Late Thursday night, a plane carrying Malachi Dupre, Kenny Young and Davon Godchaux touched down in Los Angeles for their final official visits.
For a segment of LSU’s fan base, the trip induced tremors.
Dupre, a wide receiver, and Young, a safety, are a John Curtis duo who double as vital targets in LSU’s recruiting Class of 2014.
Plaquemine’s hulking defensive end pledged his services in late September. LSU backed him up by sticking with the four-star prospect after a torn knee ligament ended his senior season after less than a quarter of his first game.
So how do you explain Godchaux settling into a hotel room around 9 p.m.?
It’s easier than one might think.
“Just trying to have fun,” he said before embarking on his itinerary.
Innocently flirting can rile up passions as schools hit the latter stages of the recruiting cycle. The purple-and-gold masses are no different. Throw in the near-constant stream of information available — much of it unfiltered directly from prospects’ Twitter accounts — and paranoia can feed speculation about a recruit’s college decision.
All along, Godchaux — who has visited Ole Miss, Miami, Auburn and LSU — has openly professed his intention of coming to Baton Rouge.
“You only live once,” he said Friday. “I just wanted to go see these other schools, but I’m committed to LSU.”
Good luck trying to pin down a recruit’s thinking until his letter of intent rolls in warm and fresh off a fax machine when National Signing Day arrives Wednesday, said Scott Kennedy, national director of scouting for Scout.com.
“It’s never been easy trying to predict what these guys are going to do,” he said. “We can have all the sources in the world. I could be sitting right next to the kid, and he could change his mind.”
Godchaux’s situation can be a case study for the inexact science of recruiting.
In June, Godchaux, who is 6-foot-4 and 278 pounds, received a scholarship offer from LSU. Since last spring, he hadn’t been coy in how much he coveted one. Still, he told recruiting reporters that he planned to take all five of the official visits to schools allowed by the NCAA, pointing toward a Dec. 28 deadline to decide.
That changed in September. In the first quarter of Plaquemine’s season opener against East Ascension, Godchaux’s knee was rolled up from behind on the backside of a play. He tore his ACL and, on Sept. 20, had season-ending surgery.
With the possibility of having his scholarship pulled, Godchaux phoned LSU coach Les Miles on Sept. 30 to commit to the Tigers. But that didn’t shut down the recruiting process: He still intended to take his trips.
And it wasn’t entirely his idea.
“My advice to him was to take them,” Plaquemine coach Paul Distefano said.
The easiest way to grasp the rationale is to take on Godchaux’s perspective.
Once he puts down the pen he used to sign the paperwork, he’s bound to LSU. Leave for another Football Bowl Subdivision program, and he sits out a year. His scholarship? It only gets renewed annually, and a coach can run you off by deciding renewal isn’t an option.
The two-year wooing process known as recruiting is the only time when control is in his hands.
“I understand you commit to a school, and you live up to it, but you need to look at all of your options,” he said.
And, really, Godchaux views it as a chance to see parts of the country that a kid raised in a south Louisiana town of 7,000 rarely gets to see. If the process lets him see the spoils and splendors of big-time football, count him in. He doesn’t hide that logic, and the schools seeking his services don’t seem offended, either.
“Man, I’m just an 18-year-old kid,” Godchaux said. “So, yeah, I’m coming down there to see the school and what they have, but I’m also going just to have fun. I’m just being real about it.”
That’s a facet that fans, tied to their program in almost a blood bond, easily overlook, Kennedy said.
“Every one of these official visits is a party in your honor in a billion dollar industry,” Kennedy said. “It’s an amazing amount of pressure that fans won’t ever understand.”
Lost in all the chatter is that Godchaux, his parents and a small clutch of confidants have carefully done their homework on coaching staffs, schemes and academic programs. When a decision is made, it will be one grounded in facts, Distefano said.
“Really and truthfully, nobody knows more about which program is doing what,” Distefano said. “He’s very savvy about what all these schools run on defense, how they rotate lineman and who’s committed in their class.”
What’s different now is how open — yet still murky and muddled — the process can be.
Ahead of his visit to Auburn, Godchaux tweeted that he was blessed to have the opportunity. And there was a picture with coach Gus Malzahn to boot.
It led to chatter that Godchaux might bail out — and that created ire among a fringe element of LSU’s fan base. That might stem from the perception, right or wrong, that Godchaux should feel fortunate that LSU stuck by him after his devastating injury.
“People might see that and I think I’m going to Auburn, but it’s just untrue,” Godchaux said. “Ever since you’re a little kid, you’ve wanted these schools chasing after you. People can always take what you say the wrong way.”
Back in the good old days of covering recruiting, reporters literally stood outside stadiums waiting for a name to flash on the scoreboard, Kennedy said. That’s how you confirmed a visit. Sure, it was tough to pry out information, but a scribe could be a buffer and protect a recruit from stirring the pot.
No more. Twitter and Instagram let recruits promote and share their views easily. And the consequences aren’t always considered.
“They don’t know what they’re in for,” Kennedy said. “With that filter off, there’s no one there to protect them. Yes, those fans can be misreading it, but kids don’t also understand the ramifications.”
A few days removed from his Auburn trip, Godchaux wrote those who actually cared about him would support his choice no matter the destination. In the past weekend, though, there was only a lone picture posted: the Rose Bowl.
“I try not to listen to those people,” Godchaux said. “They weren’t there from Day One when you were putting in all the hard work to earn the opportunity.”
Distefano is irked at the notion Godchaux is being judged.
“Who wants to criticize an 18-year-old kid for accepting a free trip to Los Angeles?” he said. “Whoever does that really needs to get a life.”
Ultimately, what Godchaux does Wednesday morning will be the biggest statement.
“A lot of people forget we’re still kids,” he said. “I’m still for LSU.”