‘It just felt like home’: LSU gave nation’s No. 1 player Bryce Underwood of Michigan everything he was looking for

Quarterbacks coach Joe Sloan played pivotal role in Tigers landing five-star talent

Five-star quarterback Bryce Underwood, the nation's No. 1 player, proudly displays an LSU jersey with his name on it after committing to the Tigers' Class of 2025 last Saturday., PHOTO COURTESY: Bryce Underwood.

Two days before Michigan won the 2023 national championship, five-star quarterback Bryce Underwood of Belleville, Michigan had already finalized his college plans.

The No. 1 rated player in the Class of 2025, who made his final unofficial 25 minutes away to Ann Arbor, Michigan, told the world during a live-streamed news conference he would attend school more than 1,100 miles away and play for LSU head coach Brian Kelly.

“It was a very close competition,” Underwood said of LSU, Michigan, Alabama, Colorado, Florida State and Ohio State.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Underwood, who chose to reveal his school on the birthday of his great grandmother, handicapped a close race between some of college football’s top powers.

“I finalized my decision earlier in the week,” he said. “It (LSU) just felt like home when I was there. Also, (their) development of the quarterbacks.”

LSU’s latest commitment in the Class of ’25 capped a sizzling week on the recruiting trail and propelled the Tigers to No. 1 in On3’s team rankings in ’25.

The Tigers are the only team to secure commitments from the nation’s No. 1 quarterback (Underwood), No. 1 running back (Harlem Berry of New Orleans) and No. 1 wide receiver (Dakorian Moore of Duncanville, Texas) among their eight pledges.

“Whether they hold onto them will be on this staff and there’s still a lot of work to be able to hold on to them,” On3’s national recruiting analyst Sam Spiegelman said of LSU’s No. 1 trio. “It’s a great spot to be sitting ahead of the curve with those commitments, and all three of those players are gamechangers on the offensive side.”

Said Underwood:

“I’m a game-changer. I’m a playmaker and I’m surrounding myself with great players,” he said.

Quarterback wasteland no more

Until the arrival in 2018 and Heisman Trophy season a year later by Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, LSU wasn’t necessarily a destination for top-flight quarterbacks.

Burrow left after three unproductive years at Ohio State and in two years rewrote a great portion of LSU’s record book. He led the Tigers to an undefeated 15-0 record, won the school’s first Heisman in 60 years as the orchestrator of a dazzling offense.

Younger, talented quarterbacks took a longer look at what LSU was doing on offense and the arrival of college football’s winningest coach – Brian Kelly – along with offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and quarterbacks coach Joe Sloan – brought the same modern approach to offense that appealed to dual-threat quarterbacks.

That coaching trio combined to lure transfer quarterback Jayden Daniels of Arizona State out of the transfer portal. Two years after 19 wins, a bowl victory and his share of records in the LSU record book, Daniels captured the school’s second Heisman in five years and is now projected to be a top-of-the-draft selection.

“Brian Kelly’s had a relationship with him since he’s at Notre Dame,” Spiegelman said of Underwood. “Those relationships are not forgotten, especially when they’re made early on. Then you look at the quarterbacks Joe Sloan has gotten to Baton Rouge, it’s what LSU fans have dreamt of. To have two Heisman winners in a five-year stretch is pretty magnificent under two different coaches and that’s a testament to Joe Sloan.”

Sloan helped flip the commitment of Woodlawn’s Rickie Collins from Purdue to LSU and also laid the foundation for the Tigers to sign four-star quarterback Colin Hurley of Trinity Christian in Jacksonville, Florida.

Both Collins and Hurley will go through spring drills in March behind redshirt junior Garrett Nussmeier and junior transfer AJ Swan of Vanderbilt.

“LSU felt like home,” Underwood said. “The relationship I built with the coaching staff is unbreakable. I’ve never felt an atmosphere better than LSU’s. It’s unreal.”

The legend of Bryce Underwood

Underwood’s led Belleville to three straight state championship appearances and helped his team maintain a string of six straight district titles.

He’s 40-2 during his career, including back-to-back state championships in 2021 and ’22 before Belleville had a 38-game winning streak snapped in this year’s title game against Southfield, 36-32.

