Christian LaCouture, his left arm sporting a thick red scar where he broke it in the Texas Bowl, threw down the gauntlet Friday like he would an enemy running back on a Saturday.
“Anything less than a national championship is going to be unacceptable,” said the LSU defensive tackle, one of six key Tigers who decided to return for their senior seasons. “We have to work toward it, of course, but all the pieces are in place.
“We should have a special year.”
Every senior wants a special year, to go out as undisputed champs. What’s unusual about this LSU team, this LSU program, is that not long ago, it was undisputed champ of the early pro football departure. The inventor of the slogan, “Give us three years, and we’ll give you the riches of the NFL.”
LaCouture, along with middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith, defensive end Lewis Neal, offensive lineman Ethan Pocic, cornerback Tre’Davious White and wide receiver Travin Dural — who didn’t attend Friday’s news conference because of a family emergency — decided to put off pro ball for another year. Put it off for a chance to come back and be part of something special.
That championship season.
Theirs were, as a clearly delighted coach Les Miles put it, personal decisions. But there also appeared to be a collective consciousness in play for this senior six.
Whether they faced the potential of instant, life-changing financial windfalls or not depends on the man. White was projected to go the highest, late in the first round. Last year’s 32nd pick made $6.9 million. These aren’t trivial decisions here.
Clearly they influenced each other. White and Beckwith are roommates and close friends. They had been talking about whether to stay or go going back before LSU left just after Christmas for the Texas Bowl. Back and forth. Weighing all the options. Beckwith even went so far as to kid backup linebacker Duke Riley about being ready to take over his linchpin position at middle linebacker.
Eventually, though, they decided to return. Many factors were at play. Friendship. A shot at glory. A chance to play a role in new coordinator Dave Aranda’s defense.
“I wanted to do it one more time with them,” White said of his fellow seniors.
“I love that he (Aranda) moves guys around, and he features linebackers,” Beckwith said. “That’s a plus. I’m excited. I’m ready to learn.”
If anyone learned something when it comes to dealing with players leaving early for the NFL it’s Miles himself. The head man with the reputation for being so stubborn.
There are two hot-button words right now when it comes to LSU football.
One is recruitment. The Tigers picked up two huge in-state commitments within roughly 24 hours this week from John Curtis offensive tackle Willie Allen and Neville defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence. If LSU holds on to the 22 commitments it has and adds a mix of a few more blue-chippers, the Tigers are likely to finish with the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruiting class.
The other word is re-recruitment. Miles talked candidly about how he and his staff have worked this offseason to better inform LSU’s juniors considering taking the leap, coaxing the ones who probably shouldn’t go back into the fold.
“One of our administrators, Joe Mendes, puts together a draft book, rough nuggets of information,” Miles said. “Dean Dingman on my staff does a good job of communicating the specifics so our guys are familiar with the draft process and the amounts and slots, the description of the power an agent does or does not have. I think our guys are more informed.
“After we get done there, the assistant coaches get involved and the head coach comes to see them. Then you’re getting out of the way and let quality men and their families make great decisions.”
In the end only one Tiger, offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins, decided to forego his senior season. CBSSports.com predicts him as a mid to high second-rounder.
It’s only one step on a journey to the 2016 season, but LSU is gathering the building blocks you need for a successful season. The Tigers have 19 seniors returning, the most since Miles’ first campaign in 2005, have a highly lauded recruiting class on the launch pad and made what has so far been a universally praised hire with Aranda to replace Kevin Steele (who left not for the NFL but for Auburn) at defensive coordinator.
“What a joy,” said Miles, whose November job crisis now seems much longer ago. “I’m glad to go back for another full year.
“It’ll be great fun.”
The emphasis, as LaCouture said, on trying to be great.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.