I figured I'd come back with some substance - an And the Valley Shook exclusive interview with Shea Dixon, managing editor of TigerSportsDigest.com.
Tiger Sports Digest is LSU's affiliate on the Scout.com network (formerly TigerRag.com, the Web site I got my start with), run by the top LSU recruiting analyst in the business, the great Sonny Shipp. As Sonny's Jedi apprentice of sorts, Shea does a great job of covering LSU recruiting, and of course the day-to-day goings on of the teams.
(To be totally honest, after all the Rueben Randle and Janzen Jackson drama on last year's signing day, I swore off recruiting coverage. Butttt, the reality is that it's pretty hard to stay on top of things in college football if you don't deal with recruiting. And I know fans are always looking for more recruiting info, and frankly, I like to think I'm in the business of making dreams come true.)
Billy: It's the busy season for you guys at TSD as National Signing Day draws closer, and this week's been especially crazy with all the de-commitments. How do you see this 2010 class shaping up for LSU?
Shea: Right now I see this class closing with a few more receivers and a player on the defensive side. The coaches have always liked Ego Ferguson as a possible land at defensive end or tackle, but the five-star prospect appears to be headed to Cal. I suspect Cassius Marsh, a current LSU commitment, will switch his pledge to UCLA - the hometown school (Ed. Note: Marsh has since committed to the Bruins). To fill the void, I see Evangel Christian Academy's Brandon Jackson - a defensive tackle currently committed to Texas A&M - getting on board with LSU after his visit on the final weekend before signing day.
On the offensive side, assistants Frank Wilson and Billy Gonzales have been after Trovon Reed pretty hard over the past few weeks. The Tigers were able to get Reed, a current Auburn commitment, to officially visit Baton Rouge this past weekend. According to those close to the situation, LSU has made up ground - but Auburn is still the front runner. If Reid stays committed to Auburn, then I see the class closing with Jarrett Fobbs and Kadron Boone - two wide receivers currently committed elsewhere.
Fobbs, a Shreveport-native and Texas A&M commitment, took in Baton Rouge for an official visit this past weekend and could head to College Station for a visit this coming weekend. From where I see it, the Tigers expect Fobbs to flip and stay in-state for college. Mind you, when Fobbs committed to the Aggies, he only held an offer from LSU to play cornerback. Now that a wide receiver offer has been extended, the Tigers feel like they are in the driver's seat.
Boone, an Ocala, Fla. native who is committed to Texas Tech, has taken a slew of official visits after the departure of Mike Leach. Boone's final visit will be to Baton Rouge this weekend, one of the only out-of-state targets that the staff will entertain before signing day. If LSU has room at the inn, Boone has told many people that he would take the open spot. Gonzales, who spent time recruiting Boone to Florida, is running the show for LSU on this one.
Billy: Obviously, some are rankled that this isn't going to be a top-five class. Personally, I think when you have a down year in Louisiana, just making the top 10 is a good job. This seems to be a meat-and-potatoes bunch that will sandwich between the '09 class and the already legendary '11 group. But how would you rate the 2010 haul?
Shea: I think you hit the nail on the head. It was a down year for Louisiana, but the Tigers made the clean sweep with the prospects that they wanted. Guys like Jordan Allen, Eric Reid and Ronnie Vinson aren't just floating around in every state, so from that standpoint, I think that Louisiana still gave LSU some heavy hitters for this signing group.
As you mentioned, the Tigers needed to fill a few needs - and they went elsewhere to get it. For a quarterback, they went to Texas and picked up Zach Lee. For a running back, they went to Ohio to nab Spencer Ware and South-Florida to land Jakhari Gore. For the dominant linebacker, they went to Tennessee and took one of the Volunteer State's top prospects in Justin Maclin. All of those moves, when coupled with the in-state names, make the 2010 class a strong one for the coaching staff.
With seven guys already on board for 2011, the staff now already knows where they stand for next season and thus has been able to put together the 2010 pieces over this final month with more ease. For example, with the commitments of Kenny Hilliard, Jeremy Hill and Terrance Magee, the staff has closed down their recruitment of running backs for both 2010 and 2011. In essence, this class is a very nice building block for the smaller (but very, very talented) class for next year.
Billy: Speaking of running backs, I'm a big fan of Spencer Ware. His stock shot up after the Army All-American Game and practice week, and I think he's unique compared to some of the other backs LSU has had this decade. What's your take on Ware, and are there any other particular players you're fans of in this class?
Spencer Ware via media.scout.com
Shea: I am a huge fan of Ware as well. He does not blow you away with his speed, but at 5-foot-11, 215-pounds Ware is extremely elusive and has a great burst. For a guy who played quarterback in high school, he has pretty good vision when running up the field - that much showed with his performance at the Army All-American game. No play is ever over, either. He is a guy that keeps moving the feet and changing direction until you bring him all the way down. He is one of the top-5 running backs in the entire country, and LSU was able to snag him out of Ohio. Great job by the Tiger staff with evaluating Ware early and locking up his commitment.
I love a lot of guys in this class, but one of my favorites is a defensive name: Eric Reid. Reid is one of the nation's best safety prospects, but what's great is that his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame can add weight and see him drop to outside linebacker. Reid played with an injured shoulder throughout high school before having surgery last spring, and his performances since have pushed his name to the top of most recruiting sites rankings. He also does it in the classroom with straight A's, so he can be a coach on the field for you. I see Reid getting playing time on special teams next season - and competing for a safety job as quickly as his freshman year.
