Brian Kelly's first season at the helm of LSU football was a resounding success by virtually all standards, but the recruiting question still loomed.
That 2022 roster was a group of Ed Orgeron-era holdovers and bolstered largely by transfer portal additions. It also featured true freshmen (Harold Perkins, Will Campbell and Emory Jones) starting at key positions.
That latter part is where Kelly plans to lean more heavily going forward. His program will be fueled by recruited freshmen and development with the transfer portal used only as necessary and with a specific plan in mind. Twenty-five of those freshmen made their commitments official on Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA's early signing period, for an impressive haul of players that ranks No. 6 in the nation, according to 247Sports, and will represent a significant investment in the future of the Tigers' program.
"We focus strictly on recruiting to LSU the players that we want here, that we believe that will be successful and that we can develop. And that's our mindset," Kelly said. "We can't worry about what other schools are doing, what other teams are doing, what hearsay is out there. We focus strictly on the job at hand and that is recruiting those that we believe understand our mission to graduate champions and the 25 that we signed, we are super excited about."
The group only featured one 5-star player, but also 18 4-star recruits. It was also largely made up of Louisiana players, and a majority from an "SEC footprint." Still, Kelly showed off his national chops as well, pulling top players from Maryland, Ohio, Nevada and Minnesota.
It's a class built on a simple goal, as Kelly puts it: "to graduate champions." It's a message that the Tigers head coach was impressed to see resonate as well as it did as he and his staff went out on the recruiting trail.
It's something he wasn't able to do nearly as well as he'd have liked in the whirlwind that was last offseason, relocated from South Bend to Baton Rouge and -- in some cases -- meeting the parents of recruits for the first time as they dropped off their son on campus. That didn't sit well with Kelly, who made sure to have recruit families over his home, visit them in theirs and have them on campus multiple times in this cycle. It's paid dividends.
"You feel so much more confident that you've made the right choices and they've made the right choices that LSU is the right place for them, and they're not here under false pretenses or a quick sell, or that you're selling a used car to them," Kelly said, "that you're really selling the right vision for them as to why they're here."
- S, Michael Daugherty; 4-star; Lawrenceville, Georgia
- QB, Rickie Collins, 4-star; Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- DE, Dylan Carpenter, 3-star; St. Amant, Louisiana
- WR, Jalen Brown, 4-star; Miami, Florida
- OL, DJ Chester, 4-star; Conyers, Georgia
- TE, Mac Markway, 4-star; St. Louis, Missouri
- WR, Khai Prean, 4-star; Belle Rose, Louisiana
- OL, Lance Heard, 5-star; Monroe, Louisiana
- WR, Kyle Parker, 4-star; Allen, Texas
- LB, Whit Weeks, 4-star; Watkinsville, Georgia
- TE, Jackson McGohan, 4-star; Miamisburg, Ohio
- S, Ryan Yaites, 4-star; Denton, Texas
- RB, Trey Holly, 4-star; Farmerville, Georgia
- OL, Tyree Adams, 4-star; Marrero, Louisiana
- DE, Da'Shawn Womack, 4-star; Parkville, Maryland
- S, Kylin Jackson, 4-star; Clinton, Louisiana
- CB, Javien Toviano, 4-star; Arlington, Texas
- CB, Ashton Stamps, 3-star; Harvey, Louisiana
- TE, Ka'Morreun Pimpton, 4-star; Fort Worth, Texas
- EDGE, Jaxon Howard, 4-star; Crystal, Minnesota
- LB, Christian Brathwaite, 3-star; Cypress, Texas
- CB, Jeremiah Hughes, 3-star; North Las Vegas, Nevada
- OL, Paul Mubenga, 3-star; Buford, Georgia
- RB, Kaleb Jackson, 4-star; Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- WR, Shelton Sampson Jr., 4-star; Baton Rouge, Louisiana
MORE FROM BRIAN KELLY
WHEN WILL TRANSFERS BE ANNOUNCED?
That announcement will come on Friday, Kelly said.
"We won't do that today. To me this is about our freshmen, and this is their day. They've earned it."
WHY DO YOU FEEL SO CONFIDENT IN THE TRANSFER PORTAL?
"I don't feel confident in the portal. I think I feel confident in what we're going to use the portal for. And that is strictly to bolster a position group that is still in need of development. This program, as I said, will be built by freshmen and development will happen within these walls. We're still not there in particular on the defensive side of the ball, and you'll see that as we move forward on Friday's announcements in terms of players. But the portal is a very tricky environment. So I think what I'm confident about is we've got a plan, and a plan as to how we're going to use it, the kind of players that we want to bring in out of the portal. But I think it's a moving target still, and we've got to be very, very careful."
THOUGHTS ON ZELANCE HEARD
LSU started two freshmen at tackle this season, and the lone 5-star in this class is arriving at the same position. But don't fool yourself into thinking he sees that as an issue.
"I like Zelance Heard. I like his personality. He's extremely confident. ... In recruiting early on as we were going through the process, he said, 'coach, you know I'm only going to play left tackle, and that's it.' I said, 'well, we've got a true freshman Will Campbell playing left tackle right now. He's pretty good.' He goes, 'Oh, I've seen Will Campbell play. I've played with Will Campbell. I'm playing left tackle.' And ever since that time I was like, I like this kid," Kelly said. "Just his confidence and it wasn't cocky, but it was a confidence and he's just been that way in the recruiting process. He has great confidence level, believes in what he's doing and what he can do for this program. And then we put him through the ringer now We brought him in here and we worked him out and he kept coming back and we worked him out again, and we got eyes on him and we watched him and watched him ... and he passed every test for us, so, feel great about him being in the program."
AN IMPRESSIVE COMP FOR JALEN BROWN
Any time you compare an incoming freshman to a star college player and standout pro, the eyebrows should be raised, but Brian Kelly agrees: Jalen Brown does remind him of Will Fuller, the speedster and star WR he coached back with Notre Dame.
"Big play guy, can certainly take the top off of any coverage. Probably more of an x, plays the field, but elite speed," Kelly said. "So what we've seen there is a guy that can do some things that are fairly unique in the sense that, really can turn the field and work for us. He's got to develop and continue to get stronger and he's working at it, he knows he's got to get stronger in the weight room. But you know, he's a guy that brings a speed element, and we've got guys with really good speed, but he brings an elite speed that's gonna be fun."
A DIFFERENT TYPE OF TE
The name Ka'Morreun Pimpton already stands out, but it's what you can't teach that has coach Brian Kelly truly excited for one of his most intriguing recruits: 6-6, 227 pounds.
Pimpton's arrival also marks a flip. He was committed to Vanderbilt before reversing course and heading to Baton Rouge.
"I don't know that I've had somebody with his raw athletic ability. And certainly there's work to be done as it relates to the physicality of the position and whether he's going to be an in-line. We want to develop our tight ends as complete targets where they can do everything," Kelly said. "Where they're not just a guy that, you know, split out. We want them to be able to get in there and be part of a blocking scheme as well. And he's committed to that, you know, and that's one thing that, you know, as we talk about developing tight ends, my background in developing and Coach [Mike] Denbrock is incredible in the number of tight ends he's developed, we want that for him, and that resonated with him. And then obviously, the other skills that he brings, you just can't teach, right? I mean, as you mentioned, his catch radius, his ability to win in one-on-one matchups. He's gonna be exciting to be able to develop."