Who’s Ali Gaye? Right now, he could be the best DE in the SEC

You can scroll down more than three-quarters of the list of signees in LSU’s class of 2020 before you arrived at defensive end Ali Gaye.

There were notable headliners along the way in the Tigers’ fourth-rated class nationally, including a trio of five-star standouts in tight end Arik Gilbert, Elias Ricks and Kayshon Boutte – all of whom have either started or played in the Tigers’ first two games this season.

Regardless of whether Gaye was considered a rather nondescript three-star prospect out of Garden City (Kansas) Community College, it’s hard to imagine where LSU’s defense would be without the menacing 6-foot-6, 262-pound force going into Saturday’s 11 a.m. Southeastern Conference game at Missouri.

Gaye leads the Tigers in tackles for loss with three for minus-seven yards and is first in passes broken up with three.

“He came and started making improvement every day,” LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron said. “During COVID, he didn’t go home. He stayed here, learned, studied and worked out on his own. In camp, he just kept coming and coming.”

Gaye, who enrolled at LSU in January, explained during that period of uncertainty where players had the option of remaining in Baton Rouge or returning home, he chose the former.

Instead of heading back to Edmonds, Wash., where he had limited access to workout equipment during the coronavirus pandemic, Gaye embraced the opportunity to continue working with his teammates to remain in shape once LSU was able to conduct voluntary workouts in June.

“I knew I wouldn’t get a lot of work done,” Gaye said in reference to going back home. “I was around my teammates and was able to get some work done with them. I stayed in shape and continued to work. We knew eventually we’d have to come back in the summer to get back to training. I stayed ready whenever we got the call to go back.”

Such dedication proved beneficial for Gaye, who was locked in a tense battle for playing time at one of LSU’s starting defensive end positions.

With the Tigers switching to a 4-3 alignment in first-year defensive coordinator Bo Pelini’s attack-style, no player has adapted quicker than Gaye. He was the No. 2 rated junior college defensive end a year ago at Garden City where he registered 44 tackles.

Gaye quickly rationalized the reason he’s already matched the one sack he produced at Garden City to go along with two quarterback hurries and three passes he’s broken up.

“I feel like most of its coaching and being in a different environment where the defensive line is really important,” he said. “Being in a different conference where it’s an attack-mode defense. That’s what clicked for me and why I’m playing the way I’m playing right now.”

Gaye was one of LSU’s silver linings in its 44-34 season opening loss to Mississippi State and quarterback K.J. Costello, who threw for 623 yards and five touchdowns.

‘In a terrific major college debut, Gaye wound up with three tackles, two for losses, a sack, broke up three passes and had 11 QB pressures, according to the LSU coaches game film.

“I didn’t know he was going to have that type of game,” Orgeron said. “I thought he had an excellent game. He had a lot of pressures, some batted balls. He played the run very well. I think he’s going to have an excellent year for us.”

Orgeron joked afterward that such a performance could reduce Gaye’s time in LSU before he undoubtedly started winding up on the radars of NFL scouts.

“I hope we can keep him here for two years,” Orgeron said in reference to Gaye’s immense ability and the potential of him declaring the for NFL draft after this season.

It would be quite a script for Gaye, who moved with his family from The Gambia – located on the coast of West Africa – to Seattle at the age of 12 where he learned how to play football.

Six years later, Gaye signed with the University of Washington in February of 2017, but wasn’t academically qualified and headed to Yuma, Ariz. to play at Arizona Western College.

He played one season when the school announced Dec. 5, 2018 that because of financial concerns, it was dropping its football program after six decades of competition.

The school’s winningest coach, Tom Minnick, left to become head coach at Garden City where Gaye opted to transfer and finished his junior college career where such schools as LSU and Oklahoma extended scholarship offers.

Gaye, who was recruited by LSU safeties coach Bill Busch, committed to the Tigers June 10, 2019 and enrolled seven months later. In the midst of the COVID-19 health scare, has emerged as not only one of the Tigers top defensive players, but one of the best in the SEC.

“I feel like I still have a long way to go as a player and a lot of improvement to make,” Gaye said. “Just executing better each game. I’m a little rusty on my run (stopping) game. My passing (rushing) game still needs work to do. All I can do is keep working and working and keep improving every game. There’s a lot of work to get done.”

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