LSU football freshmen look to make 2023 impact
True freshmen made their marks at LSU on Brian Kelly’s first team. Talented players like Will Campbell, Mason Taylor, Emery Jones and, of course, Harold Perkins helped the Tigers secure the SEC West title and 10 wins.
Which 2023 signees could follow in their footsteps? The ongoing spring drills have unveiled a few intriguing prospects while others will be arriving in June.
I expect quite a few freshmen to get reps, but these are the ones who are in the best positions to make a major impact.
Josh Williams has been on the shelf during spring drills with an injury, and John Emery, Jr. has been away from the field focusing on his academics. Armoni Goodwin has not been cleared from an 2022 injury.
This void cracks the door open for Trey Holly.
The 5-foot-7, 191-pound product of Union Parish is the state’s all-time leading rusher, amassing 10,523 career yards with 146 touchdowns. He may remind fans of LSU greats like Dalton Hiliard and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Holly, an all-purpose back, has benefitted from extra snaps while learning the offense this spring.
Kaleb Jackson (5-11, 222), a physical back out of Liberty Magnet, joins the squad in June. With his size, long speed and impressive vision, he can quickly become a factor in the unsettled backfield.
A one cut runner, Jackson has a second gear in the open. He reminds me of former LSU team captain Stevan Ridley, with similar size and skills. Ridley spent eight years in the NFL.
Shelton Sampson (6-3, 190) snared 140 career passes for 2,495 yards and 31 scores at Catholic-Baton Rouge. His length, size and skills are reminiscent of former Tiger receivers Michael Clayton, Terrace Marshall, Brandon LaFell and Jaray Jenkins.
Bkessed with an impressive catching radius, Sampson is a very graceful and fluid route runner. He gains separation from defenders quickly.
Other new arrivals, Kyle Parker and Jalen Brown, have had a chance to showcase their skills during spring. It it will be tough to assume either making a jump to the top end of a deep receiver group but their talent is not in question.
Zalance Heard (6-6, 310) was a top-three offensive tackle nationally in the 2023 class. He teamed with Will Campbell as bookend tackles at Neville. Heard, who dropped 20 pounds in recent weeks, moves like a smaller lineman. Some liken him to New Orleans native D.J. Fluker. Others compare him to former West Monroe and current NFL starter Cam Robinson.
It’s going to be difficult to keep Heard on the sidelines. He is physically advanced and plays with a mean streak. A converted defensive tackle, he has a coveted long reach and a good punch. Still a bit raw in pass protection, Heard is expected to adjust quickly with experience. He may get an early look inside at a guard spor, but his ultimate spot is at tackle. A natural athlete, he excels on the basketball court with that massive frame.
Three tight ends were added in the 2023 class, and LSU intends to give them early chances to play with Kole Taylor and Jack Mashburn both gone from the depth chart. Mason Taylor appears to have a handle on the top spot but there is much uncertainty behind him. In a multiple tight end sets, reps will be available. If Mason Taylor were to suffer any setback, the youngsters will be forced to grow up fast like he did as a true freshman last season.
Mac Markway (6-4, 242) was coached at DeSmet High in St. Louis by LSU secondary coach Robert Steeples. The Tigers showed faith in him despite the fact Markway missed most of hisjunior and senior seasons due to injury. His father played tight end at Iowa while his cousin did so at South Carolina and in the NFL.
Offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock has cited Markway’s strength as a blocker. A basketball background shows up in his body control. Markway flattens safeties and boxes out edge rushers while comfortable in zone blocking assignments. At this stage of his career, he reminds me of Foster Moreau.
Ka’morreun Pimpton (6-6, 237) recorded 85 catches for 1,321 yards and 21 scores in high school. He is a matchup nightmare with a terrific catching radius. Insiders compare him to NFL tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Pimpton has the ability to split out wide and make contested catches. Currently, he is more of a receiver than an in-line blocker.
Jackson McGohan (6-3, 235) opened eyes during spring drills with his 4.6 speed and outstanding hands. He snared 52 passes for 941 yards and 11 touchdowns last season to cap his prep career. McGowan will climb the ladder for 50/50 throws and shows out as a dangerous runner after catches. He is an improved blocker but he needs a year in the weight room, per Denbrock.
Javien Toviano (6-0, 185) arrived with high expectations and has either met or exceeded them so far. It’s apparent that the Arlington, Texas native has what it takes to play in the SEC with elite athleticism and quickness.
The LSU staff has been experimenting with Toviano at cornerback, nickel and safety, trying to find the right early fit that will provide him with the fastest path to playing time. The Tiger secondary is loaded with capable veteran candidates, but I expect him to carve out a role as the season progresses.
Toviano’s great instincts and reactions to the ball are notable. He is someone that could be an integral part of special teams. He attended the same high school as NFL star Myles Garrett.
Quency Wiggins (6-6, 265) bears mentioning altough he is a redshirt freshman. The four-star signee out of Madison Prep in the 2022 class was highly coveted, and both Alabama and Florida pulled out all stops to sign him. A freakish athlete, the defensive end draws comparisons to Marcus Spears, the LSU great and former first round draft pick by the Cowboys.
When Spears arrived on campus, the plan was for him to play both football and basketball. Quincy has also been a dominant force on the hardwood and has just scratched the surface of his immense potential on the gridiron. He didn’t begin his football journey until his junior season in high school. Spears spent most of his true freshman campaign as a tight end prior to his move to defense. Wiggins played sparingly in ’22, recording three tackles. He has elite footwork and balance.
DaShawn Womack (6-5, 270), another elite 2023 signee, physically and mentally stands ahead of the curve. He’s recently added extra muscle making him a defensive lineman who can handle the edgein either the true defensive end spor or Jack position in LSU’s scheme. He can be utilized in an assortment of ways, which enhances his opportunity to hit the field. Explosive and light on his feet, Womack runs in the 4.5-4.6 range.
Having enrolled early this spring helps immensely in familiarizing himself with the system despite nursing an injury, Womack draws comparisons to David Ojabo, the Ravens 2022 second round pick.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to play football at LSU, developing a passion for the game in even greater fashion while in…