“On tape, you see a long, athletic kid playing quarterback,” Spiegelman said. “(His) Accuracy is off the charts, the timing with his receivers is what you like to see. He has the kind of arm strength that he can throw to all different levels of the field. You have a guy who knows exactly where to put throws where his receivers want them.

“He can escape the pocket, buy time and make plays downfield,” Spiegelman said. “Has ability to improvise in and outside the pocket. He’s in that quarterback echelon with (Quinn) Ewers, (Arch) Manning as No. 1 players in the country that can do Superman-like things.”

Underwood’s was named Michigan’s Gatorade Player of the Year after completing 65% of his passes (179 of 276) for 3,329 yards with three interceptions and 41 touchdowns. He added seven rushing TDs, accumulating the better portions of his statistics in three quarters because Belleville played the fourth quarter with a running clock in 11 of 13 games before of point differential.

Underwood was also selected to MaxPrep.com’s Junior All-America team, directing Belleville to a 13-1 record. He passed for 2,762 yards and 37 TDs in ’22 and 2,888 yards and 39 TDs in ’21 – for a career total of 8,979 yards and 117 touchdowns passing.

He was selected to the MaxPreps.com’s Freshman All-America team in ’21.

“It’s hard to be the No. 1 player in the country and when a quarterback’s in that slot, it’s pretty indicative of the caliber of player he is,” Spiegelman said. “We’re coming off a (recruiting) cycle that’s shown wide receiver is the cream of the crop in the country. Bryce Underwood is the cream of the crop in the 2025 class. You look at all the important boxes for a prospect at the quarterback position: athleticism and accuracy and the ability to improvise and make plays on the run.

“You also look at completion percentage and TD-to-interception ratio,” Spiegelman said. “You can see championship pedigree and Bryce Underwood checks all of those boxes. He’s been one of the more highly touted quarterbacks regardless of class over the past half decade already. His name is going to go down in the same category as some of these recruits such as Quinn Ewers to Arch Manning to Nico Iamaleava as the No. 1 overall-level players in the country.”

Covering new ground

Never had the nation’s No. 1 quarterback ever recruited to LSU until Underwood. He was the first No. 1 overall player in the country since running back Leonard Fournette (2014) to commit to the Tigers.

LSU’s two highest rated QB commitments/signees before Underwood: Ryan Perrilloux (No. 6 in 2005) and Russell Shephard (No. 3 in 09’).

Underwood’s also the first five-star quarterback commitment for LSU and is the nation’s top-rated player by On3 and 247 Sports and No. 2 by Rivals.

Underwood’s accrued 41 scholarships with LSU extending an overture during his sophomore season. With Kelly having moved from Notre Dame to LSU, and reuniting with Denbrock and adding Sloan to his offensive coaching staff, the Tigers appeared to be a longshot for the services of the nation’s top-rated player.

LSU’s ventured into Michigan before with its share of recruiting success. The Tigers signed offensive tackle Anthony Bradford, a fourth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2022, and two of the team’s starters this past season – offensive guard Garrett Dellinger and kickoff specialist Nathan Dibert – are Michigan natives.

“They’ve been recruiting me since then (the scholarship offer),” Underwood said of LSU. “They have great program history, great quarterback history, as well.”

He remembered his first unofficial to LSU in ’23 and coming away feeling like a priority to the Tigers’ staff because of the homework they had put in and being prepared for Underwood and his family.

“They all knew about me,” he said. “Coach Sloan talked to me almost every single day. He separated himself from everybody.”

Underwood was smitten with LSU and given the busy nature of a top prospect’s schedule, scheduling unofficial visits to see some of the nation’s top programs can be difficult at times.

Underwood wound up making three unofficial visits to LSU in ’23, including a visit for the Nov. 18 home game against Georgia State where Daniels led the offense to 56 points and continued to strengthen his candidacy for the Heisman Trophy.

Less than two months later, including a couple of unofficial visits to Michigan, Underwood chose LSU where in intends to sign in December.

“You’ve got a gamebreaker from the quarterback position which is something Joe Sloan’s looked for,” Spiegelman said. “To take over a game and Bryce Underwood is that and more.”

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William Weathers

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