Early recruiting wrap: Coach O says winning in-state battles were a key in LSU’s 20-man early signing period class

Maason Smith of Terrebonne High, the nation's No. 1 high school recruit according to Rivals.com, signed with LSU.

The battleground areas in building LSU’s fourth-rated nationally recruiting class were easy to identify.

Just listen to the Tigers head football coach Ed Orgeron when he talks about his staff’s ability to turn pivotal in-state commitments from safety Sage Ryan and defensive tackle Maason Smith into monumental signatures Wednesday on the first day of the NCAA’s early signing period.

“It was a big battle with all the schools that came down to the end,” Orgeron said of Ryan, the nation’s No. 2 safety who committed to LSU over Alabama and Clemson on Oct. 31. “(Assistant coaches) Corey Raymond and Kevin Faulk did a great job. It was a must-get for us. It turned things around for us when we needed it.”

Then there was the mid-afternoon dramatics from Smith.

The nation’s No. 1 prospect according to Rivals.com maintained a pretty good poker face throughout his recruitment. The 6-foot-5, 316-pound standout from Houma’s Terrebonne High had LSU, Alabama and Georgia among his finalists before signing with the Tigers.

“Christian LaCouture, give him a lot of credit,” Orgeron said of his graduate assistant coach who helps with the defensive line. “He stayed with him.”

Ryan and Smith were key signees that resonated throughout LSU’s 20-member signing class that trails only Alabama and Ohio State in the national composite rankings according to 247Sports.

Orgeron has visions at making a run at the aforementioned schools, looking to fill the remaining five spots in his class by the time of the NCAA’s second signing period Feb. 3

He acknowledged since LSU had just only one signee on the offensive line – four-star prospect Garrett Dellinger of Clarkston, Mich. — the Tigers’ priority moving forward would filling that need. Orgeron will consider signing high school prospects, players from the NCAA’s transfer portal or graduate transfers.

LSU’s class is nearly evenly divided – 10 signees on defense, nine on offense and a punter in West Monroe’s Peyton Todd – the state’s top-rated player at that position.

The Tigers added their 20th signee on the final day of three-day window in four-star defensive end Bryce Langston (6-3, 270) of Ocala, Fla.-Vanguard High School.

“These guys are going to help,” said Orgeron, who signed eight recruits ranked in the top 10 at their respective positions nationally and the top-rated players in Louisiana and Mississippi. “The skill is unbelievable. The defensive line. . .we have a couple of defensive linemen out there that we’re going to get, we just can’t talk about them right now. We feel good about how we’re going to finish.”

Orgeron was adamant about the role signing players the stature of the 5-foot-11, 193-pound Ryan of Lafayette Christian Academy and Smith played in sending a resounding message about keeping the state’s five-star prospects at home.

He acknowledged in the days leading up to Ryan’s commitment, the Tigers had lost their lead in the race for his pledge.

It opened the door for Alabama to swoop in and land another of the state’s gems until Faulk, a native of Carencro just outside of Lafayette, saved the day for the Tigers.

“He’s the No. 1 safety in the country and we needed him,” Orgeron said of Ryan. “We needed safeties and he was one in our backyard and he was about to slip away. We all know who he was about to slip away to, we had to fight. Give credit to Kevin Faulk. Maybe two or three years ago we lost those players, and they went win championships in another state. We’ve got to fight that and for the most part we did.”

The task of landing Smith included Orgeron having natural built-in ties to the five-star standout.

With Orgeron, a native of nearby Larose and a graduate of South Lafourche High, he had in-roads to gain familiarity with Smith and his family.

Smith, who stayed for Orgeron’s entire summer camp as a junior, never publicly declared a leader in his recruiting process. Instead, he explored all options possible under the NCAA’s dead period which didn’t permit in-person contact between coaches and prospects amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He named his top eight schools in July and later narrowed that list to finalists LSU, Alabama and Georgia.

Regardless, Orgeron was believed to be a prohibitive favorite going into signing day since he was recruiting a player at a position that’s his specialty and in an area that’s essentially his home turf.

“That’s a must get, you can’t lose that one, no way,” Orgeron said of Smith. “He’s a defensive lineman. He’s from Terrebonne and I’m from South Lafourche. A lot of connections down there. I don’t think that was the deciding factor. His relationship with Christian LaCouture was the deciding factor. His love for Louisiana. I think he always wanted to play for LSU.”

Ryan’s part of a defensive haul that gives LSU the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2-rated safeties along with Derrick Davis Jr. of Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway High.

