LSU coach Les Miles said the Tigers answered their needs with a class of 25 signees, but others were saying more. The Tigers were receiving plaudits as having no worse than the nation's No. 2 recruiting haul, and they were No. 1 in some books.
"With each class you have to answer questions that your team needs answered," Miles said. "I think this class did that."
The class includes possibly the top quarterback prospect in the country in Russell Shepard of Houston, Texas, and Louisiana's top recruit in Rueben Randle, a wide receiver from Bastrop who picked the Tigers over Oklahoma and, more important as far as LSU fans are concerned, Alabama.
Randle kept the Tigers waiting. His papers were the last in, coming in late in the afternoon of Signing Day. He was the team's 13th signee out of the state of Louisiana.
"We do what we can to control this state," Miles said, "and we've done so very effectively during our tenure here."
There were some losses, however, that likely would have clinched a consensus top ranking for LSU had those players signed with the Tigers. Bastrop wide receiver DeAngelo Benton, who signed with LSU in 2007 but has had academic issues that kept him from enrolling, ended up signing with Auburn. Kenny Bell, a wide receiver from Rayville, La., switched his commitment from the Tigers and signed with Alabama.
Dexter Pratt, a running back from Navasota, Texas, signed with Oklahoma State. Pratt was going to enroll at LSU in January but was not approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse. He switched to the Cowboys after a visit to OSU.
And Janzen Jackson, a prize defensive back from Barbe High in Lake Charles who had committed to the Tigers a year ago, pulled a late surprise by signing with Tennessee.
Five newcomers are already on campus, including Shepard. The others are Kevin Minter, a linebacker out of Suwanee, Ga.; Kevin Garrett, a quarterback from Tupelo, Miss.; Drayton Calhoun, a running back from Tucker, Ga.; and Derek Hilton, a punter from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College.
QB Russell Shepard, Houston, Texas -- Rivals.com rates Shepard the top dual-threat quarterback in the country and the No. 1 prospect overall at the position. He ran for 1,946 yards and threw for 1,843 as a senior. With the Tigers returning two players (Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee) who had starts in 2008, Shepard could be moved to wide receiver, which needs depth, for the 2009 season.
DT Chris Davenport, Mansfield, La. -- Davenport played only four games as a senior because of knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus during the summer. Nevertheless, he was a consensus five-star prospect that Rivals.com rated the No. 5 defensive tackle and No. 25 prospect overall. The Tigers will be looking to fill some needs up front defensively, opening the way for him to step in.
DL Akiem Hicks, Elk Grove, Calif. -- A junior college transfer from Sacramento City (Calif.) Community College, Hicks, 6-6, 300, looks to step in and contribute right away. Coach Les Miles describes him as a "very mature, very big, strong, athletic man" who "is going to help us inside."
DE Sam Montgomery, Greenwood, S.C. -- Rated one of the top defensive end prospects in the country, Montgomery was thought to be headed for North Carolina. He's 6-5, 260, and rated the No. 3 pass rusher in the country by Rivals.com after recording 11 sacks among his 85 tackles as a senior. He had 15 sacks as a junior. The Tigers are going to be looking for help up front, and he fills that need.
DB Craig Loston, Houston, Texas -- He's a consensus choice as the No. 1 safety prospect in the country. He also played wide receiver at Eisenhower High, but will stay on defense for the Tigers. "We needed some safeties," Miles said.
WR Rueben Randle, Bastrop, La. -- Randle, 6-3, 195, helped Bastrop to a 26-2 record and one state championship in the last two seasons. He had 55 catches as a junior and then switched to quarterback as a senior and threw for 2,461 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also rushed for 683 yards. He had seven catches in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He looks to get playing time as a freshman.
RB Michael Ford, Leesville, La. -- Ford, 5-10, 200, ran for nearly 3,000 yards his senior season, coming up just short at 2,953. He had nine games of 200 or more yards rushing and scored 29 touchdowns. He had 567 yards rushing in just four games as a junior before breaking his collarbone. Scout.com rates him the No. 17 overall player.NOTES, QUOTES
--The best news LSU could have gotten came over a couple of days in January when WR Brandon LaFell announced he would return to the Tigers after first saying he was going to enter the NFL draft. LaFell has 118 career receptions for 1,725 and 18 touchdowns and has a good chance of finishing in the school's top 10 in all three categories. RB Charles Scott and LT Ciron Black also announced their intentions to return for their senior seasons. Scott ran for 1,174 yards and scored 18 touchdowns last season.
--The Tigers have three new coaches on the staff, all on the defensive side. John Chavis comes from Tennessee to serve as coordinator, Ron Cooper from South Carolina to take over defensive backs, and Brick Haley from the Chicago Bears to take over the defensive line.
--LSU's spring game will be April 18. The Tigers will begin drills on March 12, a slightly later start to help the new coaches get acclimated to the personnel and area.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We had real needs in the defensive line. If you look at the number of defensive ends that we graduate, we graduated our top three defensive ends, so we had to replace a position that was key to us to have great defense. We really think we did that." -- Coach Les Miles, on LSU's recruiting class.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SPRING AHEAD: The quarterback situation likely was settled with freshman Jordan Jefferson's play against Arkansas in the regular season and against Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but Jarrett Lee could be back in the picture if he quits throwing interceptions. Incoming freshman QB Russell Shepard could get a look at wide receiver. The Tigers have 13 starters back but have some big holes to fill on defense, especially up front.
DE Tyson Jackson -- Jackson is considered just an average pass rusher after registering only eight sacks over his last two seasons. At 6-5, 290, he has a big frame, however, and saw some time at tackle last season. He could go as high as the second round.
DT Ricky Jean-Francois -- He decided to pass up his senior season after being hampered by injuries and academic problems the last three years. He is somewhat of a mystery who could go anywhere from the first to third round.
OG Herman Johnson -- Johnson played a prominent role up front for the Tigers. He's huge at 6-7, 375, and has played tackle as well as earning All-SEC honors at guard. He is rated a second-round choice.
WR Demetrius Byrd -- Byrd didn't have the big senior season expected of him after making an immediate impact in LSU's national championship 2007 season, but he has good speed and hands and is 6-3, 200. He looks like a safe mid-round choice.
LB Darry Beckwith -- Beckwith was a finalist for the Butkus Award that goes to the nation's top linebacker and is considered one of the top prospects at inside linebacker. He is projected as a second- or third-round choice.
DE Kirston Pittman -- Pittman, who was granted a sixth-round of eligibility in 2008 for medical reasons, has been part of two national championship teams for the Tigers. Listed as 6-4, 254, he's a possible second-day pick in the draft.
DT Marlon Favorite -- Favorite, 6-1 and 295, is a second-day draft candidate after starting seven games during the regular season in the rotation in the defensive front.
DT Charles Alexander -- Alexander had to deal with injuries the last two seasons but at 6-3, 310 he could rate a late-round gamble.
--WR Ricky Dixon, who would have been a junior in 2009, has decided to transfer. He was a backup and appeared in 10 games last season. He had two catches in two seasons.
--QB Andrew Hatch will return to Harvard, where he started his collegiate career before transferring to LSU following a stint on a church mission. Hatch played in seven games with the Tigers, including three starts in 2008 before injuring his leg.
Previous Report: 01/05/2009