The first domino has fallen: It’s Hootie to Alabama.
Neville High School safety Laurence “Hootie” Jones chose Alabama over LSU during an announcement ceremony at his school Monday, spurning the in-state Tigers in one of many hotly competitive battles between the SEC West powerhouses.
Jones, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder, is rated a five-star prospect by at least one recruiting service and is no worse than the sixth-best safety nationally in this class, according to the major recruiting sites.
Two months ahead of National Signing Day, Jones is the first of a gaggle of uncommitted, highly ranked Louisiana prospects whom Alabama and LSU are tussling over late in the recruiting process.
The schools’ intense on-the-field battles have spilled into heated recruiting conflicts within Louisiana’s borders. The recruiting war this year between the rivals is harsher than ever because of Louisiana’s crop of talent.
According to the latest Rivals100 released Monday, eight of the nation’s top 100 prospects are from Louisiana, including six in the top 49.
Two have committed to LSU: Barbe High receiver Trey Quinn (No. 76) and University High offensive lineman Garrett Brumfield (No. 91), who was offered by Bama. Two of them — Jones (No. 38) and West Monroe offensive tackle Cameron Robinson (No. 7) — chose the Tide over the Tigers.
The remaining four are uncommitted and choosing from lists of schools that include LSU and Alabama: St. Augustine’s Leonard Fournette, the consensus No. 1 running back in the nation; Edna Karr receiver Devante “Speedy” Noil; John Curtis receiver Malachi Dupre; and Karr defensive tackle Gerald Willis.
So, there are still battles to be won.
LSU losing Jones is more about perception than anything else, some experts said. Alabama last year plucked defensive end Tim Williams out of Baton Rouge. In 2012, the Tide signed Dutchtown safety Landon Collins, the top prospect in the state.
“LSU’s good enough (that) they can go out of state and recruit guys,” said Scott Kennedy, Scout.com’s director of scouting. “LSU’s going to be fine. It just gets harder and harder to keep up with Alabama when they’re getting guys from your backyard.”
The Tigers are still in position to have a top-five to top-10 recruiting class. LSU’s current class is ranked No. 13 (24/7 Sports), No. 16 (Rivals.com) and No. 20 (Scout.com).
“There are still some scenarios there that it could be No. 1,” said Mike Scarborough, publisher and recruiting analyst at TigerBait.com, a Rivals.com affiliate. “I have a hard time believing it won’t be inside the top five.”
LSU’s current class is tough to judge because of its small size. It’s tied for the lowest commit total (15) among teams in Scout.com’s top 20 team ratings, Kennedy said. The NCAA allows schools to sign 25 players.
Many of LSU’s targets are waiting to announce their decisions on national TV at the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 2 or the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4 — a reason for the low number of commits, Scarborough said.
It’s likely, most feel, that LSU will get some, if not all, of those four hotly recruited in-state prospects and surge into the top 10 to keep a streak alive. LSU hasn’t finished outside Scout.com’s top 10 team rankings in eight straight years.
“They haven’t had that down year,” Kennedy said.
To avoid one, they’ll need to snag a good portion of those uncommitted in-state recruits.
“Can’t lose those guys if they are going to break in the top five,” Kennedy said.
Outside of the state, LSU is chasing four Rivals100 players, according to TigerBait.com. The list includes prospects who are ranked as some of the best at their positions nationally: Michigan defensive end Malik McDowell, Texas cornerback Tony Brown and safety Jamal Adams and Illinois linebacker Clifton Garrett.
Garrett wrote on Twitter on Sunday that he plans to announce his commitment Dec. 16 and that LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis was visiting him Monday.
Adams is the key piece, Scarborough said. LSU’s safety depth is a concern, and Jones’ commitment is a blow.
Adams will officially visit LSU this weekend, TigerBait.com reported. He is considered a top five safety nationally by the three major recruiting sites. Most believe he’s leaning toward Florida or Texas, but LSU defensive backs coach Corey Raymond was sent to begin recruiting him recently despite that not being Raymond’s recruiting area.
“That tells me that the safety spot is a concern,” Scarborough said.
With Jones, Alabama swooped in late. Many recruiting experts expected Jones to choose LSU as recently as August.
The Tigers will have to fend off Alabama outside of the Louisiana borders, too. Garrett, McDowell and Brown all have Bama offers.
The war continues.
What domino will fall next? Scarborough predicted a good ending.
“Everybody’s jockeying for position,” he said. “A lot of guys are waiting to announce on television in January. That all-star game week, LSU breaks out. There will be a bunch of smiling faces.”