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Monday, October 20, 2014
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LSU head football coach Les Miles. (Associated Press)<br>

LSU head football coach Les Miles. (Associated Press)

Price of success: early departures

Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2014 11:17 AM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

It’s pretty obvious that LSU’s Les Miles is done with trying to force a smile while all but sitting by his lonesome on what is now being called National Staying Day.

Pretty clever, whoever first came up with that name, and it’s become as important for college programs as the revered National Signing Day.

Maybe more so. At least with the juniors’ and draft-eligible sophomores’ decisions, you’re dealing with well-known commodities rather than what you’ve heard on the Internet.

At any rate, LSU does National Signing Day much better than National Staying Day.

For the second consecutive year, the Tigers will lose more early entrees to the NFL draft than any other school in the nation.

So many have left that you need disclaimers and a bucket load of asterisks to put a number on it.

If last year you count Tyrann Mathieu, who had been booted from the team and couldn’t come back, then it was 11. If this year you count reserve running back Alfred Blue, who was a senior but had been granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, then it’s seven.

So it’s somewhere in the 16-18 range over the last two years.

It’s the coming trend. More college players with eligibility remaining leave each year. This year it’s 90, up from 73 last year, which was also a short-lived record.

But it doesn’t have to follow that a successful National Signing Day has to lead to a lonesome National Staying Day three years hence.

No school is getting hit like LSU.

Losing seven doesn’t sound so bad when it’s down from 11. But the entire Big Ten and Big 12 conferences combined only have seven juniors declaring for early entry this year.

The SEC has the most, of course, with 28. But even in its own backyard, LSU defectors make up one-fourth of the total from the 14-team most powerful football conference on earth. If it’s any consolation, Alabama has the next most with five.

And it’s not like the LSU defections seem anxious just to get away. Miles is nothing if not a “player’s coach” and the player announcements on Twitter almost always make some reference to “Tiger for life” or “best three years of my life.”

But it’s a tough spot, almost a no-win situation for Miles.

On the one hand, Miles recruits very well with a three-pronged message of: 1, getting an education; 2, playing for championships; and 3, preparing you for the NFL.

Worthy goals, all of them. But I don’t have to tell you which piece of that holy trinity likely lights up the eyes of impressionable 17-year-olds the most.

So when decision day comes and a junior decides he’s ready for the big pay day, it must be hard for Miles to complain about having essentially done for the kid what he promised he’d try to do.

Even if it’s a bad decision, based on worse advice, as some are.

“We give them the best information we can,” Miles said. “We try to dispel what would be false information as best we can. But it really is their decision.”

This year, if I had to guess, Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham were no-brainers. Nothing they could do next year was going to boost them much. And they’re all three ready for the NFL, like, yesterday.

That should have been it, though.

Defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson have potential, figure to do well in the “measurables” at the combine, and the NFL know-it-alls may figure they can make them more productive than in fact they were in college last season.

Either might have played his way into the first round — where the money is guaranteed — with another year.

Offensive guard Trai Turner is the puzzler. He’s not a bad player. LSU, for one, would love to have him back. It would mean five returning starters on the offensive line.

But most projections have him maybe going in the last round, just as likely undrafted and hooking on as a free agent.

Might make it. But not only could he likely improve his draft stock with another year, he’d be far better prepared to make it long term, which is where the big money is anyway.

Pray tell, whose advice was he taking?

But LSU did its level best to try to put a happy face on things.

The school finally got some good news when offensive tackle La’El Collins decided to return, and officials showed great restraint by not bringing champagne and confetti to the party (news conference) they threw.

But the gala seemed almost awkward in its attempts to accentuate the positive while acting like the missing six never existed.

This year, for instance, none of the early defections had school-sanctioned news conferences. Miles did wish them well, but it’s obvious he was more interested in celebrating small victories.

Maybe the silliest part was bringing along four fellow juniors with Collins to create the illusion of a “We’re staying” trend.

Miles even called it a “point in the right direction,” perhaps forgetting that Collins was the only one in the happy group who anyone had seriously thought had any reason to leave early.

Oh, there had been some rumblings that running back Kenny Hilliard might go, but keep in mind that this last season he was at best LSU’s co-No. 3 back (with Blue).

But you have to start somewhere.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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