A year ago, Jalen Shead was sitting in class dreaming of one day playing college ball. A late bloomer to the recruiting world, the 2021 tight end carried no offers until the spring of 2020 and was just hoping a team would see his tape and make his dreams come true.
He'd dream of talking to a reporter about his recruitment process, about the abundance of teams showing him interest and what he liked about those schools. It was something that was happening all around him.
Longtime friend and teammate Xavier Hill was one of those prospects he got to watch go through the recruitment process.
"We grew up together, initially wanting to play basketball and both had hoop dreams, then we got to high school and we quickly realized we weren't going that route," Shead said. "Our careers have basically been the same so I have a good bond with Xavier."
Fast forward to August and the Olive Branch, Mississippi native is just about set to make those dreams he had just a year ago into reality, choosing between three premier SEC teams. Shead has narrowed his focus to three programs in LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss. He's leaning towards committing sooner than later and hasn't locked down a specific team yet.
Shead earned the offer from the Tigers just a few months ago and since that time, hasn't gone a day without speaking with the coaching staff. His primary contact is coach Derek Shay who works with the tight ends.
"According to them I've been their top guy since they offered me," Shead said. "We have a pretty great relationship and I've appreciated every bit of the support and interest they've shown."
He's been on the LSU campus twice, both times as a little known recruit. The first time was when Hill and Shead visited in January for the national championship ceremony.
The second time, Shead tagged along with Hill who had already signed with the program. It was on that second visit to campus, during LSU's shortened spring camp, that Shead was able to hang out with Arik Gilbert, the No. 1 tight end and 2020 LSU commit.
"You expect someone like that to be kind of cocky but he wasn't like that at all," Shead said. "We had some talks, I asked him a lot of questions so it was pretty cool and the vibe with LSU was pretty great."
It was also on that trip that Shead happened to run into offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. Again, with no offers at the time, Shead decided to take his chance and talk with the LSU coach for a few minutes and send him his film. Three months later he received the offer from the Tigers.
On the field, the No. 1 constant that Shead hears from all college coaches is the level of physicality he plays with. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Shead's skill set is varied as he primarily spent time as a blocker this last year but looks forward to this season where he'll be used in a more versatile way.
"You don't really find many physical tight ends these days, they're mostly just heavy set receivers," Shead said. "I wouldn't label myself as a blocking tight end but that's all teams have seen because that's what I primarily do. Last year we had two 1,000-yard running backs so I blocked a lot. I'll flex out to receiver this year, I play tight end, defensive end and punter. Nobody's seen my full potential yet."
Shead's skill set has been likened by Shay to former LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss. The two are comparable because while they aren't the fastest tight ends, they are elite level blockers and find the holes in the defense when asked to contribute in the passing game.
With Gilbert expected to be a big part of the offense moving forward, the coaching staff has talked with Shead about using him in a Moss kind of role, a guy who will be asked to block but also be used along side Gilbert in the passing game.
"Thaddeus wasn't the fastest but he had a good feel for open spaces and that's something I feel I do well," Shead said. "I feel like I understand the game pretty well."
Like many recruits, Shead knows the future of LSU is extremely bright which is why he included the Tigers in his top-three after only recently picking up an offer.
"The new offense that coach O and the staff implemented left a great impression in my eyes," Shead said. "It's all been positive vibes around LSU.”