My Signing Day Decision

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“Les Miles is a hugger, bro.”

“Nah.”

“Yes. He is. Look at the guy.”

“What do you mean, look at the guy?”

“What do you mean, what do I mean? It’s just a vibe. Read the vibe, bro. Just trust me. I’m getting hugged.”

He can’t see it.

It’s November 28th, 2015, in Tiger Stadium, in Death Valley, on the LSU sideline before their game vs. Texas A&M — and my friend can’t see it.

He can’t see that Les Miles is a hugger.

“10 bucks says he shakes your hand — no hug.”

I crack a smile. I don’t have any inside info or anything. I’m just some kid, a recruit on a visit. It’s not like Les and I are close.

But I know. I don’t know how I know, but I know. My dude is a hugger.

I give my friend fair warning.

“Look … if you want to give me 10 dollars, then I’ll take it. But that’s a losing bet. He’s going to hug me.”

“Then bet.”

“Okay, it’s a bet.”

The stakes are high: 10 bucks. Hug from Les Miles or nah.

“10 bucks.”

“That Les Miles will hug me.”

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

A few minutes later, the team finishes warm-ups. Coach jogs off the field, and heads toward the sideline. My friend and I catch his eye.

He walks over to us.

We look at each other, wide-eyed. The stakes are high: 10 bucks. Hug from Les Miles or nah.

I reach out my hand.

*

I’m writing this to officially announce my commitment to play football at Louisiana State University.

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On one level, the truth is, it wasn’t an easy decision. There are a lot of really great football programs out there, and I’m thankful to all of them that showed interest in me as a student-athlete. From Alabama, to Ole Miss, to Florida State and beyond, I had some amazing visits. And I considered committing to various schools, at various times, as I moved through this process — right up to the end of it. Those are all first-class institutions, and they treated me with thoughtfulness and respect.

But on another level, of course, the decision was easy. And that’s because, in the end, LSU isn’t just the best football program for me, and it isn’t just the best school.

It’s home.

Baton Rouge has been home … basically all my life. I haven’t always lived there — I spent one year in Virginia and another this past year attending IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida — but even still, it never stopped being where I was from. And it never stopped being home.

Baton Rouge is where I played my very first snaps of football. I went to The Dunham School — shout out to Dunham. And if you know Baton Rouge, then you know: When Dunham kids step up to that line of scrimmage, and imagine themselves as older, bigger football stars … in their minds, they’re not NFLers. They’re not Broncos, or Cowboys, or even Saints.

They’re LSU Tigers. Period.

That’s the dream.

People have to understand: I rooted for LSU when I was little. That 2007 National Championship? It’s basically my first real memory as a sports fan. I was only in grade school, and man … I was obsessed with that team. Matt Flynn, Glenn Dorsey, Brandon LaFell, Early Doucet — those were my guys. That team was everything to me. And when they won the championship … Wow, I can’t even explain it. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so happy in my life. To me, it was bigger than the Super Bowl.

My roots in Baton Rouge run much deeper than just football, though.

It feels like I have a memory in every nook and cranny of the city. I swear, anytime I’m talking to someone who’s visiting Baton Rouge — every place they mention, I have a story. That one area they passed through, you know, down by the water? Yeah, that’s my old fishing spot. That hole-in-the-wall restaurant they heard good things about? I’ve eaten their whole menu, twice over. The movie theater over at Perkins Rowe where they caught the new Star Wars? I went on my first date at Perkins Rowe.

(Going to the movie theater with your friends in seventh grade, hoping the girls from your class would be there, and saying “hey” when you saw them — that counts as a date, right?)

It’s just like that with me and Baton Rouge. No matter what I’ve done, or where I’ve been, I’ve never forgotten where home was.

And I’ve never forgotten how it gets, at home, when LSU is winning. When Death Valley is rocking a winner — I mean, a real winner, when it’s got that National Championship Contender swag — it’s unlike anyplace else on Earth. As a fan, those wins feel like a birthright — I was born into those wins. And as a hometown boy, in Baton Rouge, I grew up on those wins.

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And I want to be a part of the next LSU team that captures the biggest of those wins.

Thankfully, I know we have the recipe to do it. We have the talent. We have the coaching. And you better believe we have the best home-field advantage in sports.

As for my own contribution: I think I have a lot to offer this football team. Spending this past year at IMG Academy, with some of the best coaches, players, staff, academics and facilities, has taken me to a whole other level. I’m fast — track fast. “10.3 in the 100, 20.9 in the 200” fast. I’ve also played soccer at a high level, throughout my life, and I think my soccer skills have made me a better football player. My sense of attacking the right angles on routes to the ball, and my ability to coordinate that give-and-take between my brain and my feet — I’m constantly training those skills. I want to make sure I’m not just speed: I’m speed with a purpose.

But the main thing about my contribution is that it starts today.

IMG Academy plays Miramar High School at IMG in Bradenton, Fla., on Sunday, August 30, 2015. IMG is the world's largest and most advanced multi-sport and education complex for youth, collegiate, professional and adult athletes. / (August 30, 2015; IMG Photo by Casey Brooke Lawson)

I’ll never forget, at one of the home games I went to this season, walking by the student section and getting a tap on the shoulder. It caught me off guard, because I didn’t think anyone would be able to reach that far from the student section to where I was standing. But then I turned around … and saw someone with, let’s just say, a pretty long reach.

It was Ben Simmons.

Standing there, at the front of the student section, roaring and cheering with the rest of the Tiger faithful: Ben Simmons. And he nodded at me, and I nodded at him. And then he pointed up at the crowd — like they were some wild orchestra he was conducting with his seven-foot wingspan — and shouted, “Drake! You know you want to be here. You know!”

Since then, Ben and I have become pretty good friends. And as I marvel at all that he’s accomplishing on the basketball court this season, I’m also taking notes. And the most important note, so far, has been this: It’s never too early to make an impact.

So I’m going to continue working, and working hard.

*

Like I said: I don’t know how I know, but I know.

I look Les Miles in the eye. I smile. I put out my hand to shake his.

And then I wait … for … it …

Whoosh.

There it is. He brushes my hand aside — and goes straight for the hug. Perfect form, no hesitation, never a doubt. My friend is out 10 bucks: Les Miles is a hugger.

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Sorry. Not Les Miles — Coach Miles.

My coach.

Of my team. Of my state. Of my city. Of my school. Of my new home — the same as my old home.

And that, above everything else, is why I’m signing today with LSU: It’s home.

Home is where your family is.

And families don’t shake hands.

Geaux Tigers.

newdrake

Watch: Michigan Football Signing Day

In case you missed The Players' Tribune's exclusive Michigan Football Signing Day Event as we streamed live from The University of Michigan, watch the video below to watch the event in its entirety.

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