LAFAYETTE — With his college football playing career wrapping up Saturday, it comes as no shock that senior tight end Evan Tatford already has his next endeavor lined up.
Look up a diagram in the life manual for the proper way to screw one’s head to the shoulders, and Tatford is the example. He’s built like an All-American and he thinks like one, too. He’s an honor student that pushes 300-pounders around on Saturdays and spends his off time being charitable to those less fortunate.
So no, it did not come as a surprise when earlier this week he was accepted into the LSU School of Dentistry, one of the top programs of its kind in the nation. He’s already got a lengthy client base waiting for him to finish up.
“I have a deal with him that I have a 7-year-old, a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, they’re all going to need their teeth looked at,” tight ends coach Reed Stringer said. “The tight ends, we have a special bond, and one thing that will always bring us together is the fact that Evan’s going to work on our teeth for us.”
As fellow tight end Nick Byrne put it, “I’m going to call and get that free work! It’s good to know people.”
It’s not only the tight ends.
“The whole team, managers and trainers,” Tatford said. “They’ve been hitting me up for that the past 36 hours.”
The only people who might not be full on board with Tatford’s entry into the LSU School of Dentistry might be his family, who are more likely to describe the shade of their blood as vermilion rather than red.
Oh, they’re surely proud of Evan’s growing list of accomplishments. It’s just … does he have to wear purple?
“The hardest part of that is it’s LSU,” Tatford said. “My whole family is so UL. I grew up here from an infant coming to games all throughout high school, coming to UL games.
“My dad played here. My mom came here. I had a brother play baseball here. I had a brother play football here. We are so UL that for this next four years of my life, having to be an LSU Tiger will be a little tough. It will be a change for the family as well.
“I told my family that the one Christmas gift I’m going to get them all is an LSU dentistry shirt. That’ll probably be the only gear that we own in the house. But we’re trying to embrace it, we’re trying to make the most of it, we know it’ll be OK.”
Tatford is strongly rooted to the university and the Acadiana area, even after he tried to break those bonds when he left after high school to play for Tulane. He could never quite detach himself, though.
Tulane visited the Cajuns for the 2012 season and Tatford, then a sophomore, felt strange as an outsider in his own home. It struck him as wrong.
“Looking up on the home sideline where my family sits and seeing about five green shirts in this sea of red, I kind of knew I was wearing the wrong jersey that day,” Tatford said.
At the top of the tunnel heading into the stadium, he ran into Stringer. The two had never met face-to-face before, their only interaction came shortly after Stringer arrived with coach Mark Hudspeth in 2011.
“Evan was one of the first people I called when I got the job here,” Stringer said. “At that time, we didn’t really know who he was. We knew he was a big kid, and unfortunately I told him I was going to recruit him as an offensive lineman and he said, ‘See you, I’m going to Tulane.’ ”
That didn’t last, though. The pull of home was too strong. Tatford knew that day where he needed to be. He transferred to Louisiana-Lafayette after the season.
Oddly enough, Tatford has wound up playing more like an offensive lineman than a tight end with the Cajuns anyway. He has three receptions in 24 games with the Cajuns, the last of which came in October of last season. His primary role is to serve as a blocker for the Cajuns run game.
That doesn’t matter, though. The important part is that he’s home.
“It’s been a great honor to be able to finally put on the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns jersey and helmet, come out onto Cajun Field, playing in front of my hometown, playing in front of people that I know, playing in front of family — it’s meant the world to me,” Tatford said. “A dream come true.”
It’s worked out well for the university, too. Tatford was named the male Student Athlete of the Year last year. He’s the president of the school’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee and also serves as the Sun Belt Conference’s representative for the same organization.
“He’s an ambassador for our community service projects here, he’s an ambassador for our university,” Stringer said. “Just an all-around solid kid.”
Even that is not enough for his overflowing plate. Tatford serves as a mentor for the schol’s Learning is For Everyone (LIFE) program that helps developmentally disabled students on campus. He spends time with two autistic students, walking with them to class and helping them with their coursework.
The program is designed to help others in need, but it helps Tatford, too.
“They look at life so wonderfully,” Tatford said. “I may be having a terrible day, or the day before at practice I did terrible so I’m down on myself. But they just come in and they have so much joy. … They love life and have a great outlook on it.
“That kind of reminds me to embrace life just like they do. To love it, to not let the small things beat you down.”