BATON ROUGE, La. -- Ed Orgeron learned that Marvin Wilson, the nation's top uncommitted prospect, was not LSU-bound at the same time everyone else did: when Wilson announced Wednesday that he would instead sign with Florida State.
Orgeron had hoped that Wilson, ESPN’s No. 4 national prospect and top defensive tackle, would be the final piece to cap his first signing class as the Tigers’ full-time head coach. Instead, he had only 20 minutes at the end of a long day to digest the bad news on Wilson before taking the podium to discuss his recruiting class with the media.
“Obviously, we lost some guys at the end we’re very disappointed in, but we feel that we have a great recruiting class,” Orgeron said.
There’s no way to get around it: Losing out on Wilson was extremely disappointing news for LSU. The staff thought it had done enough to get him and believed he would become an immediate difference-maker.
Wilson’s decision prevented LSU from making a massive splash at the end of the day, but that doesn’t make the end of Orgeron’s statement any less true. It is a great recruiting class.
In fact, it was one of the best that anybody has assembled in his first full signing period as a program’s head coach. LSU’s 23-man class finished seventh in ESPN’s team recruiting rankings. Only Ohio State’s Urban Meyer (sixth in 2012) and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher (sixth in 2010) fared better with their first signing classes since ESPN began its recruiting rankings in 2006.
For purposes of comparison, measure Orgeron’s results against those of new Texas coach Tom Herman, who in November was Orgeron’s top competition for the LSU gig. Both men were hired Nov. 26, just after the 2016 regular season ended. In the 67 days between their hiring date and national signing day, they experienced far different results on the recruiting trail.
Orgeron managed to hold together a top-10 class with little attrition. Even after missing out on Wilson, a Houston native, LSU still managed to nab three of the top seven recruits in the state of Texas: No. 19 overall prospect Austin Deculus, No. 23 Kary Vincent and No. 34 K’Lavon Chaisson.
Herman and the Longhorns landed none of their home state’s top 10 -- the first time that has happened in the ESPN 300 era -- and Texas’ fewest ESPN 300 honorees (five) since 2006.
Orgeron was LSU’s defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator before taking over as interim coach in late September, and his staff remained largely intact after the head-coaching change from Les Miles to Orgeron. That is an obvious advantage over the situation Herman inherited in Austin, where he assembled a new staff.
Orgeron believes continuity played a big role in salvaging LSU’s class.
“I think most of our recruits were looking for the staff to stay the same and me to be the head football coach,” he said. “And when I became the head football coach, it was more or less a celebration when we went into most of these homes.”
Orgeron’s staff did more than salvage the class, however. The Tigers’ nine top-100 signees tied with the haul of Georgia and Ohio State for second-most in the country, trailing only Alabama’s 11. Two top-100 players -- Chaisson and homegrown safety Todd Harris -- joined the class on Wednesday, as did ESPN 300 linebacker Tyler Taylor.
Those late additions, particularly the linebackers -- a group that also benefited from an 11th-hour flip by former Oklahoma commit Jacob Phillips (No. 141 overall, No. 3 inside linebacker) -- more than effectively addressed LSU’s greatest positional need. The Tigers lost starting senior linebackers Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley and did not return exceptional depth at the position.
“There’s a void there, so there’s an opportunity to come in and play right away,” LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said Wednesday on ESPN.
Orgeron described Phillips as “the best middle linebacker in the country” and told fans at the “Bayou Bash” signing-day celebration that Taylor “looks just like Kendell Beckwith.”
LSU’s front-seven additions -- defensive tackles Tyler Shelvin and Neil Farrell and linebacker Patrick Queen also deserve mentions here -- are the centerpiece of this class, but LSU also addressed its needs at several other key areas.
A safety position that lost veterans Jamal Adams and Rickey Jefferson. Add ESPN 300 trio of JaCoby Stevens (No. 25 overall, No. 3 athlete), Grant Delpit (No. 47, No. 5 safety) and Harris (No. 83, No. 8 safety). Stevens and Delpit are both early enrollees.
“I feel like this is a perfect time for me to go in and show what I can do, because there’s basically going to be a position battle,” Harris told ESPN.com Wednesday morning after announcing his decision live on ESPNU. “I’m just ready to go in and work.”
A quarterback position that will lose Danny Etling and Brandon Harris within the next year. LSU signed a pocket passer, Myles Brennan (No. 96, No. 4 PP), and a dual-threat early enrollee, Lowell Narcisse (No. 125, No. 5 DT).
Everyone could use another high-end offensive tackle. Enter Deculus, another early enrollee and, at No. 19 overall, LSU’s highest-rated signee in the ESPN player rankings.
Meanwhile, whiffing on Wilson wasn’t the only low point of the day for LSU.
Orgeron’s staff will have to hit the running back position hard next year after signing only one, Clyde Edwards-Helaire (No. 219 overall, No. 19 RB), on Wednesday. Rising junior running back Derrius Guice will be eligible for the NFL draft after next season, and backup Darrel Williams will be a senior, creating a possible experience void after this season.
“Next year we’re going to have to go out and get the best running back in the country,” Orgeron said. "One, maybe two."
Orgeron also acknowledged that his staff must do a better job of recruiting the home state after landing just four of the top 10 players in Louisiana.
Alabama grabbed three of the state’s top 11 in defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis, outside linebacker Chris Allen and wide receiver Devonta Smith. And that doesn’t even include another pair of Alabama signees -- No. 5 overall prospect Dylan Moses, a Baton Rouge native who transferred to Florida’s IMG Academy last year, and Isaiah Buggs, the No. 5 defensive lineman on ESPN’s JC50 -- who also hail from Louisiana.
“I said we’re going to get the best players in the state of Louisiana to come here,” Orgeron said. “We missed out on some guys. Obviously, we have work to do, and that’s always going to be our primary area. And those are some of the things that we need to get fixed.”
We could nitpick aspects of nearly every class, though.
There is still no doubt the members of Orgeron’s staff held together and added to one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. That they did it without the luxury of a full year as an intact staff makes their feat all the more unusual.
“My whole objective when I became interim coach was to win enough games to get the job,” Orgeron said. “Now, we kept on recruiting guys, obviously, but we didn’t start recruiting until I became full-time coach. So we had about a month there, a month-and-a-half after I got this job, and I’m really excited about our recruiting staff within the department of our football staff, that we pulled together to get most of the good players in the country.”