NCF Nation: Sione Teuhema

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Jalen Mills wasn’t even sure what position he would play if he returned for his senior season at LSU.

But regardless of whether he plays cornerback or safety this fall, Mills had greater concerns when he decided the join the unusually large -- by LSU standards, anyway -- group of draft-eligible players who decided to turn down the NFL for at least another year.

He and the other returning Tigers want to be remembered for more than simply staying just long enough to earn a pro football paycheck.

[+] EnlargeJalen Mills
Gerald Herbert/AP PhotoJalen Mills decided against entering the NFL draft so he could make a run at a national championship.
“We have a little group text message between us guys, just us, and that’s all we talk about. That’s the reason why we wanted to come back,” said Mills, already a three-year starter in LSU’s secondary. “Of course you want to get your degree, but for the most part, you want to win a national championship.”

Seated in the Tigers’ team meeting room, Mills looked up toward the collage of former Tigers greats such as Glenn Dorsey that borders the room’s massive film screen and pointed.

“You want to be those guys in the meeting room where you have these guys up there,” Mills said. “You want to be those guys that are always talked about. You want to be those guys in the record book, ‘This is the team that won the national championship, these are the guys who came back and made that happen.’ You want to be those guys, and I feel like that is really what put all these guys over the edge to come back.”

It says something about how hard LSU has been hit by early draft entry in the last couple of years that losing just three juniors to the NFL this year -- linebacker Kwon Alexander, cornerback Jalen Collins and defensive end Danielle Hunter -- was cause for celebration.

Only three college programs (Florida State with five and USC and Florida with four apiece) lost more underclassmen than LSU, but this was nothing compared to the Tigers’ draft hit following the 2012 and 2013 seasons. A whopping 11 LSU underclassmen entered the draft after the 2012 season and seven more players with college eligibility remaining made the jump after last season.

Perhaps that makes Mills’ championship goal more realistic since the 2015 Tigers will have fewer glaring holes to fill. In fact, he might be a candidate to fill one of those holes since Collins and fellow cornerback Rashard Robinson have both left the program. Mills spent nearly all of his first two college seasons at cornerback before shifting to safety to address depth concerns.

“When the safety numbers are low and the corner numbers are high, I moved to safety. And now the corner numbers are low and the safety numbers are high, [so] it’s a possibility I could move to corner,” Mills said. “I haven’t really met with the defensive staff yet. I’m pretty sure something is going to happen pretty soon with spring ball right around the corner.”

Several factors could impact that outcome. How will Dwayne Thomas bounce back from a torn ACL? And who will the Tigers land on the recruiting trail? They are still in the running for some coveted defensive back recruits, and ESPN’s No. 10 overall prospect Kevin Toliver II (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian) is already on campus and will practice at cornerback in the spring.

Mills said he was encouraged by Toliver’s response when he approached him shortly after LSU’s spring semester classes started and invited him to participate in drillwork with several veteran DBs.

“I told him, ‘Hey man, I know you like that room, I know you like that bed, but it’s time. You’re not in high school no more,’” Mills said. “And he kind of told me, ‘All right, just give me a call when you guys want to do drills or whatever.’ So we’re going to get him rolling.”

Otherwise, the Tigers’ most important holes to fill are at offensive tackle – Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander expect to fill those spots and defensive end, where starters Hunter and Jermauria Rasco are both gone.

In December, Hunter pointed at Tashawn Bower and Sione Teuhema as possible replacements.

“There’s a couple of guys down there,” Hunter said. “You’ve got Sione, you’ve got Tashawn. Those guys are guys that we look up to, guys that we can see coming to be the next great pass-rusher here at LSU.”

Lastly, LSU will once again feature youth in the backfield. Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams distinguished themselves last season as freshmen, and the Tigers will rely on first-year players once again at both fullback and tailback.

Senior tailbacks Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee are both gone, as are fullbacks Connor Neighbors and Melvin Jones, so this will be an important class to address backfield depth.

The good news is that versatile David Ducre (Mandeville, La./Lakeshore) is already on campus, plus the Tigers have verbal commitments from homegrown ESPN 300 backs Derrius Guice (Baton Rouge, La./Catholic) and Nick Brossette (Baton Rouge, La./University Laboratory).

Of course with last year’s No. 1 overall prospect Fournette already on campus, those freshmen will not face immense pressure to produce immediately. He seems prepared to take another step forward after setting a freshman rushing record with 1,034 yards in 2014.

“That dude there is ridiculous,” Hawkins said. “I just can’t wait to block for him. All our running backs, but especially him. There’s just something special about him. He’s going to pretty much shock the world this year.”
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With two weeks left until national signing day, new LSU assistants Kevin Steele and Ed Orgeron have an opportunity to show why they are considered two of the most effective recruiters in the Southeast.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesEd Orgeron and LSU's recruiting gurus have their work cut out for them, especially on the defensive front.
Much like at this time a year ago, the Tigers have numerous spots to fill in their 2015 recruiting class, and if they close with coveted recruits like they did then, LSU's late rise could once again rank among the top stories Feb. 4.

"We're going to get it, and we're going to go after every top player in the country," Orgeron said. "I don't care if they're committed to somewhere or not. We're going to take our shot, and I'm going to go in there and try to bring back the best players that we can at LSU."

