Next year - unlike this season - LSU players say they know their leaders and that’s a good thing
“Shout D. White out! Shout D. White out!”
Devin White was referring to himself, projecting his comments toward fellow LSU defender Rashard Lawrence, as reporters interviewed the defensive end after the Tigers’ 45-21 win over Texas A&M on Saturday night.
White, LSU’s star sophomore linebacker, was hoping Lawrence dropped his name during interviews — a “shout out.” Lawrence smiled in the face of the distraction, remained focused and did, in fact, mention his teammate’s name.
White was the second name Lawrence offered when asked about the leadership on next year’s team. The first was, of course, himself.
“We’re trying to do big things next year,” the defensive end said. “Once we find leadership, we showed what we’re capable of doing.”
There was something symbolic Saturday about White and Lawrence — two sophomore leaders — side-by-side at interviews following senior night at Tiger Stadium.
The leaders on this season’s team — including those two — had to be found mid-season, only after a 30-point loss at Mississippi State and a home loss to Troy. The leaders on next year’s team are already known.
“We’re riding this momentum into next year,” White said. “Next year, it ain’t no finding leadership. We know who our leaders are going to be. And I’m one of them. I’m going to take accountability and step up early in the spring. We’re going to get busy early and lead that into next year.”
LSU, 17th in the new AP top 25, capped a wild finish to the 2017 regular season — six wins in the final seven games — by throttling the Aggies to finish 9-3 and 6-2 in the Southeastern Conference. It’s the first nine-win regular season since 2013 and first six-win league record since 2012.
Afterward, players like Lawrence and White thought briefly about what could have been. A team that won road games against Florida, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee, stormed back at home to beat eventual SEC Western Division champ Auburn, hung with then-No. 1 Alabama and romped over Arkansas and Texas A&M — it lost to Troy at home and 37-7 in Starkville, Mississippi?
Yes, it did.
Had it found this so-called “leadership” before the season, maybe it’s looking forward to a trip to Atlanta for the conference title game? Maybe.
“I think about it every day. It’s tough,” Lawrence said. “That Troy loss is what we …. not what we needed, but it kind of woke us up. Leaders had to come out and now we’ve shown what we can do.”
“This would be a different team, a whole different team,” White said. “You have guys already stepped up before the bad things happen. When you have a lot of guys go to the draft, juniors and seniors, that’s who you look for to be your leaders. It was mainly juniors and seniors playing last year so you had a lot of new guys in the role. I didn’t play that much to be a leader, but I had to take accountability and step up and lead.”
What happened to this team after that 3-2 start and loss to the Trojans has been exhaustedly documented over the last few weeks.
Immaturity from a young team — one player described it as “giggling and laughing” — ended as veterans took charge during an “intense” players-only meeting.
A slew of “come to Jesus” get-togethers resulted in the emergence of leaders, including White, Lawrence, junior Donte Jackson and even quiet guys like running back Darrel Williams. Defensive players began to do their “homework,” another player said, analyzing film of the next opponent and such.
Orgeron met with 12 players — one to two from each position group — anointing them as team leaders. Practice habits even changed, center Will Clapp said, as the Tigers implemented more physicality.
“We had a group of guys go up to Coach O’s office and he set us down and said this is the group he wanted to be the leaders and he gave us control,” Clapp said. “We started holding people accountability. No more lax at practice. We treated our Tuesday practice like a game.”
It all resulted in this: 9-3 and 6-2 in Orgeron’s maiden season as the Tigers’ permanent head coach.
“I think this is a good accomplishment for our football team,” he said. “It’s not great, but it’s good.”
A “great” season, the coach has said in the past, is one that includes a championship.
The hunt to amass a title-winning team began Sunday, the kickoff to the open contact period in recruiting that leads up to the early signing period Dec. 20-22.
Orgeron and his staff must replace about one dozen starting or rotational seniors. The coach met with prospects over the weekend discussing just that, he said Saturday night.
“That’s what I just told the recruits,” Orgeron said. “Got some young guys got to step up. Got to have a great recruiting class, fill some holes, look at needs where we’re at. Recruiting is going to be interesting. Who’s going to sign Dec. 20? Who’s going to sign in February? A lot of things got to figure out coming into the next couple of weeks.”
One thing is figured out at least: LSU knows its leaders well before the season begins in 2018 and its searching for more.
“Some of these guys have been great teammates, great leaders,” Clapp said of the seniors. “We’ve got to have to have people step up. Bowl practice is a great way to start.”