15 takeaways from the start of football season in the South

On3 imageby:Sam Spiegelman08/28/23


Football season is back and there is no better feeling than as high school football players and top recruits return to the field.

On3 National Recruiting Analyst Sam Spiegelman hit a handful of scrimmages and jamborees around The Boot and provides thoughts on several top recruits, commitments and underclassmen below:

Texas commit Melvin Hills off to a strong start

If his jamboree is any indication of the type of senior season three-star Texas DL Melvin Hills is going to enjoy, then buckle up. The 6-foot-3.5, 270-pounder from Lafayette (La.) Christian was explosive off the line and fluid beating single- and double-teams from the defensive end role in a 3-4 front.

Hills was nasty at the point of attack and very forceful applying pressure on the quarterback even when he couldn’t get home. The future Longhorn out of Louisiana should be an enforcer on one of the state’s top defenses. He’ll have another big test Week 1 against a stout Acadiana veer.

2026 DL Rich Anderson, S Aiden Hall making noise

Richard Anderson was named to the On3 2026 watch list earlier this month and has been a buzzy name around the state after what he’s done this pre-season. The four-star sophomore checks in at 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, and has thrived after slimming down this off-season.

Anderson is one of several big bodies up front for New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr and as a sophomore, is forcing the issue on the interior of the DL and giving the defense one of the fiercest pass rushes in the state. Anderson, in particular, has been superbly quick off the ball and impressive pursuing the QB during live evaluations this spring and summer.

Fellow sophomore standout Aiden Hall is now taking starting snaps in the Karr secondary and has been making his presence felt imminently. The rangy 6-foot-1.5, 175-pounder is consistently in and around the football and is an enforcer on the back end of the defense. He plays downhill and isn’t shy about setting the tone despite being an underclassman. Georgia, Oregon, LSU and Ole Miss are a few of the big schools high on Hall.

Five-star DL Dom McKinley ready for September 1, senior season

On3 Industry Ranking five-star DL Dominick McKinley came away with a handful of splash plays in the backfield during the Lafayette Kiwanis Club Jamboree at UL’s Cajun Field over the weekend. He is assertive off the line and his blend of length and power is overwhelming off the EDGE or when he lines up inside. Lafayette (La.) St. Thomas More elected to run away from the 6-foot-5, 280-pounder, who managed to impact the game in a multitude of other ways.

The No. 17 overall player in the On300 for the 2024 cycle will reveal his college decision on Friday. Texas, Texas A&M, Ohio State, LSU and Oklahoma are the finalists, and one team will get a physical DL that after a very strong off-season seems primed to turn a corner in his development as a senior.

Florida-bound DJ Lagway has a statement opener

DJ Lagway‘s tireless work ethic yielded an eye-turning Week 1 performance at Texas high school football returned and the Mayor of Willis (Texas) retook his post for one last run as a senior. The On3 Industry Ranking five-star QB threw seven TD in the first half of a 52-21 season-opening victory and added an eighth with his legs. Lagway completed 19-of-21 passes for 425 yards in the first half alone.

Lagway, who not only has a plus skill-set physically, is also well-adjusted to this offense in his second year in the scheme. In his Week 1 outing, the Florida commit was superb hitting his receivers in stride and showcased excellent timing and rhythm with his cast of pass-catchers, an emphasis for Lagway this spring. He also delivered some well-placed passes in the middle of the field, threading the needle on a few touchdowns, and also excelling outside the numbers as well.

Lagway has continued to take steps with his grasp on the offense, and it’s already showing with his decision-making and trigger from in the pocket. His execution of using unique arm angles and off-platform playmaking ability outside the pocket gives the future Gator an even higher ceiling.

2026 OL Lamar Brown with a statement jamboree

On3 Industry Ranking No. 1 IOL Lamar Brown was in mid-season form working at right tackle and also taking first-team reps on the DL from Baton Rouge (La.) University Lab. The 6-foot-4, 260-pounder was an impact freshman, and after devoting the off-season to sharpening up his tools Brown was dynamic setting the tone in the trenches, particularly on offense.

Brown made a few tackles and filled some gaps playing DL, and his best work came at OL. He was fleet of foot to block out in space and also effortlessly drop back in pass-sets. The sophomore left his mark as a finisher as a run-blocker, and his combination of agility, length and physical style makes him as intriguing a OL prospect as there is in-state regardless of class. LSU, Georgia and Tennessee are just a few early contenders of note from the SEC.

