By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Donte Jackson feels like he’s in high school all over again.
The shutdown cornerback’s phone never stops ringing these days as he ponders a decision that’ll impact the rest of his life. He’s been in constant contact lately with loved ones and former teammates like Tre’Davious White, Jamal Adams and Jalen Mills.
Jackson is of course just one of a handful of junior and redshirt-sophomore Tigers currently weighing whether to declare for the upcoming NFL Draft while LSU prepares to take on Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day.
“Your phone doesn’t stop ringing. That’s the biggest thing,” Jackson said before LSU practiced Wednesday. “It’s fascinating. It’s a weird experience, man. It’s like being recruited for college all over again.”
Every draft-eligible player takes a different tact when it comes to focusing on the present versus preparing for their immediate professional future. Last year, Leonard Fournette left the team prior to the bowl game to train for the NFL Combine, a growing trend in recent years.
Similar decisions await outside linebacker Arden Key and running back Derrius Guice, two projected first-round picks. Jackson, fellow cornerback Kevin Toliver and offensive linemen Toby Weathersby, Will Clapp and Garrett Brumfield are all potentially draft-able prospects, too.
At least publicly, none of LSU’s draft-eligible players said they’ve come to a decision yet, and each maintained that they’re staying focused on beating Notre Dame to finish off a 10-win season.
“It’s a situation where you try not to think about stuff like that, you’re just trying to go on because we’ve still got one game left,” Weathersby said. “It’s one of those things you have to block out so you can focus and produce for the team. But we’re human. The whole world knows we’ve got guys on the team who’re eligible for it. It’s just up to us as individuals to know there’s a time and a place for it.
“We’re human. We have those thoughts. I have those thoughts all the time, but we’ve still got another game to play and I want to win it.”
Guice, through social media, has been emphatic about his desire to play against Notre Dame. He practiced with the rest of the team as LSU got back to work Tuesday. Key, who is dealing with a knee injury, wasn’t present and is considered “questionable,” according to Ed Orgeron.
“It means a lot,” Orgeron said Tuesday of Guice. “That’s who he is. Derrius loves football, loved every day he’s walked into this room. I’ve never seen him down. He wants to finish strong. I’m sure he’s motivated. A 10-win season for him would mean a lot for us.”
Orgeron hasn’t elaborated much on his approach to re-recruiting draft eligible players. Les Miles, his predecessor, began preaching that juniors come back for their senior year unless they’re a projected first-round pick.
At least one junior expects the coach to make his best pitch as far as getting his stars back for 2018, and when Orgeron does, he intends to listen.
“He’s going to try to recruit us back,” Jackson said. “Me, Arden (Key), (Derrius) Guice, he’s going to try to get us back in here. And the door is not shut for me. I’m still here. I’m still loving this place every day I walk in here. I’m still smiling, I’m still joking. Still got different handshakes for everybody on the team. I’m not in a rush to make any decision.”
Jackson, Weathersby and Brumfield all submitted requests for draft evaluations from the NFL Advisory Board, they said Wednesday. As of Wednesday, all three are still awaiting on the results to come back.
The NFL Advisory Board consists of general managers, personnel directors and professional scouts. They’ll review the players who request evaluations and return one of three grades: First round, Second round or Return to school.
Different players lend differing amounts of credence to the board’s recommendations, but Jackson shared that he’ll place great weight on whatever grade comes back.
“What if it’s ‘Come back to school’? No question I’m coming back to school,” Jackson said. “It’s a professional evaluation. That is these guys’ jobs, so they’re not going to wait until 2017 to make a mistake on a player. It’s their job.”
That’s a decision for another day, though. For now, Jackson, Weathersby and the rest say their entire focus is on practice and preparing to take on the Fighting Irish.
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