Next level. That’s the easiest way to describe the recruiting push from Coach O and staff in the 2020 cycle. As the disappointing 2018 class continues to dwindle (the dust hasn’t settled on this yet), Coach O needed to rebound with some strong deliveries. If 2019 set him on the right path, then 2020 is turning those roadways into flight paths. LSU is traversing coast-to-coast to build, on paper, one of the best recruiting classes in school history, pulling recruits from California, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland before returning to more tried and true stomping grounds in Florida, Georgia, Texas and, of course, Louisiana. The result? The number three overall class nationally. And they aren’t done yet.
This weekend, the staff hosted the nation’s top offensive tackle, Paris Johnson, a Cincinnati native and current Ohio State verbal commitment. The staff opted to bring Johnson down as the sole visitor, with his entirely family in tow, rather than along side his HS teammates Darrion Henry and Jaheim Thomas, who stopped into Baton Rouge on official visits just a couple weeks ago. Both are immensely talented prospects in their own right, but Johnson is the real prize here, especially considering LSU’s major need for talented OL depth.
By all accounts, LSU really smashed the visit out of the park this weekend. Johnson entered with a loose top three of Ohio State, LSU and Georgia and reportedly he may have left firmly stuck between the Buckeyes and the Tigers. Recruiting brings with it the sideshow of rumors and next to coaching searches, there’s never more wannabe insiders on these matters, with decidedly few with any actual intel. But if you peruse the LSU rumor mill, the word seems to be that Johnson indicated he intends to flip his commitment. That’s the good news.
The bad news? Well, it’s no news. Johnson didn’t actually follow through with a flip in his status. Ohio State’s official visit is still looming next month, though Johnson is planning to shut down his recruitment after that. It’s hard to argue against the in-state school when they get the final shot. Baton Rouge is 12 hours driving from home, whereas Columbus is less than two. That said, no one expected Johnson to pop while on his trip. This trip was about laying a foundation to try and earn that commitment once the kid and his family are ready.
LSU’s found success in the Buckeye state before. Five-star RB Spencer Ware hailed from Cincy and actually from the same HS, Princeton, as the Johnson-Henry-Thomas trio. Recently, Joe Burrow even made his way from there, though through a different path. That said, Burrow should be able to help sell that distance from home, leaving family behind and why our staff will take care of you angle.
If LSU strikes out on Johnson, and the odds are they probably will, it’s nice to see them swinging for the fences on OL recruits. It’s a position that’s been poorly evaluated and developed in recent years in Baton Rouge, so it’s good to see them in the mix for the best of the best. Ohio State fans seem to be feeling a little wary, especially after last year’s frustration with Jackson Carman. Carman, a 5-star OT from Fairfield, OH (about the same distance out as Cincinnati to Columbus), repeatedly told the Buckeye staff that he would ultimately wind up signing with them, only to pull a bait-and-switch and ink with Clemson on signing day.
Let’s also not forget that the Urban Meyer era is over in Columbus. We’ve yet to see what kind of a recruiter Ryan Day can be. The Buckeyes finished 14th nationally last year (though some can be chalked up to the Meyer transition) and sit at 11th right now. Solid rankings, but definitely a beat behind what they did under Urbz.
It could be great timing for LSU to strike while it’s hot for Johnson. If Saadhiq Charles can turn in an excellent season, Johnson could have a clear pathway for the LT job as a true freshman. You don’t make any promises, but he’s the type of talent that may be able to fill that void.
At this point, I think LSU would take all three of Johnson, Henry and Thomas, but there’s not been any talk of them wanting to be a package deal. My guess is it will be pretty hard to hold off the home team in the end. But then again, who thought LSU would have commitments from California, D.C., Virginia and Maryland prospects? Johnson is a major missing piece in the 2020 signing class. If Orgeron and Cregg can pull it off, the sky looks to be the limits in Baton Rouge.