LSU commit Ju’Juan Johnson dynamic in return

The last we saw of On300 CB Ju’Juan Johnson was in the Superdome in December where the versatile two-way ATH set a Louisiana state record with 585 total yards of offense, including 238 yards rushing and piling up nearly 8 yards per clip.

LCA came up short against St. Thomas More in December, and I anticipate a very motivated team to rally behind their leader, Johnson, this fall. Johnson is elusive with the rock in his hands and his vision of the field is second to none. From talking to those in and around the program, the future LSU defensive back will see snaps in the secondary, especially during pivotal game moments.

Johnson camped at LSU last summer and has position flexibility to line up on the perimeter or inside as a nickel. He’s instinctive and a natural playmaker, and his experience on offense certainly works in his favor.

QB Cole Bergeron, ATH Chantz Babineaux are two to know in 2026

State champion 2024 QB Sam Altmann excited early during the jamboree, which thrust 2026 QB Cole Bergeron into the starting offense. There’s a lot of buzz around this sophomore quarterback, who seamlessly filled in for the senior starter against one of the most stout defensive fronts in the state. Bergeron was accurate and able to hit multiple levels of the field after assimilating to the game speed, and threw two TD in action. Stow that name away for the future.

Another 2026 recruit to know in the Lafayette area is Carencro (La.) do-it-all playmaker Chantz Babineaux. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound sophomore starts at quarterback and safety, and is also an accomplished baseball and basketball standout. Babineaux is a threat to score anytime he touches the ball and has position flexibility on offense and defense. Buzz around Babineaux has been sky-high since the middle of last season. Michigan became his first Power 5 offer this spring, and the Wolverines should have more competition later this fall.

Florida commit Wardell Mack assertive in the secondary

Newly minted Gators commitment Wardell Mack has enjoyed another strong off-season and should be a key piece for Marrero (La.) John Ehret on both sides of the ball. Mack is a very talented receiver and dynamic as a pass-catcher or ball-carrier on offense.

Mack is also a seasoned defender in the secondary and will line up at cornerback and safety for Ehret. He has a great feel in coverage and consistently puts himself by the football. Mack can cover a ton of ground quickly and plays very fast. He’s a Swiss Army Knife in the defensive backfield with outstanding skills to cover 1-on-1, roam as a freelancer and make plays.

On300 LB Keylan Moses dynamic in return

Injuries derailed the bulk of On300 LB Keylan Moses‘ off-season, but the Jenga piece of this University Lab defense returned to form in the jamboree. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Moses lined up as an off-ball LB, on the EDGE and with a hand in the dirt, and was viligant setting the edge and applying pressure at a high clip. He flies around the ball and can easily cover sideline to sideline, and boasts a versatile skill-set as a second-level defender.

Moses, who was sensation as a sophomore last season, is now set to be a veteran leader on this defense. He rocked Florida gloves and an Oregon cap. LSU, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M and Florida State are also in the mix.

Stock up for Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, LSU commitments

Every year there has been a deep and talented cast of wideouts powering the Edna Karr offense. There are a few mainstays to know this fall and one primed for a breakout season is Ole Miss-bound Rahji Dennis. The track superstar saw his recruitment take off in a flurry after clocking a 10.4-second 100-meter and 21.09-second 200-meter this spring. Dennis’ can acceleration in a hurry and has sharpened other aspects of his game like coordination, hands and ability to extend plays through contact.

LSU-committed IOL Khayree Lee Jr. has been anchoring the Ehret offensive line for years and enters his senior season at sub-300 pounds. Since he was a freshman, the New Orleans OL has shed almost 90 pounds as he continues to hone his skills at the position and take advantage of his slimmed-down frame and physical play-style.

Lee will be clearing running paths for the team all season long and shined blocking out in space and reaching multiple levels of the defense during Ehret’s pre-season scrimmage. He shined in pass protection during camps this summer. He’s continuing to take massive steps forward in his development.

Tah’j Butler is captaining the Karr defense from the middle and after impressing in limited action last fall, the Georgia Tech-committed LB is one of this analyst’s picks to have a breakthrough senior campaign. Butler brings a ton of athleticism to the second level of the defense with fantastic speed to cover sideline to sideline and equally as impressive dropping back into coverage.

