Three years after ascending to college football’s top wide receiver as winner of the 2019 Biletnikoff Award, LSU junior receiver Ja’Marr Chase’s recruiting journey that ultimately ended in Baton Rouge was like watching him run after catching passes.
Unpredictable changes of direction with a zig here and a zag there mixed with several stops and starts
The recruiting process of the 6-foot, 208-pound New Orleans Archbishop Rummel product proved to be anything but conventional.
He twice committed to out-of-state schools, was set to commit to an out-of-state school before a nationwide TV audience and strongly considered two other out-of-state programs.
“Every time that I wanted to go to a school, they always had a problem, or something was going on with that school,” Chase said. “Those were signs that wasn’t it.”
LSU remained steadfast in its pursuit of Chase, the state’s top-rated wide receiver, with head coach Ed Orgeron and wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph – a New Orleans native – remaining resolute until finally gaining his signature on National Signing Day in February of 2018.
Two years later, Chase is coming off a season for the ages. On LSU’s 2019 unbeaten national championship team, he established 10 single season receiving records (six LSU, four Southeastern Conference).
Now, he’s a projected top five pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, probably the first wide receiver drafted and could go as high as the No. 2 pick. The highest an LSU WR has ever been drafted was in 2014 when the New York Giants drafted Odell Beckham Jr. No. 12 overall.
“Everything that happened felt like a sign to me,” Chase said of his recruiting process. “Everything went wrong when I wanted it to go right. I never had a problem with LSU.”
Three days after Chase dropped his commitment to Kansas following an unofficial visit, LSU extended a scholarship offer in February 2017.
Chase then committed to the University of Florida five months later, then reversed field and de-committed the following November when head coach Jim McElwain was fired.
Then, it was Chase’s desire to honor his grandmother Thais Woods who was battling cancer that led him to his next decision.
Because of Woods’ fondness for purple, Chase decided to commit to TCU on her birthday which coincided with his participation in The Opening, an annual national combine where top prospects are seen and heard.
Chase’s decision to commit to TCU was supposed to be aired nationally after the NFL Network had approached him about committing live on TV. The network’s hour-long window was to include action from the event’s 7-on-7 competition and a list of players scheduled to announce their respective commitments.
Chase was scheduled for one of the later time slots, having put together a shoe box with a TCU hat, flag and gloves. He had orchestrated a skit with fellow TCU commitment Justin Rogers, who would join him on stage.
“We had it all worked out,” Chase said.
However, Chase never got the opportunity to pledge his allegiance to the Horned Frogs.
Greg Emerson, who was injured during the week of competition, limped on the NFL Network’s stage during an unscheduled appearance and committed to Tennessee.
So enthralled with the story, the network held Emerson for another segment. Chase was left without time to make his announcement.
“It just happened so fast,” he said “They said they didn’t have any more room on air. I said, `OK’ but wondered why did that really happen? What was the cause for it?”
Chase did a slow burn on the inside.
The NFL Network attempted to make amends for its snafu. It offered Chase another day to commit, but he declined.
Chase felt the oversight was inexcusable, especially on what was billed as such a special day when his grandmother would be watching her youngest grandchild honor her by picking a purple-clad school on her birthday.
“Everything I was doing was for her,” he said. “If I couldn’t do it the right way, then I wasn’t feeling it. I wanted to do it my way.”
With TCU now out of the picture, Chase resumed a recruiting process that still had six months to go without a clear leader.
Within the same time frame Chase watched a potential destination – Ole Miss – disintegrate when an NCAA investigation resulted in the firing of head coach Hugh Freeze and sanctions against the program.
Georgia also made a hard push to secure a visit from Chase, who cooled on the Bulldogs after looking at their depth chart at wide receiver.
Chase took an official visit to Michigan. It set the stage for a dramatic conclusion in the final week leading up to signing date with official visits to LSU and Auburn.
“I talked to my dad (Jimmy Chase) and we had Auburn and LSU in our heads,” Chase said. “I kept telling him that I loved the trip to Auburn, but LSU was good, too. We broke down a couple of small details about the offense, the schools and the people at the schools and it ended up being LSU. Then I started thinking about family and that’s pushed it over the top.”
Chase’s heart was still hurting. His grandmother passed away from cancer in January, but she’s remained at the fore of his thoughts ever since.
“I try to wear purple in every game I play,” he said. “I also have a prayer to myself before every game to have God look over me and let my grandmother know that she’s always with me.”
