Another LSU at Alabama Showdown: Recruiting Implications

Christopher Walsh

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A player from Baton Rouge, La., was expected to be the key when Alabama hosted LSU this season.

That still may be true, just not the one everyone initially expected.

Christian Harris, who this time a year ago was considered a top prospect in Louisiana despite being considered a bit of a project, is one of two true freshmen inserted into the starting lineup to replace both of Alabama’s injured starting interior linebackers this season.

This week was supposed to be about Dylan Moses, who blew out his knee during call camp. Instead, it could be all about another player who spurned the Tigers to play for the Crimson Tide.

“He’s progressed a lot,” redshirt senior linebacker Anfernee Jennings said. “Coming in as a freshman and having to play and take on responsibility, it's something you can't even dream about. It's hard — I mean, he's still up to the challenge and he's done a great job and continuing to get better.

The amazing thing about Harris is that he never played the position before college. At University Lab he played wide receiver, safety and returned kicks to help lead back-to-back state championship teams in 2017 and 2018.

It’s difficult to get a gauge on how much Harris might factor into the outcome of Saturday’s game at Bryant-Denny Stadium (2:30 p.m. CT, CBS) because a lot of his playing time will be determined by how LSU lines up and attempts to attack the Crimson Tide. He may be an interior linebacker in the base, but when the offense brings in extra receivers the defense’s counter move is replace a linebacker with extra defensive backs.

Usually in Saban’s scheme it’s the strongside linebacker. This year it’s not necessarily, as experience is obviously a factor, plus Alabama’s best pass rushers are Terrell Lewis and Jennings.

“He’s done a good job and he’s really conscientious, works hard at it,” Saban said about Harris. “I think the more reps he gets in practice and preparation, the better he plays in the game.

“He’s a very explosive player. He can run fast. He’s a good cover guy. He plays well in space.”

In the broader picture, though, Harris wearing Crimson instead of purple and yellow is indicative of how the Alabama-LSU rivalry has changed since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. Developing home-grown talent was a huge part of the Tigers winning the 2003 national championship.

It's since contributed to Alabama’s success, including the Crimson Tide having won every game against the Tigers since the 2011 regular-season matchup: The Game of the Century.

On this year’s Alabama’s roster there’s Harris, Chris Allen (Southern Lab) and Moses, three linebackers who grew up in LSU’s back yard.

There’s also Shyheim Carter (Kentwood), Slade Bolden (West Monroe), Eddie Smith (Slidell), Phidarian Mathis (Wisner), Ishmael Sopsher (Amite) and Joseph Bulovas (Mandeville).

It’s not a new trend.

Between Saban having coached at LSU, and the Crimson Tide continuing to have strong connections there — including former assistant coach Burton Burns, and strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran — winning national titles and Alabama having blown past LSU as having the most players in the NFL, players keep leaving the bayou.

The one who started it was Robby Green, a cornerback out of John Curtis High School in New Orleans. He was considered the eighth-best prospect in the state and the top seven all went to LSU.

But the first big prospect was arguably running back Eddie Lacy out of Geismar. Alabama also landed defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore and wide receiver Kenny Bell in 2009, and others followed.

The decision often came down to the two SEC powers, sometimes with the spotlight fixed upon them. Safety Landon Collins was a considered a consensus five-star prospect in the Class of 2012. Per the 247Sports composite rankings he was rated the seventh-best player in the nation, and opted for Alabama over his mother’s objections.

In 2014, Leonard Fournette out of New Orleans was considered the top prospect overall. But he never got to play with tackle Cam Robinson, who was right behind him in the rankings.

Top Alabama Players Out of Louisiana

2008

Robby Green, cornerback, 8 (247 state rankings)

2009

Eddie Lacy, running back, 6

Darrington Sentimore, defensive lineman, 10

Kenny Bell, wide receiver, 11

2011

Bradley Sylve, wide receiver, 6

2012

Landon Collins, safety, 1

Denzel Devall, linebacker, 3

2013

Tim Williams, linebacker, 3

Raheem Falkins, wide receiver, 14

2014

Cam Robinson, offensive lineman, 2

Hootie Jones, safety, 6

Cam Sims, wide receiver, 9

O.J. Smith, defensive lineman, 18

2015

Daylon Charlot, wide receiver, 4

2016

Shyheim Carter, cornerback, 5

2017

(Dylan Moses, linebacker)

DeVonta Smith, wide receiver, 2

Phidarian Mathis, defensive lineman, 5

Chris Allen, linebacker, 5

2018

Eddie Smith, cornerback, 15

Slade Bolden, running back, 18

2019

Ismael Sopsher, defensive lineman, 3

Christian Harris, linebacker, 5

Usually when asked about leaving home the players call it a business decision. They always call it a tough one, though, especially considering the grief they get back in Louisiana.

“Bear was going to come to my house,” a laughing Orgeron said during his press conference Monday. “My daddy said nope."

Orgeron attended South Lafourche High School in Galliano, which is in the heart of Cajun country on the Bayou Lafourche. One of his teammates was quarterback Bobby Hebert, and they played for the Class 4A state championship in 1977.

He signed on to play for Louisiana State, but only stayed a year, transferring to Northwestern State. It’s where his coaching career began as a graduate assistant.

Although known as an energetic defensive line coach, Orgeron’s reputation was really in recruiting. At Miami he was one of the keys to the Hurricanes landing some outstanding defensive players especially, like Cortez Kennedy, Russell Maryland and Warren Sapp.

He was already on the USC coaching staff when Pete Carroll arrived in 2001, and arguably the best move he initially made was to promote Orgeron to assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator. Some of the players he helped land included Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and LenDale White.

But not even Orgeron has been able to stop the flow of Louisiana players heading to Tuscaloosa.

"It would have probably been big,” Orgeron said when asked what it would have been like had he left Louisiana for Alabama. “I forgot the assistant coach that recruited me and he said, ‘Coach will want to come home visit.’ Asked my daddy and he said, ‘Nuh-huh.’ That's the way it should be.

“I wish it was like that today."

This is the third story in a series this week on Alabama-LSU showdowns since Nick Saban took over the Crimson Tide.

Another LSU at Alabama Showdown: The Rivalry

The Shutout

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