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January 14, 2014
More than Collins' announcement
Let's get the news portion of LSU's press conference out of the way first.
La'El Collins reversed a two-year trend by talented Tigers underclassmen and chose to remain in school rather than entering the NFL draft.
Collins could have been the 17th LSU player, excluding Tyrann Mathieu, to give up remaining eligibility and head for professional football. But, as had been expected for the past week, Collins will remain with the Tigers.
"For me, it's always been a dream to play in the NFL," Collins said. "I feel like I'm prepared to play in the NFL. I also know in my heart that my time here at LSU isn't complete. I came here to compete, build great relationships with the guys I call my teammates and earn a degree.
"The 2014 LSU football team has a lot to look forward to and a lot to accomplish. I look forward to being a part of that."
Collins, a two-year starter - one season at left guard and one season at left tackle, admitted that it has taken time to make his decision. He also feels that he can make some improvement on the field.
"It has been a long process," Collins said. "I have been back and forth making a decision. It is not a decision that is going to affect you right now. It is a decision that is going to affect the rest of your life. I look forward to being around these guys, great coaches and great teammates.
"I can improve on a lot of things. I have more room to grow. That is why making the decision wasn't really that hard because I wasn't able to max out my potential this year. Being able to come back and work on those things is a big deal for me. I get a chance to focus on everything I need to work on."
The announcement of Collins' decision was obviously not the only purpose for the press conference. LSU coach Les Miles wanted to use this occasion to get some positive publicity for the program. Some people felt a second-year of major hits for the Tigers from the NFL was not good.
Collins was joined by four teammates at the front of the team room in football operations building - Jordan Allen, Kenny Hilliard, Elliott Porter and Jermauria Rasco. Of that group, Hilliard was the only one whom people thought was seriously considering leaving for the NFL draft.
But, Miles wanted to show that not every junior picks professional football over playing another season for the Tigers. Porter was the only one of the four who addressed the audience, which also included about 15 returning players.
"Staying here for next season was probably the best decision I ever made," Porter said. "I graduate in May and I'm trying to get a second degree in business in the fall. This had been a big decision for me. I'm glad to be a Tiger for my last year."
Hilliard, who has endured two rather mediocre seasons after a promising freshman campaign, sounded like an individual excited about being back for one more shot at college football.
"We have a lot of young quarterbacks," Hilliard said. "My job will be to keep these young guys going. We have to get the team headed in the right direction. I've been promising to my family that I would get my degree. I want to get that degree."
Miles was quite explicit in what he plans for the guys who come into the LSU program. Miles laid out the three goals Tuesday.
"When we recruit these guys, we tell them their goals are your degree, playing for a championship and putting yourself in the best position to be drafted to go to the NFL," Miles said. "All guys have different draft ratings.
"These five guys made a decision weighing a NFL career vs. playing another year and getting a degree. These guys are making a decision for education."
Miles explained the advice he gives to underclassmen considering leaving early for the NFL.
"We try to dispel what would be false information as best we can," Miles said. "What we tell them is let's not give the NFL a deal. There's no reason for it. With the guaranteed money, the best position to go in the draft is the first round.
"This thing evolves into where the player is at in getting a degree, what he has left to accomplish here and is he entering the NFL at the highest possible position. If you are a first-rounder, you're guaranteed. There is no deal. The NFL is going to have to pay for you."
That's the reason Miles believes that Collins made the proper decision to return for his senior season. Collins is not projected to be a first-round selection this May. According to Miles, that situation should change for Collins in another 12 months.
"For the guys that come back for a reason, it's a self-thing," Miles said. "They are not only saying that they are good players now, but they can legitimately improve their stock.
"That self-perception will allow La'El to work and improve. I don't think there's any question that he has the potential to be a very early draft pick at left tackle next year."
Miles didn't neglect to talk about the six underclassmen who are heading to the NFL - Odell Beckham, Ego Ferguson, Jeremy Hill, Anthony Johnson, Jarvis Landry and Trai Turner.
"Today does not diminish the decisions by other guys to leave," Miles said. "Those guys went through the same process and made different decisions. We support them. We enjoy them and wish the best for them. They certainly are teammates and we'll follow them fully."
Miles doesn't believe that having lost 16 underclassmen in two years is a detriment for the program.
"We're doing a great job in recruiting," Miles said. "Thank goodness the NFL is here. We've always counted on guys that have shown up in this room to play big. Young guys who come into the program are not expected to not be young guys. They're expected to take their roles in this program.
"We recruit to that. We see these eventualities when we recruit. One, you're going to get a degree. Two, you're going to play championship football. Three, you're going to enter the NFL at the highest position possible. Still, it is very much a personal decision."