LSU was on the ground level of Olive Branch (Miss.) tight end Jalen Shead’s recruiting process when he jumped from relative anonymity into the crosshairs of a hotly contested battle between Southeastern Conference Western Division rivals.
Shead, a former basketball player who played football for the first time as a junior, made an unofficial visit to LSU at the start of spring practice. He received a scholarship offer three months later and on Sunday committed to the Tigers over Alabama and Ole Miss.
“I got to visit LSU like the day before they shut things down because of the virus and that was huge,” Shead told Rivals.com. “I was there with (former high school teammate and LSU freshman offensive lineman) Xavier Hill for a spring practice and I got to see the team work, I looked around the campus, I saw the facilities, and that’s where I met coach (LSU offensive coordinator) Coach (Steve) Ensminger.
“They had not offered me at that time, but I gave Coach Ensminger my film, they eventually offered and that’s how it got started with LSU. “I have had a good feeling about them for a while. Just the way they have gotten to know me and recruited me made that impression on me. We have that trust, the connection with (tight ends) Coach (Derek) Shay and what I saw last season all played a role. The academic side of things did as well.”
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Shead – a three-star prospect – becomes the first tight end in LSU’s current recruiting class that now boasts 18 commitments and is ranked third nationally behind Ohio State and Alabama by 247Sports.
Moreover, Shead is the nation’s No. 34 rated tight end by Rivals.com and the No. 10 prospect in Mississippi which has also contributed wide receiver Deion Smith (Jackson-Provine) to LSU’s recruiting class.
The addition of Shead is considered to be the perfect complement to the pair of freshman tight ends LSU signed a year ago in Arik Gilbert and Kole Taylor.
Before earning a scholarship offer, Shead made the first of two unofficial visits to LSU.
The first was to watch the Tigers celebrate their undefeated 15-0 season and national championship during an on-campus parade before moving to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Then, he was able to take in one of LSU’s three spring practices in March before the rest of the spring was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“They recruited me the hardest, they got to know me the most and they made me feel important,” Shead said. “They made me feel wanted and not just needed. They are just different.”
Shead, who also plays defensive end and punts, spent the majority of his first season in Olive Branch’s offense helping block for running backs Gary Banks II, who rushed for 1,641 yards and 16 TDs, and Preston Jeffries, who added 840 yards and 11 TDs.
He’s expected to flex out this season and become a bigger receiving threat in much the same mold of LSU’s Thaddeus Moss, who established the school receiving record for tight ends last season with 47 catches for 570 yards and 4 TDs.
“LSU does like the tight end and he (Shay) compared me to Thaddeus Moss,” Shead said. “He thinks I am a lot like him. I really like what they did with him last season. Moss was not the fastest, but he got open and knew how to work the field. He was a good blocker and I like the fit I have in the offense like he did.”