During the 2009 season, Neville head coach Mickey McCarty saw big things in a young 14-year-old wide receiver.
“I think really his freshman year when he played receiver for us and was a playmaker, you kind of realized then that John Diarse would be where he is today,” said McCarty. “He showed potential then but as a coach you hope a kid will keep the hunger to play hard and get better each year. John has done that and that is a credit to him.”
Diarse, who committed to LSU on Saturday over offers from Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State, TCU, and others, exploded onto the scene during his freshman year with 23 receptions for 513 yards and six touchdowns, to go with a pair of interceptions in spot play at cornerback.
Diarse saved his best for last and came up huge in the Tigers’ state championship win over Franklinton when he hauled in 98 and 58-yard scoring passes from Taylor Burch.
“You don’t see many freshmen play like that on that big of a stage,” said McCarty.
The following season, McCarty had to replace Burch behind center and Diarse was just the guy to fill those big shoes.
Though the Tigers finished a disappointing 7-6, the young sophomore fared well as he completed 69-of-117 passes for 1,129 yards with seven scores and three interceptions, and led the team across the board in rushing with 1,160 yards and 12 touchdowns on 140 carries. One of Diarse’s best attributes is his play-making ability on both sides of the ball and he showed that by picking off a team-high four passes at corner with two of those picks going the other way for touchdowns.
Diarse and his teammates were determined to make it back to New Orleans in 2011, and at season’s end they were celebrating on the floor of the Superdome with their second state championship in three years.
In a season where he was dinged up after separating the AC joint in his shoulder early on, Diarse threw for 927 yards and 12 touchdowns, but did more damage with his legs as he rushed for 1,357 yards and 19 scores on 151 attempts.
He saw limited time at receiver and in the secondary as he caught seven passes for 122 yards and a touchdown, and picked off three passes with two of them in a win over Breaux Bridge that sent Neville to the state championship game.
There is some debate as to whether Diarse will play receiver or safety when he gets to LSU and McCarty feels that he the skillset to be successful on either side of the ball.
“As a receiver, John has a natural ability to play the football in the air and he has good hands,” said McCarty. “He has good football IQ and runs good routes too. I think he has good hips and a strong lower base and just makes a lot of people miss in high school and will just continue to get better.
“I think as a safety the kid has a knack for playing the football and understands angles which is something the measurement tape doesn’t measure. I think he’s a guy that could play safety if that’s where he’s needed.”
McCarty knows that the decision on where to play Diarse rests with the Tigers’ headman Les Miles. However, if it were up to him he knows what fans would see on Saturday nights in Tiger Stadium.
“I think he’s a receiver at that level for me,” McCarty said. “I think from a mentality standpoint he fits wide receiver and that’s what his true desire is. I think he can really be a playmaker at the next level for LSU.”
Some have questioned whether Diarse has the measurables to play receiver in the SEC with his 6-foot, 205-pound frame and speed that has been clocked anywhere from the 4.5 range (stopwatch) to the 4.8 range (electronic).
McCarty even had some college coaches question Diarse’s size and speed ratio but he knows football is more than just a numbers game.
“I think a lot of colleges and people look at numbers and there are many players on college campuses that have scholarships because they have good numbers,” McCarty said. “They have a certain size and a certain speed but they aren’t playing when they get to college.
“But John is a good football player and I can tell you that I would take him over a bunch of kids that look good on paper. A lot of people get fooled by what they see on paper but with John you know you’re getting a football player and you won’t be fooled.”
Something else LSU is getting is a young man that has his head screwed on straight when he isn’t playing football.
“A lot of credit goes to his parents, who are quality parents, and they raise their kids with good character and good values,” said McCarty. “John has maintained that and has always been a great example to all of our players. He has that inner desire to be the best and to lead his team and that goes into his character.”
McCarty knew what he was getting in Diarse, both on and off the field, at an early age. But he admits that he didn’t expect to get a phone call last Saturday with news that his star player was now a Tiger.
“He did not indicate to me that he was going to pull the trigger but I had heard a little bit that he was getting close,” said McCarty. “I think he realized the pressure involved with all this and he talked to several guys who had gone through this process.
“But I think Coach (Adam) Henry made a real good impression on John and his family and he gets a lot of credit for being able to lock John up early. They hit it off immediately and that was big with John. Right away, John was real impressed with coach and that was big.”
LSU fans should not be surprised when Diarse turns into one of the Tigers’ top players down the road, regardless of which position he settles on.
Because at the end of the day he has something that not every college football player has regardless of how big and how fast they are.
“The kid has that ‘It’ factor,” McCarty said. “John gets ‘It’, on and off the field, and he is a proven winner. LSU is getting a player that has all of ‘It’.
Diarse projects as a full academic qualifier with a 3.7 grade point average and a 19 on the ACT.