Five-star Maason Smith couldn’t refuse Coach O, another Bayou boy
In the hours leading up to his decision reveal, Maason Smith continued to go back-and-forth with himself between a pair of SEC teams. Even as he took centerstage at the Houma Civic Center on Wednesday afternoon with one of the most significant commitments of this Early Signing Period, Smith continued to leave the door open for both LSU and Georgia.
Deep down, however, Smith has always known where he’d play on Saturdays.
That feeling began to bubble in the five-star prospect’s stomach way before he was the No. 1-ranked player in the country and had a double-digit offer sheet with Power 5 schools from all over the country. He can remember being a hopeful underclassman at Houma (La.) Terrebonne High School the day that LSU area recruiter Greg McMahon walked through the school’s doors.
Smith remembers looking at McMahon and his purple and gold shirt that read “LSU.” He knew why McMahon was there and it was obvious.
“He walked into my school … now, this was before I had the Floridas and Alabamas (offers) and I was a normal kid trying to do something productive with my life and make it out of Houma,” Smith recalled to Rivals.
“He said nothing, but I knew why he was coming.”
McMahon was one of three coaches that played a major role in courting Smith from the Bayou, along with defensive line GA Christian LaCouture, a former Tigers defensive lineman that played for Ed Orgeron when he was an assistant coach under Les Miles.
The other was Coach O.
Like Smith, Orgeron hails from the Bayou. He’s famous for his Cajun accent and his passion for both LSU and Louisiana. Orgeron helped the South LaFourche Tarpons to a 1977 state championship about 20 minutes form where Smith grew up in Houma, La.
As Smith considered his future in college football and weighed opportunities to play for Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Dan Mullen or Manny Diaz, he took one unique element into account.
“There are other coaches at other big-time schools, but no other coach is from where I’m from,” Smith said of Orgeron. “He’s from LaRose, La. -- that’s 20 minutes from my house. I have friends at (Orgeron’s alma mater) South LaFourche. I have great friends at South LaFourche, and he knows exactly what goes around around here in the Bayou region, how people talk around here and that makes me feel like home. It makes it letter better with home knowing how to be a real Bayou boy. That’s the advantage he had with me.”
As you’d expect in the Bayou, it boiled down to relationships.
Orgeron recruited Smith as LSU’s defensive line coach and then as the Tigers’ head coach. The same goes for LaCouture and McMahon, who have been three constants as Smith navigated through out-of-state visits as an underclassmen and then have to finalize his plans for the future amid a global pandemic.
Comfortability wound up being the catalyst.
“It all goes back to relationships,” Smith said, “a those have been my guys checking on me since the ninth grade.”
“Coach McMahon knows my family very well,” he added. “He talks to my dad, my mom, my stepmom all the time. Those are three people in my life that I care about a lot. He knows my little sister’s name and that’s my core support group, so being in touch with them made me happy and I knew they’d take care of my family.”
LaCouture’s role can’t be overlooked either. He played a helping hand is reeling in Smith, a five-star recruit and not only the No. 1 player in Louisiana, but the entire country.
LaCouture was a 6-foot-5, 300-pound recruit in Nebraska in 2013 when he elected to go out-of-state and play for LSU. Now a grad assistant helping behind-the-scenes in the program’s recruiting department, LaCouture has grown so close that football isn’t even discussed much between the two.
“With Coach Lac, I don’t look at him as a coach; he’s a big brother,” Smith said. “The first time I went to LSU’s campus he was playing for LSU. With him, watching me grow up into the person and player I am right now, that’s built our bond. He wants me to be at his wedding. He does little things like check on me and my support group, those same three people -- my mom, my dad and stepmom -- and he keeps up with us. It’s all love. He’s taught me a lot about life stuff, not just football.”
These relationships have always served as the backdrop of Smith’s recruitment. Entering 2020, the five-star defensive tackle had planned to visit LSU, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Miami — perhaps even more schools — for second and third times before taking his official visits in the fall and announcing his decision on Dec. 16.
COVID-19 offered Smith fewer options. He privately made trips to Baton Rouge, Athens and Tuscaloosa. He attended games and visited the homes of other blue-chip recruits and got a feel for environments outside of Louisiana.
As the Early Signing Window crept up, Smith returned to LSU for the Tigers’ tilt with Alabama. It was a reminder of what he already knew, ultimately leading this Bayou boy to another one in Orgeron.
“It all comes down to comfortability,” Smith said. “The one thing LSU has had over Georgia was how many times I’ve been there. It’s a countless numbers of times and I know everything in and out. I went to Georgia during COVID-19 and I didn’t see the facilities. I didn’t see the operations building, the weight room, the practice field, none of that …
“I know I would have liked it, but I had the thought in my mind -- that what-if factor …”