LSU provides players a ‘Pipeline to the Pros’

Call it the new holy trinity of LSU football.

When he first arrived, Les Miles and his coaches emphasized the two primary goal of the Tigers program to prospective recruits: playing for championships and earning a degree.

But success in April, months away from the actual football season, led Miles to add a third plank to the LSU platform.

“Coach Miles set the goals for the program that getting the degree and playing for championships go hand in hand,” said Frank Wilson, LSU’s recruiting coordinator and running backs coach. “Recently we added a third piece: the opportunity to play in the NFL. That became his new mantra of what this program symbolizes.”

It isn’t an idle boast.

Just as certain as the fact that the majority of players LSU recruits will never make it to the NFL is the reality that many of them will, at a rate comparable to any school in the Southeastern Conference or across the country.

Over the past 10 years, dating to the 2003 NFL draft, only Georgia has had more players drafted than LSU, 57 to 56. No SEC school has had more first-round draft picks than LSU’s 12.

During the Miles era, dating to the 2006 draft, The Tigers are second nationally with 42 draft picks behind Southern California with 54. LSU is fourth in first-round draft picks with 10 behind only USC (12) and Alabama and Ohio State (11 each).

As the three-day marathon of picks, pans and Mel Kiper Jr. known as the NFL draft begins Thursday, expect to hear the letters “L-S-U” called at a fairly rapid rate.

Eleven former Tigers, including dismissed cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, declared early for the NFL draft, a record for the LSU program. As many as 10 other former Tigers — 2012 seniors like defensive end Lavar Edwards, center P.J. Lonergan and wide receiver Russell Shepard — are potential draft picks.

Certainly not all will get picked. Still, it’s a decent bet the stodgy old LSU record of eight players selected in the NFL draft way back in 1948 may be matched or eclipsed by Saturday night.

In 1948, by the way, the final LSU player selected was in the 20th round by the Philadelphia Eagles. The NFL draft currently has only seven rounds.

The prospect of so many players leaving the LSU program early was the source of much post-holiday depression among the Tigers’ faithful.

To Wilson, it’s yet another potential selling point for the LSU program.

“It’s a positive,” Wilson said. “They come here to put themselves in position to be pros. It points to what we talk about. They have an opportunity to come in and be an impact freshman or contribute as freshmen. Then in three years, we have a decision to make: stay and earn a degree or test the (NFL) waters.

“We tell them if they’ve maximized their draft potential, it’s time for you to go.”

Wilson said it’s too early to tell whether players LSU is recruiting for the Class of 2014 and beyond have been influenced yet by the big number of early draft entries.

“Once the NFL season starts, it will really have substance when the guys who left early have success,” he said.

Miles said every choice he makes for the LSU program — from the philosophy of play calling and formations to the hires he makes to the support program — is aimed at helping players prepare for and reach the NFL.

“There’s a reality to what we’re doing on this campus in terms of graduating our players at 77 percent, putting together a weight and strength program that allows guys to develop not only size and strength but speed and quickness, and the style of offense, defense and special teams we play,” Miles said.

“I think it all kind of rolls together. What we do and how we treat them and prepare them and challenge them to be the best, I think it shows.”

Former Tigers free safety Eric Reid, one of the 11 juniors who turned pro early, said talk of the NFL was a strong but not overstated part of LSU’s recruiting pitch when he was coming out of Dutchtown High School.

“It wasn’t the biggest emphasis,” said Reid, who left Baton Rouge on Tuesday for New York, where he will be on hand in person for the draft at Radio City Music Hall. “They emphasized competing for the national championship and getting an education and a degree. They didn’t guarantee you would get to the NFL, but if you did the things you needed to do, you would have the opportunity.”

Reid is projected to be selected late in Thursday’s first round or early in Friday’s second.

Whenever his name is called, Reid’s photo could well adorn the pages of next season’s LSU football media guide devoted to the NFL draft.

They’re the pages that show former Tigers like Morris Claiborne, Rueben Randle, Michael Brockers, Glenn Dorsey and Patrick Peterson smiling on draft day, posing with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or holding up a No. 1 jersey with their name on the back.

The headline on the left-hand page reads, “Pipeline to the Pros.”

Assembly line may be more appropriate. And though LSU shipped out a bumper crop of potential draft picks this year, Wilson is confident the line isn’t about to be broken.

“We recruit a certain type of athlete,” Wilson said. “Even though we lost some this year, we’ll be fine. The next man will step up, and we won’t miss a beat.”