By GLENN GUILBEAU
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
Editor’s note: This column appears in the latest issue of Tiger Rag, which will now run weekly until the end of football season. Subscribe today by clicking here.
BATON ROUGE – College football recruiting, not unlike the glut of websites that rank the classes minute-by-minute for hit after hit after hit, is an extremely arbitrary enterprise. A coach can spend hours calling, texting, dining and wooing prospects from every possible angle, and they may pick another school because that’s where their girlfriend is going – or not going.
And sometimes it does not matter what a coach does or doesn’t do or how bad or average a coach is or how bad his team may be at the time. Sometimes the kid just wants to stay home, and your school is near his home. This is largely how Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo managed, at times, to sign excellent players. LSU coach Les Miles is a great recruiter to a great program, but his best classes at LSU in 2016, 2014 and 2009 happened to fall in years when Louisiana had an elite crop – even more elite than usual for Louisiana. That’s no coincidence.
Some of the kids Miles signed on National Signing Day last February, he could have gotten with minimum effort. One was Drake Davis, the No. 19 wide receiver in the nation out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, via the Dunham School in Baton Rouge. Davis (6-foot-4, 212) was the No. 93 overall prospect by Rivals.com and the No. 16 player in Florida.
Davis explained his decision to choose LSU over Alabama, Florida State, Ole Miss and many others at the time on “The Players Tribune” website that was launched by former New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter in 2014 to give athletes the opportunity to express themselves free of the media. It is directed editorially by Gary Hoenig, a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine, the best example of a sports magazine since the early “Inside Sports.” We don’t know how many of the words are that of the athletes or the editors, but in the end it doesn’t matter because it’s great stuff. Davis described the LSU experience about as well as Wright Thompson could.
“People have to understand: I rooted for LSU when I was little,” Davis wrote. “That 2007 National Championship? It’s basically my first real memory as a sports fan. I was only in grade school, and man … I was obsessed with that team. Matt Flynn, Glenn Dorsey, Brandon LaFell, Early Doucet – those were my guys. That team was everything to me. And when they won the championship … Wow, I can’t even explain it. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so happy in my life. To me, it was bigger than the Super Bowl.”
And that Super Bowl came to New Orleans just two seasons later in 2009. And there was a Final Four appearance by the LSU men’s basketball team in 2006 and a baseball national title in 2009.
“My roots in Baton Rouge run much deeper than just football, though,” Davis continued. “It feels like I have a memory in every nook and cranny of the city. I swear, any time I’m talking to someone who’s visiting Baton Rouge – every place they mention, I have a story. That one area they passed through, you know, down by the water? Yeah, that’s my old fishing spot. That hole-in-the-wall restaurant they heard good things about? I’ve eaten their whole menu, twice over. The movie theater over at Perkins Rowe where they caught the new Star Wars? I went on my first date at Perkins Rowe. I’ve never forgotten where home was.”
And this is what got to me:
“And I’ve never forgotten how it gets, at home, when LSU is winning,” Davis wrote. “When Death Valley is rocking a winner – I mean, a real winner, when it’s got that National Championship Contender swag – it’s unlike anyplace else on Earth.”
That actually happened last season until a trip to Tuscaloosa, but people can’t seem to remember that.
“As a fan, those wins feel like a birthright,” he wrote. “I was born into those wins.”
Actually, the man partly responsible for Davis’ birth was none other than Lester Earl, the most hated man in Baton Rouge from 1998 until not that long ago. Earl was hated as much as Nick Saban by the LSU Nation. Earl was a stud big man out of Glen Oaks High in Baton Rouge in 1996 who was such a nationally acclaimed prospect that LSU basketball coach Dale Brown felt pressured to sign him even though, at times, he would have preferred not to do so. He and assistant coach Johnny Jones got him. It was a signing along the lines of Randy Livingston – now a just-hired LSU assistant coach – in 1994 and Shaquille O’Neal in 1989.
But things did not work out for LSU with Earl. He was suspended, reinstated, quit and ended up at Kansas. Earl’s subsequent testimony to the NCAA – whether pressured or not – that he received several thousand dollars from a LSU booster put the LSU basketball program on probation through the early 2000s.
When Earl played for Kansas in the NCAA Tournament in New Orleans in 1999, he was booed as if he was Steve Spurrier in the 1990s or Saban now. In fact, Earl was able to do something to LSU perhaps no one in history has ever done. He made LSU fans cheer for the Kentucky basketball team, which beat Kansas, 92-88, in overtime in the second round in the Superdome in 1999.
In 2007, Earl apologized to Brown, Jones and just about everyone else in the LSU Nation by hand delivering a letter to the Baton Rouge Advocate in the same year his son’s LSU national championship dreams were first born. If ever there was a kid who could be bitter by association toward LSU it could be Drake Davis. If ever there was a father who would have understandably steered his son away from LSU, it could’ve been Lester Earl, who lives in Kansas now, though most of his family remains in Baton Rouge, where his son grew up mainly with his mother.
Drake loves LSU. Good for him and good for his dad. Drake knows LSU coach Johnny Jones’ son John through AAU basketball in Baton Rouge.
“And as a hometown boy, in Baton Rouge, I grew up on those LSU football wins,” Davis wrote. “And I want to be a part of the next LSU team that captures the biggest of those wins. Thankfully, I know we have the recipe to do it. We have the talent. We have the coaching. And you better believe we have the best home-field advantage in sports.”
Love can indeed be blind. Nowhere in Davis’ six-page letter does he mention the quarterback problems LSU has had on and off – mostly on – since the end of that 2007 season under Miles. Sometimes some signings take minimal effort.
Davis, who was a soccer star in high school, may run track at LSU and wants to play a little basketball, naturally, as a walk-on. And he has a friend in a high place.
“I’ll never forget, at one of the home games I went to this season, walking by the student section and getting a tap on the shoulder,” he wrote. “It caught me off guard, because I didn’t think anyone would be able to reach that far from the student section to where I was standing. But then I turned around … and saw someone with, let’s just say, a pretty long reach. It was Ben Simmons.”
Simmons was at LSU only slightly longer than Earl and left amid his share of controversy and unfulfilled promise as well, but he is far from public enemy No. 1 status.
“Standing there, at the front of the student section, roaring and cheering with the rest of the Tiger faithful: Ben Simmons,” Davis wrote. “And he nodded at me, and I nodded at him. And then he pointed up at the crowd – like they were some wild orchestra he was conducting with his seven-foot wingspan – and shouted, ‘Drake! You know you want to be here. You know!’”
Make that one more assist for Simmons.
Welcome to LSU, Drake. And welcome back, Lester. You should take in some of his games – football and basketball. It is about time you are forgiven. And this time, both of you should stay awhile.