SHREVEPORT — Ed Orgeron circled the room, shaking hands with patrons sitting at their tables, the smell of barbecued shrimp flowing from the kitchen.
Spring was the time when kings went off to war. In May, it is no different for football coaches, who annually hit the recruiting battlefield to mark off the future talent and lifeblood of their programs.
And the LSU head coach is making his annual visits across the LSU support base, on the program's annual Coaches Caravan, which made its first stop at Walk-Ons in Shreveport Monday night.
On Tuesday, it'll be West Monroe. Next week, Houma. A month from now, Houston and New Orleans.
In the first of a series of radio shows, public appearances and media interviews, Orgeron spoke about a football program that is its healthiest in the four years he's been back in Baton Rouge.
LSU football is coming off a 10-3 season, its first 10-win season since 2013, with a Fiesta Bowl victory over Central Florida; the team returns its starting quarterback, Joe Burrow, who arrived as a graduate transfer from Ohio State around this time last year; the program hauled in the nation's No. 5 recruiting class in 2019, and already it has the No. 2-ranked class, per 247Sports, in the nation for 2020.
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On that recruiting trail, the Tigers pulled in elite commitments in the past two weeks from five-star wide receiver Rakim Jarrett (St. John's College High, Washington, D.C.) and four-star linebacker Antoine Sampah (Woodbridge (Virginia) High).
Out of the 14 players committed to LSU's 2020 class, 11 are from out of state — a stark difference from 2019, when 10 of 25 were from Louisiana.
The out-of-state focus this year is warranted. There were six Louisiana players ranked within the top 120 recruits in 2019, according to 247Sports' composite rankings, including Dunham cornerback Derek Stingley, the nation's No. 3 overall prospect.
In 2020 there are only two: University High defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy (No. 64), who is de-committed from LSU earlier this year, and Warren Easton center Sedrick Van Pran, who is uncommitted.
"It was such a fertile year in the state of Louisiana (last year), we couldn't leave," Orgeron said Monday. "We signed every player we offered a scholarship. This year, we looked at specific needs on our board, and we felt like guys out of state would give us responses that are very favorable."
So far the out-of-state commitments include the nation's No. 2 cornerback, Elias Ricks (Santa Ana, California), and the nation's No. 5 wide receiver, Jermaine Burton (Calabasas, California).
It's still a long way to the finish line, with the early signing period coming up in December. And with all these players spread across the country, just how much more difficult is it to hold onto them?
"It's a hundred times harder," Orgeron said. "It's not like you're driving to Lutcher. It's a lot of work. But it's very, very well worth it."
Four players from the 2019 class enrolled early: cornerback Derek Stingley, nose tackle Siaki "Apu" Ika, center Charles Turner and tight end T.K. McClendon.
The rest of the 21 incoming players will start to arrive on campus later this month. Orgeron said all are expected to arrive except Desmond Little, an outside linebacker from Prichard, Alabama, whom Orgeron said might have some summer work to still take care of.
Ed Orgeron says Michael Divinity is going to play inside linebacker "as it stands right now." He made the move from the outside to the inside before the spring game.— Brooks Kubena (@BKubena) May 7, 2019
"We thought he had an outstanding spring."#LSU
Recruiting takes up most of the current time for coaches. Offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger was scheduled to speak in Shreveport, but he couldn't make it due to a sudden recruiting trip to Atlanta.
Two other coaches made it to the caravan's first stop: strength coach Tommy Moffitt and player development director Kevin Faulk.
Moffitt will train every player during the summer; he's the man entrusted with bulking up players on the offensive and defensive lines that Orgeron has been vocal about improving for the past year.
That includes Ika, who enrolled at LSU at 6-foot-2, 372 pounds. Now, the nose tackle is listed at 347 pounds.
Moffitt said the staff set a goal for Ika to lose two pounds a week. The Utah prospect exceeded the goal, sometimes losing six pounds a week.
As the summer offseason approaches, Faulk, a Carencro graduate and former LSU running back who played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots, said he spends most of his time in the office, making himself available to players who have questions.
Who comes in the most?
One of them is running back Chris Curry, who played sparingly as a true freshman but opened some eyes with an explosive broken tackle in the spring game.
"He just wants to be the best," Faulk said.
Faulk talked about how much offenses have changed at LSU since he became the program's leading rusher from 1995-1998. And that change has arrived at LSU, where new passing-game coordinator Joe Brady is still constructing a run-pass option offense.
Orgeron said he couldn't put a percentage on how much is left to work on but said the cooperation between Brady and Ensminger has been "outstanding."
"There's some things that we're talking about this summer," Orgeron said. "We still have a lot of stuff to put in."