How did SEC teams snatch two recruits from Cajuns?
These two Valentine breakups came a week early.
On Billy Napier’s first National Signing Day as head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns, UL lost two of its top commits to SEC schools.
Both were Mississippi high school products.
Tylan Knight, an athlete from Pearl High near Jackson, signed instead with Ole Miss, and Kameron Jones, an offensive lineman from Starksville High, signed with Mississippi State.
Napier, a veteran of SEC recruiting battles when spending four years as Alabama’s wide receivers coach from 2013-16, held no grudges Wednesday.
“They’re both great young men, and (have) really good families,” he said.
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Columnist USA TODAY NETWORK
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How in the world did the Cajuns have two taken out from under them at such a late date?
Thanks largely to the reporting of the (Jackson) Clarion Ledger, UL fans now know.
Reported Will Sammon, who covers Mississippi State for the Clarion Ledger: “It was imperative for MSU to sign an offensive lineman because it only signed one offensive lineman in December … and only one high school offensive lineman from the 2017 class enrolled.
“The Bulldogs were heavily recruiting Kansas three-star Jalan Robinson, but he is expected to land elsewhere.”
Robinson actually did not sign with any school Wednesday, opting to weigh his options after receiving offers from Mississippi State, Kansas and Nebraska in the last two weeks leading up to Signing Day, according to KUsports. com.
Sammon continued: “Before that, MSU recruited Memphis lineman Ryan Winkel, but he chose Arkansas. MSU missed on Memphis offensive lineman Jerome Carvin in the early signing period when he inked with Tennessee.”
That’s why Mississippi State tapped All-State pick Jones, 247 Sports’ No. 20 Mississippi recruit, at the last minute, literally waiting until Signing Day itself to extend its offer.
“He is a guy who had been camping here and got a lot of positive feedback from the coaches on the staff,” new Bulldogs coach Joe Moorhead said of Jones, who wasn’t heavily recruited by the staff of ex-Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, now at Florida, but was recruited hard by Napier, whose new UL staff includes new assistant offensive line coach DJ Looney, Mississippi State’s tight ends coach under Mullen last season.
Napier and his assistants, in fact, spent part of their final recruiting weekend at Jones’ Starkville home.
One can only wonder if ex-UL head coach Mark Hudspeth, replaced by Napier in December and now Mississippi State’s associate head coach/tight ends coach, was one of those “coaches on the staff” Moorhead mentioned.
In any event, it’s evident Mississippi State’s many losses on the line were Jones’ gain as he got to sign with his hometown team.
“We had a lot of familiarity with him,” Moorehead told the Clarion Ledger, “and when the opportunity arose to get him into the fold, we were excited.”
Then there’s the curious case of Knight, co-MVP of the prestigious Mississippi- Alabama All-Star Game.
At 5-foot-7 and 166 pounds, the slot receiver/defensive back is undersized and was under-recruited.
His early offers came only from Group of Five schools, not Power 5s, so he committed to the Cajuns.
Then Ole Miss — arguably having a hard time filling out its signing class, partly because of NCAA sanctions impacting the Rebels — turned to Knight last week.
The Clarion Ledger’s Brody Miller wrote: “It wasn’t as simple as people thought. He didn’t change his mind at the drop of a hat. Tylan Knight had to decide between the school that offered first (UL) and the school that made him wait (Ole Miss).
“Deep down, Knight might have wanted to go to Ole Miss from the start, but he didn’t want to be the kind of person that would jump ship right when a bigger opportunity presented itself.”
“What makes him so great, so special, is he’s really loyal,” Pearl coach John Perry told the Clarion-Ledger. “He means what he says. I know it was tough on him, because he committed to those guys (the Cajuns) and he meant it 100 percent.”
Miller continued: “There were some sleepless nights for Knight the past week, but by Tuesday he knew. He was going to be a Rebel.
“Ole Miss coach Matt Luke came to the Knight home (the prior) Thursday and made his pitch to the family. Knight didn’t deny he had some anger in his heart because the Rebels hadn’t offered earlier, so it was going to take some convincing to flip from Louisiana.
“Luke told him about how this team had other positional needs Ole Miss needed to focus on first. Once they had those settled, Luke told them, Knight was the first person he was going after.
“After a long year of leading Pearl to a 6A state championship and not receiving much interest from schools, he couldn’t help but simply sigh and feel relief once this process was over. No more stress, no more frustration.
“In the end, Knight loved the atmosphere of Oxford and the chance to live his dream of playing SEC football.”
No more stress. No more frustration.
Maybe not for Knight.
For Napier, it was the sort of punch those in his business have no choice but to roll with.
They’re college coaches who often warm hearts, but sometimes break hearts and sometimes have theirs broken, too.
That’s why they try not to fall too hard in love with any one recruit.
So now, much like Knight and Jones, the Cajuns coach must move on.
“My philosophy in the very beginning was to save a couple, keep a couple in the back pocket,” said Napier, who now has two more Class of 2018 scholarships left to offer.
“We had some really good players committed that ended up going somewhere else, so, that being said, we’re kind of where we thought we wanted to be. So I’m excited to see who’s left out there and what we can do to get good players.”
More hearts to chase, that is, in February and beyond.
UL coach Billy Napier talks on National Signing Day. SCOTT CLAUSE/THE ADVERTISER