LSU's hope is that adding Steele and Orgeron -- both of whom have been named national recruiter of the year at some point by a recruiting service, as has Tigers recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson -- will spark further interest from top prospects Les Miles' staff has been recruiting for months.

They've already got five-star cornerback Kevin Toliver -- the No. 10 overall prospect in the ESPN 300 -- on campus as an early enrollee and are still pushing hard to land additional top-10 prospects, including No. 1 Byron Cowart (Seffner, Florida/Armwood), No. 4 Iman Marshall (Long Beach, California/Long Beach Polytechnic) and No. 9 CeCe Jefferson (Glen Saint Mary, Florida/Baker County).

With Toliver already enrolled, adding Marshall, athlete/cornerback Donte Jackson (Jefferson, Louisiana/Riverdale), Xavier Lewis (Laplace, Louisiana/East Saint John) and Jeremy Cutrer (Kentwood, Louisiana/Mississippi Gulf Coast CC) would easily put LSU in contention for the nation's top group of defensive back signees.

Same with the defensive line, if Orgeron helps sway defensive ends Cowart, Jefferson and/or No. 24 overall prospect Arden Key (Lithonia, Georgia/Hapeville Charter), who visited LSU this past weekend. Beefing up the D-line was one of Orgeron's stated objectives when he officially joined Miles' staff last week.

"You've got to recruit those animals up front, and you've got to get them in a bad mood and develop them," Orgeron said with a chuckle.

They also have holes to fill at linebacker after losing junior Kwon Alexander to the NFL and senior D.J. Welter to graduation. LSU has not secured a commitment from a linebacker yet for this class and signed just two, Clifton Garrett and Donnie Alexander, in 2014. A name to watch in the next two weeks is that of Ole Miss commit Leo Lewis (Brookhaven, Mississippi/Brookhaven), the No. 2 inside linebacker and No. 60 overall prospect, whom LSU continues to pursue.

LSU finished with ESPN's No. 2 recruiting class last year, thanks to a late push on national signing day. Not only did the Tigers secure a signature from top overall prospect Leonard Fournette, but they also held on to a commitment from ESPN 300 defensive end Deondre Clark, added four-star prospects Malachi Dupre (the nation's No. 1 receiver), Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao, and convinced three-star prospect Sione Teuhema and his brother, Maea, ESPN's No. 2 offensive guard and No. 71 overall prospect for 2015, to sign with LSU over Texas.

It's far from a given that LSU will make a similar leap in the recruiting rankings when the dust settles in two weeks, but it's still a distinct possibility. Prior to Jackson's announcement Wednesday, LSU had ESPN's No. 13 class with just 16 slots filled.

If the Tigers sign their customary 25 players and fill the remaining spots with some of the big fish remaining on their board, they are sure to make another huge move on signing day.

That was an expected outcome when some in the media anointed Miles' restructured coaching staff a recruiting dream team after Steele and Orgeron came aboard. Now, as Orgeron admitted, it's time for them to prove there was something behind the hype.

"There's some tremendous recruiters [at LSU], but we have to produce. I'm into production," Orgeron said. "Let's see what the production is, and then let's declare that after we produce."

Sigh of relief at LSU

February, 5, 2014
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson seemed to be experiencing more than one emotion Wednesday as he and his fellow coaches put the finishing touches on the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class.

“Huge sigh of relief. Hard work vindicated,” Wilson said on the program's signing day special that aired on the school's website. “For such a long time, you've put in hard work -- not only our staff, the 10 on-field coaches, but the entire support staff from the top to the bottom.”

[+] EnlargeMalachi Dupre
ESPNLanding Malachi Dupre, the nation's No. 1 WR, helped LSU climb to No. 2 in the class rankings.
Wilson was obviously excited, as well, and for good reason. The Tigers not only landed one of the top three remaining uncommitted players in the ESPN 300 -- New Orleans receiver Malachi Dupre, the nation's top receiver prospect -- but they added a pair of four-star defensive linemen in Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao. They also flipped defensive end Sione Teuhema from Texas, which should help them sign Teuhema's brother, Maea, who will be one of next year's top offensive line prospects.

They also held onto at least one -- and probably both -- of the ESPN 300 defensive ends who wavered on their verbal commitments (Davon Godchaux and Deondre Clark) to the Tigers. LSU has yet to officially confirm Clark's signing, but received his national letter of intent paperwork.

Add the good fortune on signing day to a recruiting cycle that helped LSU land the nation's top overall prospect, tailback Leonard Fournette, and two more players ranked first at their position, plus three players who ranked second. Clark's signature would make 16 ESPN 300 selections in LSU's 22-man class.

“I like, more importantly than being a five star, that these guys are in our class, they were evaluated by our coaches and they fill our needs,” LSU coach Les Miles.

Wilson barely even had an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor on Wednesday, however. Shortly after LSU received the final NLI on signing day, the recruiting staff had already erased its 2014 wish list off the board in its “war room.”

“The board is cleaned off, '15 is up, '16's behind them, and I'm like, 'Wait!' It's minutes guys, you haven't even given me a chance,” Wilson chuckled. “That's the reality of it. It's forever moving at a fast pace.”