|COLLEGE FB PACKAGE: LSU keeps it down home on road to No. 1|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 03 October 2007 11:27|
He wasn't alone, either.
Most of the top players from bayou country were eager to don the purple and gold of LSU.
``I believe the whole list of top 10 players from the state came here that year,'' remembered Dorsey, a defensive tackle who grew up in Gonzales, an outlet mall stop along the interstate and about a half-hour drive from the LSU campus. ``That's all we talked about. We all wanted to come here.''
While the Tigers (5-0) are No. 1 in The Associated Press rankings for the first time since 1959, they are hardly some out-of-the-woodwork program such as South Florida or Rutgers.
The Tigers, who host defending national champion Florida on Saturday night, have been on quite a roll since Nick Saban arrived at the beginning of the decade, his interest piqued by a study he came across during his days as an NFL assistant that showed Louisiana produced more pro players per capita than any other state.
Indeed, there was an astounding number of top high school talent coming out of all those cities and hamlets with French-sounding names, but many of them fled to other states for their college careers. Peyton Manning wound up at Tennessee. Warrick Dunn chose Florida State. Ed Reed picked Miami.
Saban believed he could build quite a program simply by keeping those sort of players at home. He turned out to be right on the mark, quickly building a consistent top 10 contender and claiming the BCS championship in just his fourth year on the job (it was a shared title, as Southern Cal was voted No. 1 in the AP poll).
While Saban moved on to the NFL's Miami Dolphins after the 2004 season, successor Les Miles was able to keep the pipeline flowing. The Tigers reached the Southeastern Conference championship game in 2005 and finished No. 3 in the rankings last season, wiping out Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
This season looks like more of the same, even though LSU had four players go in the first-round of the NFL draft in April.
``We have a situation now where we get a lot of young recruits who want to come because they see we're doing good things,'' said Dorsey, who could have been the fifth first-rounder of 2007 but decided to return for his senior season. ``Once you start to get it rolling, everyone wants to be a part of it.''
That success is evident on the field - and in the draft. Over the past five years, 26 LSU players have been selected by NFL teams, 18 of them Louisiana natives.
``It goes back to having great high school football,'' said safety Craig Steltz, who is from New Orleans. ``Most teams try to keep their players from within the state. Louisiana has done a great job of getting its top players to attend their schools.''
Steltz is being diplomatic when he uses a plural to describe Louisiana's top-level programs. Tulane, Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana Tech technically compete in the same division, but they are worlds apart when it comes to going against the Tigers in the recruiting battle.
This is an LSU state, pure and simple, which provides a definite advantage compared to other top SEC programs.
There is plenty of high school talent in Alabama, for instance, but they must be divvied up among two fierce rivals, Auburn and Saban's latest team, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Florida has longed banged heads with Florida State and Miami in recruiting, and now must contend with rising programs at South Florida and Central Florida. Border rivals Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina often have their eyes on the same players.
But LSU has largely walled off its talent-rich state, and even managed to poach off neighboring Texas and Mississippi.
If the commitments list is any indication, LSU is heading for another big recruiting year. Rivals.com says 16 players already are planning to sign with the Tigers next spring, nine of them from Louisiana. The list includes top prospects Matt Branch of Monroe, DeAngelo Peterson and Clay Peterson of Baton Rouge, and Brandon Taylor of Franklinton.
This year's roster is filled with homegrown talent. The top three rushers - Jacob Hester, Keiland Williams and Trindon Holliday - are from Louisiana. So is second-leading receiver Early Doucet and backup quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, who provides a running alternative to Texas-born starter Matt Flynn.
``We have some great athletes here, some great leaders here,'' Flynn said. ``When you have success, you start to get some big-time recruits. That's the main thing. Everyone has a really strong belief in this program.''
On the defensive side, Louisiana natives Dorsey and Steltz team with linebacker Ali Highsmith of Miami to form one of the country's stingiest groups. The Tigers have given up just 32 points all season, shutting out Mississippi State and Tennessee.
``They make offenses do what they want,'' Florida quarterback Tim Tebow said. ``They kind of just push offenses into position, so they can get big boys making plays up front.''
It's quite a change from the program that Saban inherited in 2000. The Tigers were the ones getting pushed around through most of the 1990s under Mike Archer, Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo, managing only three winning seasons in the 10-year period.
Saban quickly turned things around. LSU went 8-4 his debut season and captured a surprising SEC championship in Year 2 - its first conference title since 1988. The Tigers are 75-20 this decade, including a 43-15 mark in one of the nation's toughest football leagues.
Tiger Stadium, the 92,400-seat home field that once got so loud it registered as an earthquake in the school's Geology Department, is again living up to its fearsome nickname: ``Death Valley.''
Just imagine how crazy it's going to be when Florida (4-1) comes to town for LSU's first game as a No. 1-ranked team in nearly a half-century, on a Saturday night in Baton Rouge no less.
Gators coach Urban Meyer knows what his players are up against on the other side of the line.
``They keep plugging guys in there who are NFL players,'' he said. ``We're playing one of the most, if not the most, talented team in America. I haven't seen any more talented.''