Not even Chase could have predicted the statistical windfall he experienced last season – 84 catches, 1,780 yards, 20 touchdowns – during LSU’s 15-0 national title run.
They paled in comparison to his preseason projections of 50 catches, 1,500 yards and 12 to 14 TDs .
“It wasn’t anywhere near to what I got,” Chase said. “I actually shocked myself with what happened. It just happened. It was so smooth and so fast.”
LSU’s spread offense was prolific with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow throwing an NCAA-record 60 TDs and Chase flourishing in the Tigers’ 48.4 points per game frenzy.
Not only did Chase become LSU’s first Biletnikoff Award winner in 18 years since Josh Reed, but he was the school’s 11th player – and first wide receiver – to become a unanimous first team All-American.
Chase was the first wide receiver in program history to record three 200-yard games in a season, capped by a nine-catch, 221-yard, two-touchdown explosion in the national championship game played in his hometown.
“The overall feeling was very great for me and my family,” Chase said of winning the Biletnikoff Award over Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and USC’s Michael Pittman Jr. “It was also pretty cool to walk on the red carpet (at the ESPN College Football Awards in Atlanta).”
There’s only been a pair of receivers – Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree and Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon – that have won the Biletnikoff Award in consecutive years. Blackmon was the last to accomplish the feat in 2010-11.
Not only will he have a new quarterback this season in first-time starter Myles Brennan, but Chase also relishes the challenge awaiting from opposing defenses scheming to slow one of the game’s top wide receivers.
“I think he’s going to have another breakout season,” Joseph said. “We know people are going to have some plans for him to make sure they take him away. He’s a great teammate and understands there are other dudes out there, so if they do take him away and he has a game where he has four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown and we win, he’s happy. He wants to win.”
Chase, who’s 10th on the school’s career receiving yardage list with 2,093 yards, said the respect afforded him ahead of the 2020 season has been humbling, but not overly consuming.
“It’s being the person that I already am and trying to keep a focused head,” he said. “I’m not overthinking the situation. I want to be a good teammate, be consistent and make plays. That’s my job.”
He’s already on the Maxwell Award Watch List and Walter Camp Preseason All-American team.
Moreover, Chase was granted the opportunity to wear the team’s prestigious No. 7 jersey, eschewing his traditional No. 1, and embraces the symbolism the jersey number represents. He’s also hopeful of having an indelible impact as former players who previously sported the No. 7 jersey, like Leonard Fournette, Tyrann Mathieu and Grant Delpit who were all from New Orleans.
“I’m just living in the moment and enjoying the work that I’m putting in, making memories with my teammates and coaches at LSU,” Chase said.
JA’MARR CHASE QUICK TAKES
When did you know football was your best sport? Middle school.
What’s your junk food weakness? Honey buns.
Favorite food or meal? Crawfish pasta.
What’s the hardest you’ve been hit and the hardest you’ve ever hit somebody? Got hit hard in ribs in Alabama game last year. Don’t remember ever hitting anyone that hard.
Best non-LSU player you’ve faced? Patrick Surtain Jr., Alabama cornerback.
Who was your favorite non-LSU coach when he was recruiting you? Tim Skipper, former Florida assistant.
What is one of your hidden talents? Playing basketball.
Name something you don’t know how to do no matter how hard you try? Completing a Rubik cube.
What is your favorite play from the 2019 season and why? Scoring on a 64-yard catch against Vanderbilt. I showed off my speed.
Favorite all-time pro receiver? Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints.
Favorite sports movie and why? The Blind Side. It was very funny.
Do you have a pregame ritual? Listen to certain music.
Do you have any superstitions? No.
Name something you fear? Snakes.
Favorite all-time athlete and why? Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets. He’s the best ball-handler in the NBA. He makes it look easy.
Best vacation you’ve ever taken? Atlanta.
What is your best sport besides football?mTrack.
If you could change one NCAA rule or on off-the field, what would it be? Being able to celebrate more in the end zone after a touchdown.
Most famous person you’ve ever met? Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns wide receiver.
Who’s the best trash talker on the team? Me or JaCoby Stevens.
Who’s the most influential person in your life and why? My father Jimmy Chase. He’s always pushing me.
Describe yourself in one word or a phrase? Elite
(This story and Q & A are in the Tiger Rag Magazine August preseason issue now available at the usual outlets)