It's been a long odyssey for Russell Gage. Prepping at Redemptorist High School the past few years has not been easy. Gone are the days where Jeremy Hill and La'El Collins guided the team to double digit wins and successful seasons. The Wolves won five fewer games from 2011-2013 (6) than they won in 2010 alone (11). Redemptorist changed coaches, hiring Terence Williams from Donaldsville, to revive their once proud program.
Williams moved the talented Gage to full-time QB to operate his spread offense. But he didn't limit him there. Gage also played corner and stayed on the field for every ST unit. As is not uncommon in high school ball, the best player on field... stayed on the field. Gage took the responsibility on like a champion:
1,400 snaps later, Gage earned an offer to his dream school. Throughout the recruiting process he's waited patiently. The Tigers entertained high ranking DBs and athletes all throughout the season, hoping to earn pledges from the likes of Tony Brown, while remaining in play for Adoree' Jackson and taking the commitments of Ed Paris, Jamal Adams, Devin Voorhies, and even another similarly athletic but lower ranked prospect, D.J. Chark. Nothing deterred Gage. He wanted LSU. Tulane came calling. Southern Miss. Louisiana Tech. TCU, even. But he waited.
He visited LSU officially twice during the regular season, in September and again in October. As the recruiting year wound down, with the odds of his offer dwindling, he gave Tulane an official visit on January 17th. It seemed a likely destination, with the Tigers likely to fill up on other higher ranked prospects. Finally, LSU extended its hand. Gage took an official visit on January 24th, a sign that an offer would soon be forthcoming. Days later, he received his offer. And, as I mentioned on Monday, Gage didn't wait long to pounce.
I can't imagine recruiting's been fun for Russell Gage. Unlike Malachi Dupre or Kenny Young or others, he doesn't have a host of schools offering to fly him all over the country for free to wine and dine him and lavish praise onto him about how important he is to their present and future. He's a guy, for all intents and purposes, that was a back-burner offer. "Well, we like you... but not enough." It's certainly the line LSU fed him week after week as he pined for that offer. And while I'm not sure I could advise my son to be as patient as Gage was, I applaud his self belief and determination to secure what he believed he deserved.
Today, Gage committed to LSU. He is the 19th commitment in a highly rated class that features top prospects from Texas, Florida, Illinois and Oklahoma. In a the sea of 5-star talents where LSU goes fishing, Gage was a prospect the staff kept catching and throwing back. "We like you, but not enough." Today is Russell Gage's day. And while I think it remains to be seen if he will truly be a full scholarship offer or a grey shirt deferred to next year, what's clear is that Russell Gage will be at LSU in 2014.
So then, what does the future hold? He's been recruited as a corner. At 6'0", 175 pounds, his size projects nicely there. When I go to the tape, nothing blows me away. Ok, it's pretty damn fun to watch him hurdle a couple of defenders. He looks quicker than fast, though by no means slow. Most of his highlight tape is him functioning as a running QB, which is a good illustration of his athleticism, though also leaves us in the dark about how he performed at other positions.
If I can, let's relate him to a similar prospect who earned a late-ish offer: Morris Claiborne. Claiborne committed in November of his senior season, so his offer didn't come through quite as late. Yet, when Mo committed, there was much backlash from fans who thought the spot should go to a higher ranked player. Admittedly, his commitment came from seemingly out of nowhere, while Gage has been on the radar for months, but there were many doubters. Until you turned on the film. Claiborne was electric. A smooth, easy, fluid athlete that played QB because he could, while exhibiting the natural ability to transition in college to DB or WR or wherever the coaches saw him fit. Three years later, Claiborne claimed the Thorpe Award and is considered one of the great recruiting finds in the Les Miles era.
Could Gage project similarly? I, personally, don't see that. On the tale of the tape, sure. Size? Similar, check. Played QB? Check. Unheralded recruit? Check. Played with inferior talent? Check. But I think Claiborne was just a next level athlete, while I think Gage is merely a "good" one.
Yet others feel much more confident in his ability. Mike Detillier, whom I'd consider a much superior talent scout than myself tweeted out this:
LSU commitment Russell Gage looks like a FS, but I understand his projection to CB. at LSU. His size, quick feet & ball skills are 1st rate.— Michael Detillier (@MikeDetillier) January 30, 2014
@jcantu25 Russell Gage reminds me a lot of Corey Webster when he came out of St. James. Gage, like Webster, was not a top ranked recruit.— Michael Detillier (@MikeDetillier) January 30, 2014
Detillier feels comfortable drawing out what I can't see. I'm with him 100% on the quick feet, and I think his size projects fine in the defensive backfield... but the ball skills, I just don't know. I'm not saying they aren't there, I'm saying the tape I have doesn't have any clips that show it. Perhaps he's seen him in person, as well. Gage did amass eight INTs and two passes defended this season.
That said, I can't help but be happy for Russell Gage. By his own admission, this is a dream come true. And while I might look at the tape and overall athletic package and question whether or not he's LSU-worthy, I cannot question his heart, intelligence and determination. He may not be the fastest, biggest or most talented player in this recruiting class, but if any of them deserve to have a chip on their shoulder, it's Russell Gage. And frankly, I find it hard to count against a player with a chip on his shoulder.