Following LSU’s first full-team scrimmage last Saturday, coach Ed Orgeron took questions from the media.
As he rattled off stats and offered praise for some of the Tigers’ best, he gave a little insight into how the team might look in the opener Sept. 2 against BYU in Houston.
He also mentioned that running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire earlier in the week broke off three runs of 60 yards or more on the team's first day in full pads. The “surprise of camp,” he called the freshman.
But, surprise to whom?
Nothing about Edwards-Helaire’s abilities is a surprise to Derrius Guice. LSU’s homegrown bowling balls have known each other for a long time.
From peewee football to Catholic High School and now LSU, Guice and Edwards-Helaire have been cheering each other on and pushing each other to the limit every step of the way.
They call John Battle “Pawpaw.”
The LSU coaches may be surprised by what they see, but there’s nothing either can do at this point that would surprise his longtime friend.
“Clyde is going to show y’all that he belongs here,” said Guice, the Tigers' Heisman Trophy-hopeful junior. “It was my job to get him prepared. He was behind me at Catholic. I kind of got here first and stepped up first. He’s followed right behind in the shadows. When I first got here, I was impressing everybody. Now, it’s the same with him. He’s getting here, impressing everybody.
"The whole team hates him right now — defensively. They can’t find a way to stop him.”
In the back of the Catholic High weight room is the wall of Grizzly Greats, a shrine to some of the best athletes to pass through the school. It can be an intimidating sight for a 14-year-old freshman trying to find his place with one of the state’s prep football powerhouses — especially at running back.
Guice and Edwards-Helaire, after all, are just the latest in a long line of successful Catholic ball carriers. Former Catholic coach Dale Weiner spent almost 30 years sending players all over major college football, none more so than his running backs.
Sixteen backs signed to play Division I football during Weiner’s tenure, including with teams in the Southeastern Conference, the Pac-10, the ACC and Conference USA. And that doesn’t even include Football Championship Subdivision and other small-school backs sprinkled across the country.
Three backs — Edwards-Helaire, Guice and the one who started it all as Weiner’s first running back in 1988, Leo Abel — played the position at LSU.
The faces of those great backs constantly watch over the Bears as they work out — names like Kevin Franklin, Travis Minor and, of course, former NFL star Warrick Dunn.
Weiner, who retired in December, couldn’t put his finger on why his program was so effective at producing quality running backs, other than to say he always tried to take the best athletes and put the ball in their hands.
Whatever he did, programs like LSU's were more than happy to reap the benefits.
“If you have somebody who’s a game-breaker at the running back position, than that really can exploit defenses,” Weiner said. “You don’t have to block everybody on every play. You don’t have to have 19-play drives. You can score in an instant and put pressure back on the defense. We would always recognize that.”
But they're more than just faces on the wall. Many of those players returned to Catholic to mentor the next generation.
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When Guice had off-the-field issues at Catholic, Dunn sat him down and set him straight. When Edwards-Helaire became the first and only freshman to play on the varsity under Weiner, Guice took him under his wing.
“We always emphasized the older guys helping the younger guys. It doesn’t matter what the position is,” Weiner said. “We talk about being a good teammate and being player-coaches, where you help out someone in something they may be having difficulty in. Any kid that’s really serious about getting better is going to keep his eyes on that guy playing ahead of him. What happens is, subconsciously, there’s a lot of emulation.”
Michael Divinity wrote his goal for the 2017 football season in capital letters.
If there’s any difference between Guice and Edwards-Helaire, it’s their running style. But there are similarities there, too.
At 5-foot-11 and 218 pounds, Guice packs a punch. He’s one of the strongest players on the team, and he plays like it.
Edwards-Helaire is a little different as the shortest running back on the roster at 5-8, but defenders can’t underestimate him, either. Orgeron praised him for his ability to make defenders miss and for his vision on the field. He's not scared to ram into a line, either: Edwards-Helaire missed some practice time earlier this week, Orgeron said, after a collision during Saturday's scrimmage.
"Built like a tree stump," Guice said.
Edwards-Helaire still has a long way to go, but if history has shown anything, it’s that what works for one player usually works for the next.
And if he has any questions, he knows exactly whom to ask.
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“We remind each other of ourselves,” Guice said. “We complement each other really well. We run the same. Been behind each other since we were little. Little league football, all the way up to high school to now. We’ve been around each other a long time. That’s what we’re bound to do.”
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