The NFL came calling but LSU left tackle La’El Collins delayed that opportunity and announced Tuesday he would return for his senior season.
Projected as a possible middle-round draft pick, Collins opted to stay in Baton Rouge, complete his degree and hopefully boost his stock for next year’s draft.
“It’s always been my dream to play for the NFL,” Collins said. “I feel like I’m prepared to play in the NFL, but I also know in my heart that my time at LSU is incomplete. I came in to compete, build great relationships and also earn my degree. This 2014 LSU team has a lot to look forward to and a lot of things to accomplish, and I look forward to being a part of that.”
Collins and four teammates — Kenny Hilliard, Elliott Porter, Jermauria Rasco and Jordan Allen — all announced their intentions to return to LSU despite having the opportunity to go pro. That comes as a welcome change for a LSU program that had already lost seven players with eligibility remaining to the NFL this year, and another 10 from the 2012 team.
But Les Miles said Tuesday that isn’t a knock against him or LSU. In fact it defines the caliber of athlete that they recruit.
“For years we’ve had young guys come into this program that are not expected to be young guys,” Miles said. “They’re expected to play big roles in this program. We recruit to that. We recruit to those guys that see themselves stepping in and making big plays.”
Collins was one of those recruits when he came out of Baton Rouge’s Redemptorist High School as a five-star prospect. He entered the starting lineup as a sophomore at left guard, where he started all 13 games in 2012. He moved to left tackle this past season and started 12 games, sitting out the Furman contest with a minor injury.
With him still in the fold, along with three of the other four starting linemen from the 2013 team, Miles has high expectations for what his front five will bring to the offense.
“We’ll be a dominant offensive line, without question,” Miles said. “There are a number of guys that will have an opportunity to be very significant. Obviously La’El returning will bolster that group. There’s a great feeling for putting the group on the field that will be a dominant offensive line once again.”
LSU will certainly need that line to be a strength as the Tigers will lose their quarterback, leading rusher and top two wide receivers from this year’s squad. Collins is confident though that he will help the offense return to its 2013 form — despite the turnover.
“The history of this school, you always have that young to step up and make plays,” Collins said. “It’s going to be more of a team thing. Everyone’s going to have to buy in to everything we’re trying to accomplish. We’ll have to really focus on it and go out there and get it done.”
One new wrinkle for next year’s Tigers will be a new offensive line coach. LSU announced last week that Greg Studrawa had left the program, and the search remains ongoing for a replacement.
Miles didn’t go into specifics, but he did comment on what they’re looking for in a new assistant.
“We have a number of guys we’re looking at,” Miles said. “He has to be a guy that can show us he can improve what is already a pretty good line. He’s got to have run/pass technical expertise and guys that he’s put in the league. Coaching in the league is a thought, but not necessarily a prerequisite but certainly a consideration.”
Collins is looking forward to the new addition to the coaching staff.
“You never know what to expect but you get the sense that someone’s going to come in and work with you better or bring something different to the table,” Collins said. “I look forward to working with whoever they bring in.”
A primary goal for the new offensive line coach will be to get a player like Collins to the NFL as a first-round draft pick. Miles admitted that him returning for another year would only help him in the eyes of the professional evaluators.
“That self-perception will allow him to work and improve,” Miles said. “There isn’t any question that he has the potential to be a very early draft pick at left tackle. The decision [to return] promotes it in his mind, and we’ll assist him. His want to be great will stand forward.”
Collins admitted though that he wrestled with the decision, but when it was all said and done, he didn’t have any second thoughts.
“Being around these guys, great coaches, great teammates,” Collins said, “I think the bigger question is why wouldn’t I come back?”
Stick around at Tiger Sports Digest and talk all the latest in LSU sports and recruiting on our free board or over on our premium access board.