Southern Miss senior center Cameron Tom knows all about LSU's revered Tiger Stadium and the advantage the Tigers enjoy there at night.
For a kid growing up in Baton Rouge, where his father Michael continues to teach mathematics at LSU, Tom has been well versed in the school's gameday traditions and stadium's mystique.
Instead of being able to fulfill the dream, like so many local adolescent football hopefuls, of one day running through the famed "H" goalpost and onto the field, Tom will have a different perspective when Southern Miss (4-2) faces LSU (3-2) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
"It should be pretty cool coming from the other side," Tom said. "I grew up an LSU fan."
That USM is coming off a 55-32 loss to Texas-San Antonio in Conference USA play last week may test Tom's it's-just-another-game approach to his homecoming, where the Catholic High graduate played guard and tackle for Dale Weiner (Tom was also a teammate of current LSU sophomore running Derrius Guice).
The Golden Eagles may have a greater sense of urgency after falling out of Conference USA's top spot.
"It's going to be pretty cool," said Tom, whose younger brother Zach, a senior tackle at Catholic High, is a USM commitment. "I have a lot of friends from Catholic that attend LSU, so a lot of them will probably be there. It's another chance for us to get in the win column. Is it going to be another game. Who knows? It could change Saturday at 6:30."
Tom is in the middle of one the nation's prolific offenses. USM operates a no-huddle spread attack to the tune of 40.2 points, 213 yards rushing and 532.2 total yards per game, ranking the Eagles among the Top 30 nationally in all three categories.
"It's been pretty fun seeing the scoreboard light up," Tom said of USM's frenzied pace, an offense that set or tied 22 school records last season. "You've got to make all of the calls and see things a lot quicker when the ball's going to be snapped pretty quickly."
The 6-foot-2, 287-pound Tom has evolved into a pillar of strength for USM, starting for the third season where he's made his 41 consecutive starts.
Despite a lack of previous experience at the position, Tom, a three-time Conference USA All-Academic selection, has proven a quick study in making the transition to center when two other players at the position decided to give up football before the 2014 season.
Tom, who was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team after making nine starts in 11 games at right tackle, went through the spring of his sophomore year at tackle until being approached in the summer by his offensive line coach and then-head coach Todd Monken about moving to center.
He hasn't looked back since.
"Having never been a center, it was a little rough until the spring leading up to 2015," Tom said. "That's when I started to get comfortable with some of the other offensive linemen and that really helped that transition."
Despite a change in coaches from Monken to Jay Hopson this season, Tom credited his development to Hopson, who continued to press the issue on offensive, while building chemistry over the last three years with fellow seniors — quarterback Nick Mullens and guards Devin Ferrior and Brandon Farmer.
The result has been a distinguished career on the field and in the classroom, where Tom earned first-team All-Conference USA honors in 2015, totaling a team-high 56 knockdown blocks during the regular season and was the recipient of the Willie Heidelberg "Unsung Hero" award at the team's postseason banquet.
Two national outlets, Lindy's Sports Magazine and CBS Sports, named Tom among the nation's top five centers, and he was selected to the Rimington Trophy watch list for a second season.
But the respect hasn't stopped there. NFL Draft Scout projects Tom as its No. 7 center prospect in the country available for next year's upcoming draft.
"When I moved to center, I knew if I wanted to play at the next level, it was going to have to be at an interior position," he said. "I knew I had to work to get better."
Tom is also nearing graduation — he is nine hours shy after this semester to earn his finance degree, and he has maintained a 3.795 GPA. He was named last month one of 156 semifinalists for the 2016 William V. Campbell Trophy which recognizes the country's top scholar-athlete.
"I had someone tell me it like an academic Heisman," Tom said. "I've put my mind to both, and made sure I've kept up with my studies and football at the same time. That would be a pretty big deal for me to win."