ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — LSU fans watching last year’s Under Armour All-America Game saw one of the recruiting class’ most unforgettable recruiting moments: Louisiana’s top prospect shocking his mother by turning down his home-state school for Alabama.
Friday night’s 2013 game brought a much happier sight for Tigers fans — Kendell Beckwith putting on a purple and gold cap for a nationally televised ESPN audience.
Beckwith, the East Feliciana High School standout and one of the country’s top 100 recruits, announced his verbal commitment to LSU — over Alabama — during the first quarter of his team’s 16-3 loss at Tropicana Field.
“At the end of the day, throughout the process, and taking everything in and seeing both programs, LSU is really what I felt comfortable with,” said Beckwith, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior. “Being that it’s close to home, it made it all better.”
Beckwith’s decision avoids a bad case of déjà vu for Tigers fans.
At last year’s all-star game, the state’s top recruit and the country’s No. 1 safety, Dutchtown’s Landon Collins, spurned LSU — and the wishes of his mom — by committing to the Crimson Tide, four days before the teams met in the national championship game.
Like Collins, Beckwith strongly considered Alabama, and he visited the Tide last month. But the four-hour trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., is what convinced him to go from an East Feliciana Tiger to an LSU Tiger.
“I really realized that there’s nothing at Alabama that I can’t do at LSU,” Beckwith said.
Beckwith is regarded as one of the state’s top prospects. Rivals ranks him No. 84 in the country and the nation’s fifth-best athlete. He’s listed
No. 99 overall by 247Sports and 19th nationally by ESPN. He becomes the 25th commit for a 2013 Tigers recruiting class that is ranked fifth nationally by Rivals.
Recruiting sites list him at athlete, linebacker or defensive end, but Beckwith said he’ll probably stay at linebacker in college.
“Defensive end, outside linebacker, it really doesn’t matter to me,” Beckwith said.
Beckwith was chosen as the state’s Class 3A defensive player of the year by the Louisiana High School Sports Writers Association after a strong senior season. He racked up 79 tackles and 16 sacks while recovering three fumbles in 10 games. He also lined up at quarterback and passed for more than 1,200 yards during the Tigers’ run to the 3A semifinals.
And he added another accolade Friday night. He was honored at the end of the first quarter as a finalist for the Franklin D. Watkins Memorial Trophy Award for exceptional black scholar-athletes.
“We just thank God for all the opportunities we’ve had,” said his mother, Urhonda.
In one of the last opportunities of his high school career, Beckwith had a solid showing. He ranked third on Team Nitro with three tackles and stuffed a run inside Team Highlight’s 10-yard line.
“It was real cool,” Beckwith said. “I got to go against some of the top guys in the nation. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville, Ga., perhaps the nation’s No. 1 recruit, did not make a commitment Friday.
But a handful of other LSU recruits had noteworthy performances during the game.
Recent LSU commitment Josh McNeil scored the game’s only touchdown. The 6-foot-5, 226-pound tight end slid for a 6-yard TD pass from Alabama-bound quarterback Cooper Bateman.
“He put it right in my chest, and I caught it and made a play on it,” said McNeil, Rivals’
No. 10 tight end prospect.
University defensive end Tim Williams stuffed five-star, Florida-bound running back Kelvin Taylor for a 1-yard loss in the first quarter. Williams, ESPN’s No. 23 overall recruit, has considered LSU but is also high on Alabama, Miami and Florida State.
Tigers commitment Greg Gilmore had a 6-yard sack that pushed Nitro inside its own 5 late in the third quarter. The defensive tackle from Hope Mills, N.C., left the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained ankle but said he was fine.
“It’s going to have to come off before I stop playing,” Gilmore said.