Butler has stayed healthy this spring and summer, and it’s shown. Don’t be surprised if this recruitment is elevated to a new level this fall. Ole Miss is one SEC team to watch.

Dakorien Moore, Keelon Russell make their marks

The formidable 1-2 punch of Keelon Russell and Dakorien Moore picked up right where they left off last December in AT&T Stadium. The two combined for seven connections for 281 yards and three touchdowns in Moore’s first in-season action since committing to LSU.

Moore’s monster season-opening performance is the culmination of a nine-month stretch in which the elite 2025 WR has been unguardable in an array of settings. That run started in Jerry’s World as Duncanville (Texas) captured a state championship at the end of his sophomore season, then continued with a stellar off-season in which the top-10 pass-catcher was consistently a top performer in various camp and 7-on-7 settings, as well as the spring game in May.

The recent LSU commitment reminds this analyst a ton of former Tiger Odell Beckham Jr., and is already piecing together a compelling case as the WR1 in next year’s class. Russell, who was also exceptionally sharp in his season opener, has absolutely added a new dimension to the Duncanville passing game.

RB1 Harlem Berry delivers in timely moments

2025 RB1 Harlem Berry was a workhorse for Metairie (La.) St. Martin’s last fall as the dynamic back carried the rock and caught passes at will. This pre-season, Berry’s touches have been numbered, especially as the No. 11 overall player in the On300 also splits action at linebacker.

Despite a lesser workload, which may be a theme for the 5-foot-11, 180-pound offensive weapon from New Orleans, Berry has continued to find ways to hit home-runs time and time again. Berry has elite verified speed, but what separates the back is his outstanding balance. He can create yardage on his own, which is what makes him so effective in so many parts of the field.

Breakout season on deck for Russell Babineaux?

When it comes to the Wreckin’ Rams of Acadiana, it’s all about the veer. This year’s Rams might have an injection of pass plays on a weekly basis, and one of the biggest benefactors includes On3 Industry Ranking four-star WR Russell Babineaux.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound receiver is one of the big-play sparks in this offense and a threat to take it the distance as a receiver or toting the rock. There’s a desire to get the talented young 2025 WR more opportunities, and that includes by opening up this traditional offense through the air a bit more.

Stock up for several 2025 recruits

+ Alec Haynes: One of the more rugged 2025 defenders in-state, Haynes has been a force on the DL for U-High. At sub 6-foot and verified 4.7 speed, he’s drawing looks at LB. His physical play style fits the bill.

+ Davian Jackson: The 2025 WR from New Iberia (La.) Westgate saw action in the backfield as a sophomore and is set to work as a WR this fall. Jackson took snaps as a power slot this pre-season and used his physical prowess at running back to his advantage. Jackson was impressive eating up YAC and also using his 6-foot-2, 190-pound size and catch radius in the red zone.

+ TaRon Francis: One of the better-known pass-catchers in Louisiana’s 2025 class, the Edna Karr staff wants to make Francis a more consistent threat in the offense. As a sophomore, the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder was a difference-maker stretching the fall and winning jump-balls at a high rate. This pre-season, Francis has shined making contested catches outside the numbers and along the sidelines.

+ Jacob Bradford: The Baton Rouge (La.) Catholic defense is going to be stout this fall and their secondary has a chance to be one of the state’s best — and they’re young. One of the leaders in Bradford, a 2025 CB that’s been highly effective shadowing receivers and also making plays on the ball. Bradford, who holds an offer from Vanderbilt, enters his junior year at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds.

Sky Ryan, Elijah Haven are two to know in 2027

+ Sky Ryan: A freshman drawing rave reviews in 2027 DB Sky Ryan, the younger brother of former five-star recruit and LSU DB Sage Ryan. Sky is seeing action in the LCA secondary and is tall and speedy, and turning heads at he takes reps at cornerback for the perennial title contender.

+ Elijah Haven: A year after capturing a state title, Baton Rouge (La.) Dunham is ushering in a new face under center. Haven, who was a key contributor as a freshman on the hoops team, took starting snaps in the Red Stick Rumble Jamboree. The 6-foot-3, 175-pounder can sling it deep with great deep-ball accuracy and is difficult to tackle when he has some room in front of him. Haven was spectacular operating the offense early and certainly is a 2027 recruit to monitor this fall.