National Signing Day is when the sausage is packaged.
The preceding days, weeks, months and (in some cases) years are when the sausage is made. It’s the ugly, grimy and occasionally disturbing process that leads to the finished product.
For the Tulane football team’s 2014 class, there was no shortage of drama leading up to Wednesday’s flood of National Letters of Intent. But by the time the fax machine started humming, everything was in order for the Green Wave.
While the class wasn’t the most star-studded — rated eighth in the 11-team American Athletic Conference, according to Rivals.com — it provided coach Curtis Johnson with a wide smile when he greeted the media.
“This is one of our biggest gifts,” Johnson said. “There is no way we should have gotten these kids that we got. Last year’s class was a miracle class. This class is beyond that. This class is just awesome.”
Twenty-four signees joined the Tulane football program before 10:15 a.m., without a hint of controversy, even from headline-grabbing East St. John defensive end Daren Williams. The former Green Wave commitment flipped to Kansas State two weeks ago before returning to the fold at Tulane following an official visit last weekend.
By turning Williams back around, Johnson and his staff not only showed the sway they held over the local prospect and his family but also their ability to fight off a school with a larger budget and national profile from pilfering in its backyard.
“We were recruiting the guy forever and ever,” Johnson said. “Then all of a sudden Kansas State came in, which they should do. It wasn’t just Kansas State. They had Florida calling, too. People do their homework and, when they come down here, they’re going to get a good player. And we felt he was one of the better guys for what he does as far as being a pass rusher.
“When Daren came in and we found out he was going to Kansas State and that he was flipped, (defensive coordinator Jon Sumrall) got on the phone with him. It didn’t take long for him to tell us, ‘You guys can flip me back.’ ”
Sure enough, Williams lasted less than a week on the Wildcats’ commitment list.
“It was the family feeling, me being at home and getting my chance to still play (big-time) ball,” Williams said. “But I’ll still be able to let my family come see me play.”
Outside of the curiosity surrounding Williams, the Wave’s most noteworthy move was grabbing offensive lineman John Leglue away from Louisiana-Lafayette at the last minute. Leglue, a product of Holy Savior Menard in Alexandria, decommitted from the Ragin’ Cajuns on Tuesday night and showed up on the Green Wave’s ledger Wednesday morning.
Thankfully for Johnson, a chunk of Signing Day’s potential drama was removed weeks ago, when three-star commitments Niguel Veal and Raul Diaz enrolled early. Veal, who changed high schools from Carver to West Jefferson in the offseason, was particularly critical to have in school early, Johnson said.
Veal, an athlete who graded out as Tulane’s highest-rated commitment by Rivals.com, flew largely under the radar because of his migrant high school career. But the relationship Tulane receivers coach Keith Williams developed with local prep coaches allowed him to connect with Veal before many other suitors could arrive.
“He kind of slipped through the cracks a little bit,” Johnson said. “All of the schools who wanted to recruit him couldn’t find him. We kind of knew where he was, and I thought Keith did a great job.
“All of a sudden, it was ‘Here we go, here we go, here we go,’ and he was planning on visiting this place and that place. But then he was already on campus, so it was done.”
While the competition for some of Tulane’s signees wasn’t as intense as it was for Williams and Veal, familiarity with the area played an important role in nearly every signature Tulane attained. Twenty of the Green Wave’s 24 commitments came from Louisiana and three others are products of South Florida, where Johnson has spent much of his career.
“These coaches are always around,” Belle Chasse wide receiver Terren Encalade said. “It’s important because they know what’s going on around here.”
Johnson doesn’t expect that trend to change. He’s targeting Louisiana as Tulane’s highest priority entering 2015 and each subsequent season beyond that.
“(Recruiting locally) is very important to us,” Johnson said. “It was one of the things I said when I first stepped up to the podium for the first time here. This is the ‘state of Tulane.’ We aren’t messing with those guys in Baton Rouge too much yet. Notice how I said yet.
“Those guys are doing a fantastic job. We want to get our kids, character kids. We are doing a very good job of doing it.”