From California to the Beltway, LSU's brand is relevant, and Orgeron is reaping the rewards

Glenn Guilbeau
The Daily Advertiser
Nov 17, 2018; Baton Rouge, LA, USA;  LSU Tigers running back Nick Brossette (4) and head coach Ed Orgeron celebrates a victory over Rice Owls by a score of 42-10 at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

BATON ROUGE — For a football program that won zero national championships from 1959-2002 with only four one-loss seasons over that four-decade span with 10 losing seasons from 1981-99, it has always been amazing what cache and mystique that the three letters L-S-U still managed to maintain.

LSU's record in Tiger Stadium at night over that span was actually no better than most places, but it didn't matter. The perception was LSU's live Bengal Tiger was scaring opponents to death and defeat while the locals partied at this exotic port of call before, during, and after the game like some kind of Bacchanalia on the Bayou.

MORE: LSU putting together a No. 1 class for 2020 on top of its No. 3 class from 2019

Then LSU began winning commensurate to its name recognition. There have been no losing seasons this century along with four SEC championships. From 2003-11, there were two national championships and a third national championship game appearance.

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Since 2012, though, there have been at least three losses in a season every year and exactly zero appearances in the College Football Playoffs final four that started in 2014. That could definitely change this season, but at the moment, LSU remains somewhere between above average and on the cusp of entering elite status again.

The LSU brand name, though, remains elite and carrying cache and mystique. Coach Ed Orgeron was reminded of this on coastal recruiting trips through the Washington, D.C. area and California over the spring and summer.

No less than eight of LSU's 22 commitments in its No. 1-ranked Class of 2020 are from either in or near the Interstate 495 Beltway around Washington, D.C (4) or from the West (4).

Photo: 247 Sports

Antoine Sampah (6 foot 3, 220 pounds) from Woodbridge High in Woodbridge, Virginia, is the No. 1 inside linebacker in the nation, according to Rakim Jarrett (6-0, 195) is the No. 2 wide receiver in the nation from St. John's College High in Washington, D.C. Both are five-star prospects. Jordan Toles (6-3, 200) from St. Frances High in Baltimore, Maryland, is the No. 2 safety in the nation 

LSU also has a commitment from four-star prospect Demon Clowney (6-5, 215), also of of St. Frances High in Balitimore. A cousin of 2014 No. 1 overall pick outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina by the Houston Texans, Demon Clowney is the No. 3 weak side defensive end in the nation.   

Elias Ricks (6-3, 192) of Santa Ana, California, is the No. 1-ranked cornerback in the nation. Jermaine Burton (6-2, 195) of Calabasas, California, is the No. 18 wide receiver in the nation. Kole Taylor (6-6, 225) of Grand Junction, Colorado, is the No. 9 tight end in the nation, and Jordan Berry (6-3, 280) is a three-star prospect from Harbor City, California.

Orgeron also signed a player from Utah and one from Arizona in his No. 3-ranked 2019 class — No. 5 defensive tackle Siaki "Apu" Ika (6-3, 330) of Salt Lake City, Utah, and No. 25 junior college prospect Soni Fonua (6-4, 225), a defensive end from Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona. Ika, who was the No. 1 prospect in Utah, was an early enrollee for the Tigers last January and may start for LSU this season at nose tackle.

None of the above areas are traditionally recruited by LSU, but they have been by the well-traveled Orgeron, a veteran recruiting ace who coached for Southern California from 1998-2004 and again from 2010-12, and had a stop at Syracuse from 1995-97.

And when he jumped in those waters, he needed no introduction.

"It wasn't very hard," Orgeron said of his D.C. dive. "I mean, we walk in there with 'LSU' on, and they were fired up, man. We got some of the best players for the 2020 class. Some others are coming to our camp (for 2021 and beyond). Guys are really interested."

In some cases, prospects called LSU before LSU contacted them.

"They said, 'Coach, we want to come to LSU,'" Orgeron said. "I said, 'Well, you're from far away.' They said, 'Coach, it doesn't matter. We want to come to LSU. You have a national brand. We like what you're doing. And we want to play in the SEC.' So that's what started it."

The SEC Network moves into its sixth season this fall. That has not hurt, but Orgeron and his staff, particularly safeties coach Bill Busch, are Energizer bunnies.

"It's one thing to send a letter to gauge interest to a kid in Salt Lake City or California; it's another thing to actually get on a plane and go there and watch him play," said recruiting website editor Michael Scarborough. "It also an SEC thing. The league helps every school. Everybody in the league is reaping the rewards of the SEC and the SEC Network. Kids from California — they want to play in the SEC."

Louisiana and its depth of talent, particularly in the skill positions, remains LSU's top priority.

"But the further we went out, and the more we went out, the more interest we had," Orgeron said. "So I went up there myself to Baltimore and D.C., and lo and behold it has been a good spot for us. There's a lot of interest in us across the country, but we always have got to recruit Louisiana first. So, we've got to be careful."