When Les Miles met the media to talk about the 2012 signing class two years ago, he uttered a truth he'd probably like hammered home in the heads of his rabid fanbase, both then and now.
"You never get all of the guys that you attempt to recruit,” he said.
That fact was spoken in the wake of the Landon Collins fiasco, when the Tigers lost the state's top-ranked player to Alabama – in a public and embarrassing manner. Though LSU would sign 14 of the state's 16 highest-ranked prospects, that class – ranked just 18th by Rivals.com – would be remembered mostly for the one who got away.
Fast forward two years, and it appears Collins was only the first of a series of high-profile prep prospects to hop The Fence and leave the state . Barring some strange plot twist on National Signing Day, LSU will have lost at least three of the state's top six homegrown prospects – including five-star talents Cameron Robinson and Speedy Noil – and possibly a fourth, depending on Malachi Dupre's decision.
Robinson, like Collins, is Bama-bound, as are fellow Monroe natives Hootie Jones, the state's sixth-best safety, and Cameron Sims, a wide receiver ranked as the No. 9 player in the state, according to 247's Compsite Rankings, who didn't hold an LSU offer. With Noil headed for Texas A&M and his Edna Karr high school teammate Gerald Willis – Collins' brother, to boot – committed to Florida, concerns of raiding neighbors are well-founded.
"There are guys that have decided, for whatever reason, that staying at home and playing for LSU is not cool,” said Derek Ponamsky, recruiting analyst and publisher of BayouBengalsInsider.com.
The good news is that those guys seem to be geographically contained, at least for now.
"While it doesn't appear to be an epidemic sweeping the state,” Ponamsky said, "there are pockets of the state – in Monroe and at Edna Karr – that you look and say, 'That's a situation that needs to be addressed.'”
Adding Noil, Willis, Jones, and Robinson to this year's haul would have produced the best class in LSU history, a surefire No. 1 group. How LSU addresses Monroe and Karr remains to be seen.
But one way of fending off foreign invaders is by serving them a dose of their own medicine.
Now a national brand, LSU is reaching out to other states and plucking their best players, like Illinois linebacker Clifton Garrett, a five-star inside linebacker coveted by every program in the country. He's just one example of the national pull LSU has used to combat in-state losses in recent years, proving the holes in the fence allow for bidirectional passage.
"LSU needed linebackers, they go up to Illinois and get the top linebacker in the country,” Ponamsky said. "They needed defensive backs, they go the state of Texas, they get two national top 50 players in Ed Paris and Jamal Adams. When you have to go out of state, you can't look at it and say, 'We're going to keep all of ours, then we're going to go get yours.' That's not the way it works.” It's not as easy as saying, 'We've built around this state, we're going to keep all of these guys.' Because other states are losing their top guys as well. It's just kind of where college football is right now.”
Even Alabama, who consistently ranks first in the national recruiting evaluations and has plucked several Louisiana talents in recent years – thanks to Nick Saban's ties from his LSU days – isn't immune to losing its best players.
That includes players with Heisman pedigrees.
"Jameis Winston was the number one player in Alabama two years ago, no doubt about it,” said Ponamsky. "He was an absolute loss for the state of Alabama. Some of these kids are all about staying at home and playing for the in-state team, but it's just not as cool as it used to be for some of these guys.”
It's not a problem specific to LSU, and it's probably not even accurate to label it a "problem.” The Tigers still landed Leonard Fournette, the state's most prized asset this year and maybe in any year preceding. Miles and co. brought in Brandon Harris – the best quarterback in Louisiana – Trey Quinn, a Lake Charles product who finished his career as the all-time national record-holder in prep receiving yards, and a host of other stars good enough to land this class in the top five.
Yes, the Tigers missed on some in-state guys with plenty of pedigree, but in a year where Louisiana produced as much elite talent as it ever has and probably ever will, that was bound to happen.
Guys are leaving home, both in and outside of Louisiana. It's hurting LSU, in cases like Noil, Robinson, and Willis, and helping LSU, in cases like Garrett, Paris, and Adams.
"It's kind of where it is right now,” Ponamsky said. "The world has shifted a little bit.”
And, wisely so has LSU. After losing their fair share of in-state prep stars in recent years, the Tigers have learned to return the favor.