Orgeron’s also excited about Catholic-Pointe Coupee safety Matthew Langlois, a former Kansas State commitment.

“He’s tough,” Orgeron said. “He’s a guy that will probably wear (No.) 18 one day. Excellent player, excellent young man.”

LSU’s wide receiver class is the deepest position with four four-star signees. It is topped by the nation’s No. 10 wide out Chris Hilton of Zachary High and No. 15 prospect Deion Smith of Jackson (Miss.) Jackson Academy (Mississippi’s No. 1 rated prospect), along with Lafayette-area signees Malik Nabers of Southside High and Jack Bech of St. Thomas More, who may also play tight end along with Jalen Shead of Olive Branch, Miss.

The guy who will be throwing passes to that group is Garrett Nussmeier of Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus High, the nation’s No. 8 rated quarterback.

“He was a leader for us in recruiting,” Orgeron said.

Faulk, the program’s first-year running backs coach, helped LSU land Corey Kiner of Cincinnati (Ohio) Roger Bacon and Armoni Goodwin of Trussville (Ala.) Hewitt-Trussville High, the nation’s No. 7 and No. 8 rated prospects at that position respectively.

“Armoni Goodwin was a big get for us,” Orgeron said “A big-time running back with great leverage and can make you miss. Corey Kiner reminds me a lot of (former LSU RB) Clyde (Edwards-Helaire).”

Smith is the headliner on the defensive side. After the safety position with three signees, the defensive signees includes the nation’s top-ranked junior college linebacker Navonteque Strong of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and four-star inside linebacker Greg Penn III of Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha.

Four-star defensive end Landon Jackson of Texarkana, Texas and four-star outside linebacker Zavier Carter of Atlanta (Ga.) Hapeville Charter are expected to bolster the future of LSU’s pass rush. Former Tennessee commitment Damarius McGhee of Pensacola (Fla.) Catholic is the Tigers’ lone cornerback signee.

“That’s what we expect,” Orgeron said. “We’re talking about the LSU standard of performance and that’s what I expect of myself and my staff. The national championship maybe forgotten by a lot of people by now, but it wasn’t forgotten by these players. These players watched it, they saw it and they believed it.”

Here is LSU’s 20-man early signing period class in alphabetical order:

Jack Bech, WR, 6-2 , 215, Lafayette (La.) St. Thomas More

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 65 WR, No. 423 overall

RATING: 3 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: Hard to debate his productivity whereas a junior he led the state with 90 catches. Already college ready to play outside receiver but is flexible enough where LSU’s indicated he could be targeted as a pass-receiving tight end or H-back.

Zavier Carter, OLB, 6-4, 195, Atlanta (Ga.) Hapeville Charter

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 12 OLB, No. 203 overall

RATING: 4 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: Another undersized prospect with tremendous upside because of his aggressiveness and his ability to add strength. Has been more of a stand-up pass rusher while playing defensive end and projects as more of an outside linebacker.

Derrick Davis Jr., S, 6-1, 195, Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 4 S, No. 57 overall

RATING: 4 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: Helps to give LSU the nation’s top two safety prospects along with Sage Ryan. Terrific athlete that has the ability add weight to play either safety position or the nickel spot.

Garrett Dellinger, OT, 6-5, 280, Clarkston (Mi.) Clarkston

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 13 OT; No. 86 overall

RATING: 4 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: Has played both guard and tackle with a likely projection at tackle where LSU’s looking to stockpile talent. Good balance, strength and footwork have made him a natural pass blocker, while he’s also excelled as a run blocker.

Armomi Goodwin, RB, 5-8, 190, Hewitt-Trussville Ala.

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 5 running back. No. 94 overall

RATING: 4 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: De-committed from Auburn on Nov. 30. This past season, he ran for 1,424 yards, 18 TDs and ran for almost 10 yards per carry. He’s a Clyde Edwards-Helaire type, difficult for tackles to locate because of low center of gravity and someone who deftly squirts through creases too small for big backs. Like CEH, he’s a dangerous cutback runner.

Chris Hilton, WR, 5-11, 170, Zachary (La.) High

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 10 WR, No. 79 overall

RATING: 4 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: One of the nation’s top athletes whose resume’ includes a state high jump championship as a freshman which transfers to the football field and makes him a matchup headache for smaller corners, especially in the red zone.

