Going into the 2022 season, in order for Brian Kelly to field a secondary he had to dip into the transfer portal and load up on transfers. The results? Pretty strong! The combination of Jarrick Bernard-Converse, Mekhi Gardner, Joe Foucha, and Greg Brooks gave LSU a secondary that may not have had a ton of star power, but was certainly serviceable.
The downside? Just about all those transfers Kelly landed exhausted all of their eligibility and now the coaching staff had to dip into again to field a secondary. This time around Kelly and company landed younger players that were a little more highly touted coming out of high school. Can lightning strike twice? Is this new look group ready for the bright lights? Florida State’s going to tell us a lot one way or another.
2023 LSU Secondary
|Corner||3 Greg Brooks (5th Year Sr.)||5'10"/187||66||5||2||3 TFLs, 1 Sack, 1 FF|
|10 Denver Harris (Soph.)*||6'0"/183||14||3||0||Played 5 games|
|12 JK Johnson (Soph.)**||6'1"/180||22||0||0||Played 13 games, 5 starts|
|22 Duce Chestnut (Jr.)***||5'11"/200||40||1||1||All-ACC Honorable Mention|
|24 Zy Alexander (Jr.)****||6'2"/188||27||4||3||First-Team All-Southland|
|25 Javien Toviano (Fr.)||6'1"/199||Four-star freshman|
|26 Ashton Stamps (Fr.)||6'0"/176||Three-star freshman|
|27 Latterence Welch (Soph.)||6'1"/191||4||0||0||Played 13 games|
|29 Jeremiah Hughes (Fr.)||6'0"/190||Three-star freshman|
|Safety||14 Matthew Langlois (Rs. Soph.)||6'0"/205||0||0||0||Played 1 game before season-ending injury in Week 2|
|15 Sage Ryan (Rs. Soph.)||5'11"/202||23||1||0||2 FF, 2 FR|
|19 Jordan Allen (Rs. Fr.)||5'11"/195||2||0||0||Played 4 games, 23 snaps vs. Purdue|
|21 Ryan Yaites (Fr.)||6'1"/208||Four-star freshman|
|23 Kylin Jackson (Fr.)||6'3"/191||Four-star freshman|
|28 Major Burns (Jr.)||6'2"/190||38||3||0||Played 9 games with 5 starts, 3.5 TFLs|
|36 Andre' Sam (Sr.)*****||6'0"/183||53||7||1||5.5 TFLs, two-time First-Team All-Southland at McNeese, 55 career games with 48 starts|
*At Texas A&M
**At Ohio State
Who would you rather have playing corner for you: older players who have maxed out their ability but have played under the brightest of lights? Or some younger and likely more talented guys...but don’t have nearly as many skins on the wall? Last season LSU’s defense was the former; in 2023 they’re the latter.
True sophomore corner Denver Harris might be the single biggest name LSU added via the transfer portal. The former Texas A&M corner was an e l i t e prospect coming out of high school, the type of recruit LSU would routinely get in the peak DBU days.
Let’s call a spade a spade: Harris was a knucklehead over at Aggie Land. Harris was suspended on the eve of A&M’s game against Miami, and was suspended the final six games of the season for smoking weed in the A&M locker room. There was also an incident where Harris went on Instagram Live—after A&M got upset at home by App State no less— and was essentially drag racing his car through a parking garage.
Were all these things stupid? Obviously. But LSU wasn’t really in any position to turn away an elite talent like Harris at a position of need, and Kelly is confident the culture he’s built at LSU will help Harris live up to his marquee billing.
“We felt with the culture in which we have put together here that he would make it here because the culture is really strong,” Kelly said. “And it’s proven to me that he’s done well, early on.”
A year ago Kelly and staff bet on Mekhi Garner being able to handle the jump in competition from ULL to LSU. This year they’re rolling the dice again on a corner from inside the state, but this time from the FCS level. Southeastern’s Zy Alexander was as good as they came in the FCS level, and now he’ll have a chance to show he can hang at the biggest stage. Alexander made two All-Southland selection and an FCS All-American in 2021. His numbers dipped in 2021 (6 INTs) to 2022 (1 INT) but that’s because teams wised up and quit trying to throw his direction. Now that he’s at the FBS level I’d imagine teams will try and test him. Hopefully he’s up for the challenge.
To keep up with all the parallels from last season, LSU’s bringing in another Ohio State corner. Last year we had Sevyn Banks, this year welcomes in JK Johnson. Johnson missed most of his true freshman season after suffering a shoulder injury, but in 2022 he played in all 13 of Ohio State’s games with five starts. A St. Louis native, Johnson was coached by Robert Steeples coming out of high school and was a four-star, top-50 overally player in his class. Maybe being under Steeples’ tutelage again can help him up his game going into 2023.
From a transfer standpoint, Syracuse’s Duce Chestnut is probably the best comp to what Jarrick Bernard-Converse was last season. Chestnut doesn’t have as many games under his belt as JBC did, but with 24 starts and a pair of All-ACC selections to his name he is equally as accomplished. Between his ability and experience I would think he draws the opposing team’s best receiver.
That’s a lot of new faces at corner and there’s even more on the way. LSU signed three freshmen corners: Javien Toviano, Ashton Stamps, and Jeremiah Hughes. Toviano is getting a lot of early buzz and can play either corner or safety. The secondary’s crowded, but if any true freshman cracks the rotation, bet on 25.
The corner back room isn’t totally unrecognizable from last year though. Greg Brooks and Sage Ryan are both listed as safeties though I’d imagine one will play the nickel corner this season. At the time of this writing I’m gonna pencil Brooks in as the nickel and Ryan as a safety. That’s a complete and total guess on my part.
Laterrence Welch, on the other hand, is unquestionably a corner and he’s back for a second season. Welch was pretty highly coveted coming out of high school but wasn’t able to crack the rotation last year. The corner room is just as crowded now as it was last year, is he able to make his way on to the field this go round?
While LSU loaded up with transfers at corner, they restocked the safety position through recruiting. If Toviano isn’t playing safety, maybe fellow true freshmen Kylin Jackson or Ryan Yaites will. Guys like Jackson is exactly why Brian Kelly left Notre Dame for a place like LSU. You want to see your four-star safety commit? Great, he’s 25 minutes away.
One of these young guns might have to play because while LSU has bodies at safety, they don’t have a ton of experience outside of Major Burns and whoever plays opposite of him between Sage Ryan and Greg Brooks. Matthew Langlois has only played in 10 games through two seasons, and was lost for the remainder of 2022 after the Southern game. Is Jordan Allen ready to contribute now that he’s been in the program for a year?
To help insure the health of the safety position, LSU brought in Andre’ Sam who’s been quite the journeyman over his collegiate career. Sam’s as veteran as it gets, with his true freshman season at McNeese coming in 2017. He redshirted that season and after only playing in three games in 2018, he started every game over the next three seasons for McNeese, and then started 10 of the 12 games he played in at Marshall. Experience matters, and if any program can attest to having success with veteran transfers it’s LSU.