When Markee Anderson and his family walked into their rooms at the Renaissance Hotel last week, handwritten welcome signs, LSU bracelets and snacks covered the beds. Box combos from Raising Cane’s waited for them on a ledge.
“All right, LSU,” Anderson’s father said. “We see you.”
Anderson, a four-star offensive tackle from South Carolina, had come for his official visit, an important part of the recruiting process. High school seniors can take up to five such trips, per NCAA rules, before they sign their national letter of intent.
Schools pay for everything on official visits, covering the costs of transportation, lodging and three meals per day for prospects and their parents or guardians. While recruits can take as many unofficial visits as they want, the lavish versions give them a personalized experience and more time with coaches.
LSU has hosted 26 official visits this month, according to On3, as the new staff works on the 2023 class. The list included five-star receiver Jalen Brown, four-star defensive lineman Darron Reed, four-star tight end Mac Markway and three-star receiver Kyle Parker, who committed Thursday to LSU.
Official visits used to only happen in the fall, but when the NCAA implemented the early signing period, it allowed recruits to take the trips between April and June. Since 2017, more and more prospects have scheduled their trips over the summer, making this a pivotal stretch before a monthlong dead period starts Monday.
“With the introduction of spring and summer official visits, it gives you a chance to get more kids on campus out of the season,” On3 national recruiting analyst Sam Spiegelman said. “They can roll out the red carpet just as much — if not maybe even more — in the offseason.”
Anderson was one of seven players in town when he took his official visit June 17-19, according to On3. His father, Lance Robinson, filmed the trip and posted the video on YouTube.
Their experience, combined with additional interviews, provided an inside look at what happens on an official visit with LSU’s new coaching staff.
“Everybody was genuine,” said Anderson’s mother, Tawana Robinson. “When I left, I didn’t have anything bad to say.”
Inside the hotel, LSU arranged a breakfast buffet Friday morning for players and their families. They could choose from made-to-order omelets, fruit, hash browns, grits, bacon, French toast, waffles, sandwiches, gumbo and more. Purple-and-gold pompoms and fleur-de-lis decorated the tables.
LSU then shuttled everyone to campus, where they separated players and their families onto trolleys. Staff members, including director of recruiting JR Belton, led them through tours of the athletic dorms and Cox Academic Center. They also walked past Mike the Tiger’s habitat.
From there, the groups reunited on the back patio at the Walk-On’s near campus. Coaches and staff members joined. Another buffet waited for them.
“We didn’t see any bad food,” Markway’s father, Matt, said.
With another meal finished, the visitors toured Tiger Stadium. They walked through the suite level and into the locker room, where LSU hung notable jerseys in the stalls, including those of wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and linebacker Devin White. Music pumped while players waited for a photo shoot.
The photo shoots have become a key part of any recruiting visit. They give players a chance to see themselves in a jersey and take pictures to post on social media. Teams can turn the photos into graphics if a recruit later signs.
LSU prepared a display outside the locker room with a painting of Billy Cannon, a Heisman Trophy, an LSU flag, a letterman’s jacket, the College Football Playoff national championship trophy and a TV playing highlights.
While Anderson posed, staff members brought in a large metal pot filled with dry ice. They handed him a paddle and draped an LSU apron over his neck. As he stirred, the photographer told Anderson to waft the air toward his face.
“Like grandma’s cooking,” the photographer said.
After walking onto the field, there was another buffet waiting in the South Stadium Club above the end zone. The spread included alligator tacos, fried catfish, fried chicken, mac and cheese, green beans, cornbread and boudin balls as LSU tried to display the culture of south Louisiana.
Once dinner ended, recruits left with their player hosts, and parents agreed at head coach Brian Kelly’s house for a party. The lights in his pool alternated colors. Music played in the background. Some parents started playing spades, and Kelly mingled with a drink in his hand.
“At first, I was a little skeptical,” said Reed, who visited June 10-12. “He opened up more than when he was at Notre Dame. He opened up a whole lot more. His personality is pretty cool.”
The prospects started their second day by meeting with their potential position coaches to talk about schemes. Then they rejoined their parents for a private breakfast in the suites at Tiger Stadium.
When Anderson’s family arrived, offensive line coach Brad Davis hugged his mom and thanked them for letting him borrow their son that morning. Davis never stopped recruiting, rubbing his hands together as he talked about pulling Anderson out of his home state.
“He kept it real with me the whole time we were down there,” said Anderson’s father, who met LSU’s coaches for the first time. “If my son decides to come down there, I know he’ll be in good hands.”
After breakfast, the players and their families toured the football operations building. They started in the nutrition center, where assistant athletic director of sports nutrition Matt Frakes staged a smoothie-making contest.
They walked through the rest of the facility — which recently underwent a $28 million renovation — past meeting rooms, the weight room, the indoor practice field, athletic training areas, players lounge, offices and the locker room.
Every family then had a private meeting with Kelly. At one point, he handed the players letters their parents wrote to them earlier that day. Other schools have used the tactic, Anderson’s mother said. LSU calls them “Letters to a future Tiger,” and they were part of a longer conversation with the head coach.
“He’s genuine,” Matt Markway said. “I believe what Coach Kelly says. He doesn’t over-sell stuff.”
The trip continued that afternoon for a pool party at Kelly’s house. Less than a mile from campus, the large house on the lake lets him host unofficial and official visitors.
“That was huge for us because we want to use it as a place to entertain,” Kelly said.
Footballs, volleyballs and water guns waited on the side. Floaties shaped like the state drifted in the water. Siblings rushed toward a Kona Ice station. Underneath a tent, crawfish and crab legs from Boil and Roux filled plastic buckets with more food available.
“I definitely picked up a few pointers,” said Anderson’s father, who runs a food truck with his wife.
Somehow everyone was hungry enough for dinner later on, and LSU shuttled the families to Texas from Brazil for dinner.
Quarterbacks coach Joe Sloan held the door open as Anderson’s family entered the restaurant and walked toward a private room. LSU had name tags set for everyone. They chatted with coaches and staff members as waiters came by with various meats.
Before the families returned home Sunday morning, LSU provided one more breakfast buffet in the hotel.
“I ain’t going that hard,” Anderson’s father said. “I’m still full from last night.”
Once they finished, limousines took them to the airport for their flights. Anderson’s family said goodbye to defensive analyst Patrick Hill, their primary host for the weekend.
“We’re going to send you out right, baby,” Hill said. “Come on back home soon.”
While the families departed, LSU’s coaches and staff members reloaded for another round of official visits.
Two days later, three more prospects arrived on campus.