Tulane netting strong base of locals

Published 11:45 pm Friday, July 6, 2012



NEW ORLEANS — The impact of Curtis Johnson’s arrival as Tulane head coach may not have been recognized on the field just yet, as the Green Wave have yet to play a game under its new leader.

But in the recruiting arena — especially locally — Johnson has made abundantly clear that there’s a new sheriff in town.

Johnson, a St. Charles Catholic alumni, is well acquainted with the River Parishes. It shows. Over the past two months, the Wave have procured 16 commitments from the Class of 2013, including three from River Parish schools: East St. John safety Leonard Davis, St. Charles Catholic linebacker Luke Jackson and West St. John defensive tackle Eric Bell.

It comes on the heels of a National Signing Day earlier this year when Johnson and the Green Wave made a splash by securing the signature of East St. John’s Darion Monroe, the Wildcats standout quarterback/defensive back and a four-star prospect who had previously been committed to Texas A&M.  

Monroe joined St. Charles Catholic running back Lazedrick Thompson and Lutcher’s Jordan Batiste in making Tulane their official destination on signing day.

St. Charles coach Frank Monica, who had two separate tenures as an assistant coach at Tulane, said that Johnson and his staff have made a strong push to lock down local standouts. He also credited Tulane defensive coordinator Lionel Washington, the former NFL veteran coach and player who was once a Lutcher High superstar.

“They’re making a concerted effort to throw a net over the metro area,” said St. Charles coach Frank Monica. “Lionel Washington, in my mind, has been a huge difference. They’ve done a great job evaluating these players and finding the right ones to fit the program.

“They’ve made a statement, saying ‘We’ll recruit you if you’re a good football player. Just give us a chance to do that.’

Monica said that the Wave boasts a few major draws to local athletes, including the ability to play close to home and in front of friends and family, and to play in the Superdome.

And, simply, to play.

“A lot of these kids will go and have the chance to start or earn playing time early on,” he said. “And another big thing is when these kids start seeing guys they recognize signing on, then they get more excited about the possibility. It creates a domino effect.”

That domino effect helped lure Davis, who will soon join Monroe, his former teammate.

Like Monroe, Davis has been recruited as a defensive back. And like Monroe, Davis will transition from defensive back to quarterback to close his high school career; Monroe started for two years at cornerback before breaking out as quarterback in his junior and senior seasons.

“D-Bow (Monroe), of course, had something to do with his interest,” said Banko. “All of these guys look up to him. They say to themselves, ‘If it’s good enough for Darion Monroe, why not anyone else?’”

He said Davis (5’10, 180) brings a physical, intimidating presence to the Wildcats defense, as he will to Tulane’s next year.

“Leonard is just a hard hitter,” said Banko. “He’s instrumental in how we play the run. He plays in the box … He’s a very smart kid that brings a ton to the game at safety. He helped us do something (win a playoff game) last year that we hadn’t done in a long time, and was a very big part of that.”

Davis said that Tulane made him comfortable from the start of the recruiting process.

“They made me feel at home, like I was part of the team already,” Davis said. “Even though I’ve got a year left, they welcomed me like their own. I love the people and the environment.”

He said that the prospect of having Monroe there alongside him from day one puts him at ease.

“When I get there, I know D-Bow will show me what’s going on defensively and get me up to speed,” he said.

Bell was an anchor on the West St. John squad that went to the Superdome and finished as Class 1A runner-up.

He said that familiarity played a big role in his decision.

“So many people from my hometown of Gramercy went there,” he said. “People who are my role models, like Lionel Washington, went there. Jordan Batiste (who Bell is close with) is there.

“Really, I fell in love with the campus. I’m very excited about everything.”

Bell (6’2, 250) had big games in playoff wins over St. John-Plaquemine, Haynesville and Vermilion Catholic.

“He had tremendous games in the postseason for us,” said West St. John coach Robert Valdez. “He’s got good size and can even get a little bigger. But he’s just so explosive getting off the ball, so disciplined. He creates chaos behind the line. When you combine his academics with his tremendous potential, it got Tulane’s attention.

Jackson broke out in a big way as a junior last season, making a big impact on a suffocating Comets’ defensive unit that helped key SCC’s Class 3A state championship victory.

His midseason move from inside to outside linebacker opened things up for the 6-foot-3, 210 pound prospect, said Monica.

“His major asset is that he combines great closing speed with a big body. He can chase someone down or take on a tight end,” said Monica. “He could run and escape blocks, and that is a tremendous asset.”

Jackson said that he was considering playing out his senior season before making any final decision, but had a change of heart after speaking with his family and coaches.

“(Tulane) was the first team to offer me,” Jackson said.

“I thought about just seeing what other offers I could get… But I ultimately decided not to pass on the offer. Tulane is a great school, a great scholarship, and I have the chance to go play football on the college level.”

He said a visit to Tulane all but sealed the decision.

“My parents and I went up there. I sat and talked with coach C.J. I feel really good about my decision. I think Tulane is building something really good.”