Cooper football star Jaxon Howard picks LSU over Gophers, Miami & Michigan

The top high school football player in Minnesota made his college choice official on Friday.

In front of family and friends in the Robbinsdale Cooper auditorium, Jaxon Howard sat on stage next to his father and coach, and put on a hat to announce his verbal commitment to LSU. Howard, a 6-4, 245-pound tight end and defensive lineman for the Hawks, had Miami, Michigan and the Gophers as his other finalists.

Howard took official visits to all four schools, and said he knew on Wednesday his mind was made up. He wants to play college football in the SEC, in Baton Rouge for the Tigers.

"It feels great, a lot of pressure off my shoulders. Also more pressure on my shoulders as well. The SEC is something big and I’m ready to get to it," Howard said. "LSU checked off all the boxes."

Howard recently called LSU’s recruiting coordinator Sherman Wilson to deliver the good news. He then had a FaceTime with head coach Brian Kelly. Howard, the No. 1 player in Minnesota, will be an edge rusher in college.

"I called him the other day, and the guy was ecstatic. He was ready to go. I think that’s the cool thing about Coach Kelly, he brings the energy to the table," Howard said. "I know when we get to practice one day he’s going to yell at me, I’ll be ready for it. Amazing guy, I’m excited to play for him."

Willie Howard, his father and football coach, went through a similar situation four years ago as Jaxon’s brother was a coveted recruit. Willie, who played for the Vikings, had to wear the hats of coach and father during Jaxon’s recruiting process. He says Jaxon is one of 120 kids from Cooper to play college sports in the last 12 years.

"For us it was consistently the same, trying to maintain being a coach and when it’s time to be a father, be a father. Allowing him to make this decision on his own. His name will be on that degree, his name will be on if he has the opportunity to play on Sundays. It’s going to be all his, so just being able to be that support on the side," Willie said. "Ultimately he said where he wanted to go, what he wanted to do and I was just driving him and making sure that we were there to support him every inch of the way."

Committing to LSU also meant saying no to Jim Harbaugh, Mario Cristobal and PJ Fleck. Howard got to that final four after being one of the most coveted recruits in the country. Ranked No. 117 overall by 247Sports, Howard had 60 Division I scholarship offers.

He’ll enroll at LSU next January, after his senior season with the Hawks. He took his official visit with the Gophers during the team’s "Summer Splash" event, but it wasn’t enough to keep him in-state. The Gophers still have verbal commitments from five of the top seven in-state recruits in the class of 2023, led by Osseo offensive lineman Jerome Williams and Prior Lake offensive lineman Greg Johnson.

"PJ Fleck is an amazing man, and also his staff are amazing people. I know although I won’t be going there, we’ll still have that relationship with each other. I didn’t feel like they were the correct fit for me, but that doesn’t undermine anything about the Gophers at all," Howard said. "Amazing school, amazing program and I’d love to see success for them in the future."

Now, Jaxon’s focus turns to his high school team, which is in the middle of summer workouts. It’s his hope in his senior season to build off a run to the state semifinals last year.