Despite his status as a first-year coach and recruiting coordinator at LSU, Frank Wilson is no stranger to high-level recruiting. In fact, since he left the high school ranks to join Ole Miss in 2005 as the running backs coach, Wilson has been luring top talent to whatever program he's been working for. And this year he outdid himself, being named the Rivals.com recruiter of the year for 2011.
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Wilson, who worked under Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss from 2005-2007 before becoming the recruiting coordinator at Southern Miss in 2008 and then spending at year under Lane Kiffin at Tennessee, joined the LSU staff last year after Kiffin bolted for USC. As a former high school coach at Edna Karr and O. Perry Walker High School prior to being the Director of Athletics for the New Orleans Public School System, coming back home and recruiting for LSU was a natural fit for Wilson and the timing couldn't have been better.
"Top to bottom this has been the best group of high school kids in the region I've seen since I've been around," said Wilson, who recruited 10 players in LSU's class, boasting three five-stars and five four-stars. "Even the kids we didn't get or even go on are SEC caliber prospects and went to top schools. This year wasn't just position specific in Louisiana, it was deep all around and so it made it that much more important for us to keep as many of them at home as we could. The credit goes to all of our staff for the hard work we put in and of course to head coach Les Miles. It's an honor to be singled out and win an award that some great coaches have won before me, but this was a team effort."
Wilson is credited with signing five-star prospects La'El Collins, Anthony Johnson and Jarvis Landry as well as four-star prospects Odell Beckham Jr., Kenny Hilliard, Trai Turner, Corey White and Zach Mettenberger. It's a haul unlike any other in the country and made Wilson an easy choice for Rivals.com. However, there are some that say it's easy for LSU to recruit kids in Louisiana. To that Wilson points out the way recruiting has been going the last few years.
"This year we had 15 in-state kids who could go anywhere in the country, not just around the SEC," he said. "We were fending off Ohio State, Michigan, USC - you name it down the stretch not to mention Auburn, Florida, Alabama and everyone else down here. We had to continue to recruit all of our kids until the end and we're proud of how strong our efforts were. Only one of our in-state committed kids, La'El Collins, took an official visit to another school but that doesn't mean we didn't have to fend everyone off. In fact, it was because of how hard we worked that the kids didn't visit and look around as much as they could. We recruited and fought until the end because guys like Gene Chizik, Ed Orgeron, Nick Saban, Will Muschamp and a bunch of others weren't going to quit, they kept coming after them and we kept having to defend the state. Putting together a class like this doesn't just happen, it's a constant fight."
To back up Wilson's claim, the data shows it has become increasingly hard to keep kids at home in recent years, especially in the south. Hasean Clinton-Dix to Alabama, Tony Steward and Sammy Watkins to Clemson, Kiehl Frazier to Auburn, Stephon Tuitt to Notre Dame[/db] and Kris Frost to Auburn are just a few examples of out-of-state pulls in 2011 alone. In 2010, Da'Rick Rogers bolted Georgia for Tennessee, Shon Coleman left Mississippi for Auburn and even in-state star Trovon Reed bolted Louisiana for Auburn.
"I think the guys in Alabama did a great job of keeping their kids home this year and in Texas the Longhorns did a great job as usual," he said. "And even though a few got away, I thought they did a good job in Florida of keeping the kids home there, but it's harder than ever. Everyone came into Louisiana this year and tried to pull guys out and I could tell you some stories of how hard guys went after our guys like La'El, Freak Johnson, Jarvis and the rest. People who say it's easy to keep kids in Louisiana at home at LSU just don't know and we really just lost one guy we coveted and that was Greg Robinson, but we got the rest. Sure there are some kids that just want to play for LSU and that's their dream, but nowadays temptation to get out of state and play for some other great programs is always there. And it's our job to fend them off as best we can."
In a way, it's a thankless job but one Wilson loves.
"If we get all the top kids in Louisiana everyone says 'they should get all the top kids, that's LSU and it's easy to recruit them there'" he explained. "But if we lose some, we get hammered. I felt the pressure this year as a Louisiana native because I knew how good this class was and Les Miles set the standard high for us as always. I feel that this state has never really gotten its due but this year people started to take notice because it was so deep at every position. We had the top defensive tackle in Freak Johnson, we had the top offensive tackle in the mind of many in La'El Collins, a top three wide receiver in Jarvis Landry, and a top six guy in Odell Beckham and on and on it goes. Big guys, skill guys, everything but that quarterback we really wanted who could come in and play from day one."
That's where Mettenberger came in, arguably the most important of Wilson's recruits.
"Hopefully he has the same effect right away as that guy from that other SEC program," he laughed, referring to Cam Newton and his instant national title at Auburn. "It was a very important position for us, we needed to get a day-one guy and we wanted to find one in high school if we could but once we saw Zach, we felt he was that guy. He's a big piece to the puzzle. I was the lead recruiter on him, but that one was mainly Les Miles. He was the reason we got him, he recruited Zach hard."
Prior to his stint at LSU, Wilson learned his craft under top recruiters like Orgeron, Kiffin, Lance Thompson, Eddie Gran, and others.
"I learned so much from each of those guys," he said. "Mainly I learned different ways to do things and how to deal with different people in different ways. The common denominator in recruiting is to be a great people person and that's what those guys are and I saw their styles and took some things away from each of them."
And at LSU, he has learned even more under Miles.
"With Les it's all about the family atmosphere, it's about the F-A-M as we call it," he said. "There is a real family feeling here from the coaches to the players so we simply have to be who we are when players come and visit, we don't have to pretend. We just do what we do everyday and it sells itself and creating that atmosphere is something I've been so impressed with."
Prior to his current stint at LSU, Wilson proved he could recruit the state of Louisiana at Ole Miss and Tennessee. In fact, Anthony Johnson was a Tennessee commitment when Wilson was with the Vols and Jarvis Landry was destined for Knoxville until Kiffin bolted and Wilson changed teams. He was also the guy who helped swing five-star cornerback Janzen Jackson away from the Tigers to Tennessee after Singing Day in 2009 and he landed four-star defensive end Kentrell Lockett and four-star offensive lineman Rishaw Johnson while at Ole Miss.
"I'm proud of what I was able to do at Ole Miss and at Tennessee as well as what we did at Southern Miss, landing wide receiver DeAndre Brown, a five-star, as a non-BCS school," he said. "I've been able to recruit Louisiana pretty well at other places but being at LSU is the perfect fit because it gives me that much more to sell. And I want kids to take pride in wanting to play for their home state school. That's why I think this is such a great group of players and I think it's the best class in the country. I know we might not be No. 1 in the rankings according to most or all the sites, but to me we're No. 1 and this is the best class I've seen come to LSU. I can't remember a better one at least."
And Wilson, the Rivals.com recruiter of the year for 2011, obviously played a huge role in putting it together.