When considering recruiting battles between LSU and South Carolina, one big name -- and one big player -- probably comes to mind.
On top of his talents as a pass rusher and his off field quirks, LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery stands out like a sore thumb on the Tigers' roster for a geographical reason: he hails from Greenwood, S.C. He's the only player on the team from the Palmetto State, and he's one of the first South Carolinians on the team in quite some time.
"I don't think there's many of us -- maybe like two," Montgomery said.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound pass rusher was a signing day coup for Les Miles because of the long distance and the last-minute nature of his decision. But his recruitment doesn't exactly reflect a battle between the two programs for recruits. Montgomery wound up choosing the Tigers over the home state team, but his motivations for doing so aren't what you usually hear from local prospects.
"I just wanted to be different -- I didn't want to take the same route as everybody going to South Carolina and Clemson. Besides, LSU is known for their tradition on defense," Montgomery said. "I wanted to go someplace else and show that people from South Carolina can go around the world to play football."
But it does send a similar message about South Carolina to what Tiger fans are familiar with hearing about LSU. The Gamecocks have built a fence around their state, for the most part. Top talents like 2011 superstar Jadeveon Clowney, who was courted by LSU, have chosen the home-state school. But just as we've seen with high-profile Louisiana natives like Landon Collins and Torshiro Davis, big-time talent isn't always a lock to stay at home.
But as far as LSU goes, Montgomery is more of the exception than the rule. The Gamecocks don't come as far west as Louisiana to recruit often, and LSU rarely goes that far east. Predictably, any recruiting battles the pair wage are centered around the talent-rich and centrally located state of Georgia.
LSU currently has five scholarship players from Georgia on its roster with as many as nine in recent seasons. Three of the five -- J.C. Copeland, Kevin Minter and Vadal Alexander -- held South Carolina offers.
The Gamecocks lean on their neighboring state much more, with a robust 25 Georgians on board. It's no surprise that of the Tigers' 22 current commits, the only three to receive interest from the Gamecocks are nearby prospects. Two of them, offensive guard Andy Dodd and quarterback Anthony Jennings, are from Georgia. The third, defensive end Lewis Neal, is from northern neighbor North Carolina.
LSU does have connections to South Carolina that make it an occasional player, however. Defensive coordinator John Chavis hails from South Carolina. Former LSU secondary coach Ron Cooper, who recently departed for the NFL, used to work in the same capacity for Steve Spurrier and aggressively recruited his old stomping grounds.
It was Chavis who pursued offensive tackle D.J. Park of Dillon, S.C., before his eventual commitment to South Carolina in January. On top of that the Tigers have been in the pursuit for several of the states notable players, such as Clowney and Montgomery.
But stats are still stats. Because of the distance between them and because the two teams rarely play each other, it's likely cases like Montgomery's will remain unusual. But considering the junior's production on the defensive line this season, it's a worthwhile reminder: recruiting battles can be turning points for programs, regardless of how rarely they occur.
As for Montgomery and future players like him, the unprecedented nature of his decision puts him in a big spot on occasions, such as this weekend, when his home state school comes to call. Montgomery knows many current member of the Gamecocks' roster, and he knows his Tigers' showdown with South Carolina will be something he never forgets -- for better or worse.
"It's just like this: this is going to be bragging rights for the rest of our lives," he said. "If I beat them I can say that I remember when we play them, and I know that I beat y'all -- and nothing else matters. If they beat me it'll be 'Yeah you're from South Carolina, but I remember when we came down there and put a whooping on you.' So it's about that, it's about LSU versus South Carolina -- it's about a little bit of everything."