In a loaded 2020 recruiting class that finished No. 4 in the country according to 247Sports, one name that probably doesn't jump out at first glance is JUCO signee Ali Gaye.
At 6-foot-7, 267 pounds, Gaye was ranked as the No. 2 defensive end and No. 19 overall player to come out of the junior college ranks in 2020. In his lone season at Garden City Community College, Gaye had 44 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, one forced fumble and two blocked kicks in an 8-3 season.
Initially a University of Washington signee, Gaye never enrolled with the Huskies due to low SAT scores. A native of Gambia, Gaye moved to the United States in 2012 where he said it was always difficult for him to adjust to the scholastic part of living in a new country.
"In high school, my grades weren’t all that well because the learning here is really different than the learning back home,” Gaye said in an interview with HeraldNet. “Everything here is a whole other level.”
With his grades keeping him from attending Washington, it was the junior college route for Gaye, first at Arizona Western Community College in 2018 and then Garden City in 2019. Gaye built himself into one of the top JUCO players in the country over that two year stretch, receiving offers from Oklahoma, Nebraska and LSU before ultimately committing to the Tigers last summer.
"As soon as we got there my parents were convinced that it would be a good spot for me," Gaye told 247Sports Shea Dixon. "It was the way they all showed interest in me. And with that group, I know they can make me successful on and off the field. It was an easy decision. And then when I hung around the players and just saw how they all had a brotherhood and how they all connected, that brotherhood they had showed me was something special. It's what I want. They are the type of guys and people that I want to be around."
Gaye officially signed during the Early Signing Period in December and enrolled in school in January, expecting to go through a spring camp with his new team. Instead, just a few practices in, spring camp has been put on pause as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
From a fit perspective, Gaye will provide added depth to a defensive line that is critical to the Tigers 4-3 defensive scheme under the tutelage new coordinator Bo Pelini. His large frame, length and experience at the college level, albeit in JUCO, makes Gaye a prime candidate to earn ample playing time.
With a deep group that includes veterans Glen Logan, Neil Farrell and Justin Thomas as well as incoming freshmen BJ Ojulari, Jaquelin Roy and Jacobian Guillory, it'll be important for Gaye to assert himself whenever practices resume.
"I feel like my length, my quick get up of the ball and my ability to get a good jump on the opposing offensive linemen are my best strengths," Gaye said in an interview with "Off the Bench" back in December.
While his journey the last two years certainly has had its share of difficulties, Gaye told the Baton Rouge radio show that he's thankful he went the JUCO route because he came out a humbler man on the other side.
“It’s been rough but it was humbling,” Gaye said. “I needed to go that route because I needed to learn what it took. It was great motivation for me as well because I had to overcome so much to get to this point and I’ll never forget it. It’ll be something I tell my kids about one day.”