Claiborne, Stovall turned stars after recruitment
By MARTY MULÉ
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
Interesting last few days. Morris Claiborne and Jerry Stovall are/were completely different players. But, in careers separated by a half-century, they share a common bond: Neither was that highly thought of when they first came to the attention of college coaches.
It was notable for a program whose fan base is pawing the ground like a bull before a charge in anticipation of a run at the national championship that last week Claiborne was the lone LSU Tiger to be selected to the Coaches All-SEC first-team preseason squad - which might tell you something.
Claiborne is the kind of success story everyone loves: a kid who seems to come out of nowhere to earn the respect of his competitors.
The upcoming junior Tiger cornerback was a two-star recruit (meaning probably not worth the trouble to spend much time evaluating) until Les Miles saw him at a camp. Then last season Claiborne, one of the stalwarts on an 11-2 team, led LSU in interceptions with five. Admittedly that was partially because he was on the other side of All-American Patrick Peterson. Still, he more than held his own, and is now considered one of the headliners of the SEC.
Couple of days later, Stovall, another LSU after-thought recruit of two generations ago made some news. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
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In the era of “iron-man football,” when players had to do it all, Stovall did it all as well as anybody anywhere. He ran the ball (1,081 yards, 13 touchdowns), caught the ball (462 yards, 1 touchdown), played defense (seven interceptions), returned kicks (700 yards, 1 touchdown) and punted for a then-LSU record average of 42.1.
Ever get the feeling college recruiting is not an exact science?
Coming out of West Monroe High School, Stovall was considered what Claiborne was, a so-so prospect. He drew lukewarm interest from just three schools, Louisiana Tech, Tulane, and LSU - and the tepid pull of the Tigers came almost solely from A.L. “Red” Swanson, a former LSU player, assistant coach, and, in 1958 when Stovall was a prep senior, a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors. Swanson was the first person who saw something special in the boy.
The 52nd player in an incoming class of 52, Stovall recalled, “I always said I was the runt of the litter. I was very fortunate in the fact that Mr. Swanson first saw me play baseball as a ninth-grader, then followed my high school football career, and always seemed to think I had something. I could never thank him enough.”
Swanson traveled with the youngster in his old Roadster from north Louisiana to Baton Rouge five times to watch LSU games in 1958, which turned out to be a national championship season.
Swanson spotted something lost on most observers. Coach Paul Dietzel would say later, “(Jerry) didn’t stick out like a beacon, as (prospects like) John David Crow and Billy Cannon had done in previous years. But after he got here, it wasn’t long before he moved to the head of the class.”
Even Stovall’s high school coach, Dan McClure, said, “No one in their right mind would’ve figured him to be an All-American - unless you knew his temperament. You had to know what he had on the inside. When you did, you knew a person with that attitude would excel somewhere.”
Against what was conventional wisdom, Stovall did, finishing the 1962 season as the Heisman Trophy runner-up in what was then the closest vote ever.
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Here’s a thought for those hot-and-bothered recruiting-service fanatics: LSU’s Hall of Fame would be depleted if the Tigers only bagged four-star prospects, who as many times as not turn into busts.
Remember such Tiger luminaries as Tommy Casanova, Dalton Hilliard, Doug Moreau, and, the most indispensible member of the 2007 national title team, Jacob Hester, were all after-thoughts to college recruiters - just like Claiborne and Stovall.
You know Les Miles, hard at work at another camp evaluating talent, has to have a sense of self-satisfaction. And somewhere Red Swanson is smiling.
Marty Mule’ can reached at MJM981two@charter.net.