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Michael Carvell

LSU’s Les Miles on recruiting middle schoolers

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LSU coach Les Miles (AP)

LSU coach Les Miles (AP)

LSU made national headlines last month by both offering a football scholarship and accepting a commitment from a quarterback who is still in middle school.

The kid’s name is Zadock Dinkelmann, 14, of Somerset, Texas, and his uncle is 1990 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer.

During an interview with the AJC on Wednesday, LSU coach Les Miles couldn’t discuss Dinkelmann specifically due to the NCAA rules, but he explained his reasons for recruiting a middle schooler:

“It’s very interesting. Certainly we don’t know all the great players in the country. But those young players that are exceptional – when you come across them, you just know it. We recognize the family, and we recognize a characteristic that they will do well academically and that they have a size and speed component that will only improve. We know they are doing well off the field. Those kind of guys, sometimes they can be young players. We’ve not shied away from them. When we can identify them, we’ve not shied away from offering them.”

It’s not LSU’s first trip down this road: In the summer of 2012, LSU was in the national spotlight after making an offer to Dylan Moses shortly before he started the eighth grade. LSU’s coaches knew about Moses’ ability because he had attended the team’s summer camps for five years.

In both situations, LSU caught some public criticism for offering kids at too young of an age. What’s funny about it, though, is that 15 other colleges, including Alabama, FSU and UGA, also ended up offering Moses by the time he committed to LSU last summer.

“Again, it’s the exceptional kids,” Miles said. “I look back at myself, and I can’t imagine that anybody would’ve though much of me as a seventh or eighth grader. But those guys that need senior years, we’re not passing by those guys either. You know, those guys that are maturing late, developing late and having great senior years for their coach and (high school) team, we’ll still have space for those guys as well.

“But the very rare exceptional and young student-athlete, we’re very open to recruiting him as well.”

Of course, the biggest challenge for colleges in recruiting middle schoolers is keeping them committed for five years until they can sign scholarship papers as a high school senior. How difficult does LSU’s coach think that will be when some high school seniors can’t stay committed to one school for six months or less?

“I certainly think that that’s a consideration,” he said. “I don’t know that we have given thought to how long we’re going to keep the commitment. But I think the commitment is one that is made with intention. I think for the right kids, it won’t be a problem at all. I think those guys will have understood that that’s the school that they always wanted to go to … So I think that they are making great decisions, generally.”

LSU, which usually imports an elite prospect or two out of the state every year, didn’t sign any Georgia kids last month. However, the Tigers already have nine commitments for 2015, including Buford High School long snapper Blake Ferguson.

How high will former LSU and UGA QB Zach Mettenberger be drafted? (AP)

How high will former LSU and UGA QB Zach Mettenberger be drafted? (AP)

Here’s the rest of the Q&A with LSU coach Les Miles:

What kind of feedback are you getting from NFL scouts about your quarterback Zach Mettenberger (who transferred from UGA)? “I think they are finding that he can really throw it. He’s a bright guy. He’s a quality teammate. I think you’ll find that he does all the right things in preparation for his play. And I think he’s one of the more NFL-ready quarterbacks for this year’s draft. He’s a big, tall, strong-armed guy that can stretch the field on defenses, and bright enough to make that play.”

What about those people that think Mettenberger could’ve slipped into the first round of the NFL Draft if he hadn’t gotten hurt? “I think there’s some honesty to that. But I honestly think that you’ll find that he’s going to be the guy who can throw it right now. He’s off the injury and he can really throw it again. I don’t know if (the injury) will reduce his draft stock as much as people think. I think they (NFL teams) will see a big arm and recognize that he can still motor and do all the things that he has always done. I don’t know it will hurt him significantly in the draft.”

You were in the national news for getting your picture with Spike Lee at the NBA all-star game. What were you guys talking about? “I’ve followed some of Spike Lee’s work. I enjoy Spike. He and I have made each other’s acquaintance a couple of times, and I like him. I always enjoy visiting with him.”

Last month, you signed the No. 1 player in the country, running back Leonard Fournette. Will he start as a freshman? “I think he’s a mature back that has great speed. He’s 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds with great speed. And he will certainly see the playing field quickly.”

You’ve already got nine commitments for your 2015 class, including one from Georgia. What do you think those reasons are for your fast start for 2015? “I think this is an exciting place to go school. I think the community is a wonderful backdrop to a college town. The education here is very good. You can get all the majors. And, of course, we win football games. We look for those guys that can come in and play. In the last two years, we’ve played 15 true freshmen. In the last two years, we’ve led college in putting juniors into the NFL. In the last three years, we’ve been in the high 70s with graduating our players. With all that being said, I don’t know if it gets any better than that. I think that there’s nice attraction to LSU and Baton Rouge.”

What is one NCAA rule you’d like to see changed or modified to make recruiting better? “I think an early signing date is something that we’re going to have to give thought to. We have six or seven guys committed to us for the next class, and this summer there will be a bunch of young people visiting our campus and other campuses and getting a real good feel on where they want to go to school. They might take four unofficial visits in the summer time and they might wait a couple of weeks into the season and decide LSU or somewhere else is where they want to go. I think they need to have the ability to ratify that decision early. In other words, not only am I committed, I get to sign. (I think an early signing period) should happen really before recruiting season starts in December. And that the gentleman who has been committed to their school for six months or a year, he should be able to say ‘Hey look, I’ve visited that school unofficially 10 times, I just want to sign. I’m good.’ Then everybody can leave them alone. The reality is they did a survey not long ago and they found out that about 60-percent of the student-athletes that signed in that recruiting class wanted an early signing date.”

If you talk to 15 coaches, all want an early signing period but there’s 15 different ideas on how to do it. How would you do it? “I wouldn’t want to change the recruiting calendar in any way. What happens in these rule changes is there are so many unforeseen circumstances. What I’m saying is let’s recruit just how we’ve been recruiting to this point. And sometime before Dec. 1, which is the first contact day, let’s maybe go back to the 24th of November, and say OK, everybody that wants to sign early, they can sign early then. And that would allow then no more recruiting of those kids. Basically, if they know enough about the school to commit, they ought to have the opportunity to sign then … I don’t think you need the opportunity go into the home, or do official visits. Save the official visits for sometime thereafter. They take one official visit, and they’ve already take unofficial visits to other schools, so they’ve made the decision (to sign early) with knowledge. So let them get it squared away.”

The state of Georgia produces around 190 D1 prospects on an annual basis. If UGA and Georgia Tech doesn’t sign all 190 of them every year, some fans of those schools get disappointed. The state of Louisiana produces a lot of talent, too. How do you deal with those type of high expectations from fans? “Each year is different. There’s that class of young men that always wanted to be at LSU and nothing was going to deter them. And then there’s that group of guys who were raised here but want to look around. Sometimes that happens. I think each year is different. I suspect that our fan base knows that as well.”

Your sales pitch for Georgia’s top 2015 prospects who are considering LSU? “I think there’s a lot good reasons to consider LSU. One, it’s the kind of place that you can launch a career from. You get a great degree. We have engineering, law, pre-med and many other fields. You can get an education that will compete across state boundaries. You get an opportunity to play in a stadium that is one of college’s best all-time venues. You play for a team that will have an opportunity to play for a national championship and be among the group of men that will have the opportunity to go to the NFL early. So there are a lot of reasons to pick LSU. There’s always a nice opportunity for that Atlanta athlete or that Georgia athlete to come and play for LSU. It’s a good choice.”

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– By Michael Carvell, AJC’s Recruiting Blog

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