Billy: Ok now for a bigger-picture question. In the last few years recruiting coverage, and coverage of individual recruits, have increased exponentially. It seems like every year there's more drama -- Terrell Pryor, Bryce Brown, Janzen Jackson, Rueben Randle -- and also more deceit. This year you got some of that first hand with former commit Mike Davis. You talk to some of these players a lot and build relationships. Does it get frustrating or hard to deal with these types of situations?
Shea: I think you bring up an interesting topic that I wish I could tell people more about. The outsiders see these recruits and think their decisions and comments are black and white. They often don't understand the pressure that these kids are getting, whether it be the hundreds of calls from coaches and reporters, the constant badgering from fans or the pressure from friends and family to go to (or stay at) a certain college. For the highest profiled kids, by the time signing day rolls around they can't wait for their process to be over.
I have built up relationships like the one I had with Mike Davis many times before (Andre Debose, for instance). When a prospect is showing serious interest in LSU from the start, I end up writing so many updates and seeing them at camps and combines so many times that a relationship is forged. Does it get frustrating to deal with their situations when they don't end up at LSU? Funny enough, not really.
For me, it's always about the kid and his story. Whether the story is Eric Reid commits to LSU and remains a pledge until signing day or Mike Davis commits to LSU and backs out in the 11th hour, my loyalty is to the readers - and the readers just want the story, nothing else. These kids - most not even 18 years old - have more stacked onto their plates than anyone could imagine. Too let my personal feelings on their lives slip into my work would only be a distraction to me telling the tale of what direction a prospect's process is headed.
Billy: I think that last part is part of maturing as a reporter really, but it's sad to see the way things are going, at least in my opinion. Enough kids handle this process openly and honestly that I just don't think there's any real reason to lie about things. Take Cassius Marsh for instance -- the kid's having some issues traveling across the country and seems to have decided to stay home. Obviously, it's a rough spot for LSU for it to be this late, but at least he called the LSU staff and admitted it, rather than waiting until signing day (or the day after signing day, as a certain safety did) to pull that switch. I can't hate on a kid for making the decision he thinks is best for him -- choosing a college is too important and too personal a choice
On that note, do you think there will be any signing day surprises this year?
Shea: With the class being built so early, I think that a lot of the surprises - the Sam Montgomery-types - won't be in store for LSU this year.
The names to watch for are Trovon Reed, Dietrich Riley, Justin Parker, Morgan Moses and Ego Ferguson. I don't expect any of those prospects to sign with LSU at this point, so a commitment to the Tigers next Wednesday would certainly be considered a surprise.
Here is my rundown on each kid:
Trovon Reed: Committed to Auburn, though Frank Wilson and Billy Gonzales have pressed him very hard to rethink his decision and stay in-state. Losing out on Louisiana's top ranked prospect to another SEC school will certainly hurt the Tigers.
Dietrich Riley: Riley, a safety in high school, is someone that the LSU staff really likes at outside linebacker. He made his official visit to Baton Rouge last weekend, and by all accounts it was a great trip. I expect Riley to choose a school like UCLA and stay out west, but crazier things have happened.
Justin Parker: Parker is someone I think could bring the big surprise to Tiger fans next Wednesday, but I also feel like Clemson is currently the front runner. A South Carolina-native, Parker's biggest obstacle with LSU is overcoming distance (much like Sam Montgomery last season). It will be interesting to see if John Chavis - a fellow South Carolina-native - was able to close Parker in the final weeks and land a commitment.
Morgan Moses: The Virginia-native is down to UVA, Ohio State and LSU. This weekend he will visit Baton Rouge for the first time. While I think the big-man will love what he sees from the Tigers, everyone back on the East Coast said that it would be tough for anyone to pull Moses out from UVA's grips. (note: Moses has since backed out the visit, per Sonny)
Ego Ferguson: Ferguson is a tough guy to peg. He has a top five of LSU, Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame and Cal - and I have always felt that Cal was the front runner. Ferguson is looking for a solid education and a shot at early playing time, and I think he feels the most comfortable between Cal and FSU. Les Miles and Brick Haley made their in-home visits with Ferguson and his father this week, but I am not certain that they will be able to pull the Maryland-native - despite a ton of work done by Haley over the past few months.
Billy: Any sleeper picks for this class, or kids you think are under the radar (for LSU or any other school)? Any that you think maybe aren't as good as their press clippings?
Shea: If Jarrett Fobbs gets on board as a wide receiver before signing day, I think people will love what he brings to the table. He is athletic enough to play receiver or cornerback, and he has the elusiveness to really succeed with the ball in his hands. During his sophomore season, I felt he was one of the top athletes that Louisiana had for 2010. Even though he has fallen off a bit since then with coaching switches and the likes, I love Fobbs' ceiling at the next level.
Ronnie Vinson via vmedia.rivals.com
I think Ronnie Vinson is going to be a really great addition to the cornerback depth chart. He won't be the Patrick Peterson lockdown-type, but he will be close to as dominant. Offensively, I think Vinson is one of the best runners in Louisiana. On defense, his hips and ability to turn and get up the field separates him from any other corner that you will see in this class. Ranked as a top-25 safety by the recruiting services, I believe that Vinson is truly one of the 15 best corners available.
I also like Evan Washington, the offensive tackle out of Texas. Washington enrolled early, so getting him onto campus already puts him ahead of the rest of the gang. At 6-foot-5, 290-pounds Washington is also pretty athletic, and I could see him playing tackle or guard given need. A basketball player turned football kid, Washington has the quick feet and agility to succeed at the SEC level. My guess is that he gets an earlier shot than most, especially after Tommy Moffitt adds some muscle to the big man.