Corey Kiner, RB, 5-10, 205, Cincinnati (Ohio) Roger Bacon

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 7 RB, No. 154 overall

RATING: 4 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: LSU adds another jewel to its running back stable with one of the nation’s top prospects who’s established several school career records. Thickly built frame allows him to punish defenders, break tackles but show a surprising burst

Landon Jackson, DE, 6-6, 240, Texarkana (Tx) Pleasant Grove

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 7 WDE, No. 117 overall

RATING: 4 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: One of the nation’s premier defensive ends whose ability may result in early playing time at LSU. Tremendous frame easily allows for additional weight which shouldn’t hinder his quickness in pass-rush situations.

Matthew Langlois, S, 6-0, 185, New Roads (La.) Catholic

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 47 S, No. 611 overall

RATING: 3 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: The one-time Kansas State commitment is considered one of Louisiana’s top athletes – regardless of classification. Tremendous speed, combined with his size and aggressiveness, make for quite a prospect at safety where LSU was looking to improve its depth.

Bryce Langston, DE, 6-3, 270, Ocala (Fla.) Vanguard

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 12 SSDE, No. 144 overall

RATING: 4 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: Terrific frame will enable the one-time Florida commitment to add weight without compromising his quick first step. Enjoyed a productive first two years at Vanguard with 94 tackles, 24 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Had 25 tackles as a senior with 24 QB hurries and 3 sacks.

Damaris McGhee, CB, 6-0, 162, Pensacola (Fla.) Catholic

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 14 CB nationally by 247Sports, No. 28 overall prospect in Florida and No. 185 nationally

RATING: 4 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: One-time Tennessee commitment selected LSU over Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Miami on signing day. Had 24 tackles and three interceptions as a senior.

Malik Nabers, WR, 6-0, 179, Youngsville (La.) Southside

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 11 rated recruit in state by Rivals, No. 53 WR overall nationally

RATING: 4 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: He was ineligible as a senior at Southside High as per LHSAA transfer rules.  Transferred from Comeaux High in Lafayette where he played football, basketball and track. As a junior, caught 58 passes for 1,223 yards and 21 TDs.

Garrett Nussmeier, QB, 6-1 1/2, 180, Flower Mound (Tx) Marcus

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 8 QB, No. 87 overall

RATING: 4 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: Will help LSU continue to strengthen the position of quarterback for years to come. Terrific athlete which is evident in his ability to extend plays, along with pin-point accuracy and high football IQ may hasten his process to the field.

Greg Penn III, Inside linebacker, 6-1, 225, Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha Catholic

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 10 ILB, No. 178 overall

RATING: 4 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: Known more as a run stopper than for his pass coverage ability but has all the tools necessary to become good at both. Great instincts and closing speed contribute to his tackling ability.

Sage Ryan, S, 5-11, 190, Lafayette (La.) Christian Academy

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 1 S, No. 29 overall

RATING: 5 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: The nation’s top-rated safety prospect made the Tigers sweat it in a heated battle with Alabama. Checks all of the boxes in a prototypical safety – speed, size, aggressiveness, high football IQ.

Jalen Shead, TE, 6-4, 240, Olive Branch (Ms.) High

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 51 TE, No. 905 overall

RATING: 3 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: LSU continues to excel in adding talent at the tight end position where they signed the No. 1 player (Arik Gilbert) a year ago. Is the perfect combination of pass-catcher and willing blocker.

Deion Smith, WR, 6-1 1/2, 175, Jackson (Ms.) Academy

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 15 WR, No. 88 overall

RATING: 4 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: One of the nation’s top receivers who even though is a bit undersized, has the ability to transition into a solid outside receiver because of his athletic ability and ability to run after the catch.

Maason Smith, DT, 6-5, 316, Houma (La.) Terrebonne High

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 2 defensive tackle and No. 18th player overall in the nation by 247Sports, No. 1 player in Louisiana

RATING: 5 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: Wanted by just about every major college football power. Big and broad with lateral range and consistent hand violence. As a senior, he recorded 63 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, and 22 QB hurries.

Navonteque Strong, LB, 6-0, 230, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 1 LB in JC by 247Sports, No. 13 overall best JC prospect

RATING: 3 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: Had two-year junior college stats of 163 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 13 ½ sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Helped Gulf Coast to second straight MACCC state championship game (won it in 2019).

Peyton Todd, P, 6-5, 210, West Monroe (La.) High

NATIONAL RANKING: No. 1 P, N/A overall

RATING: 3 stars

SCOUTING REPORT: Depending on the decision of senior punter Zach Von Rosenberg to return to school or opt for the NFL, the addition of the nation’s top punter could be crucial for the Tigers.

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William Weathers

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