La’El Collins and Anthony Johnson are two of the biggest guys and probably the two biggest names in LSU’s 2011 recruiting class.
Collins, 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, was one of the most sought-after offensive tackles in the country as a senior at Redemptorist High School last season. Johnson 6-3, 310, was the consensus top-rated defensive tackle in the country as a senior at O. Perry Walker in New Orleans last season.
Both have a chance to make an impact as true freshmen. When they line up against each other in practice, they both have an opportunity to gauge, and accelerate, their progress.
“We’re getting each other better,” Johnson said. “La’El Collins is a great football player and a great asset to this football team. He’s a big body, a big physical guy and he’s going to get (make) me a lot better.”
Johnson’s already pretty good, registering 67? career sacks and being named the Outstanding Defensive Player in Class 4A the past two seasons by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.
“Going up against Anthony Johnson is a competitive situation,” Collins said. “Anthony Johnson is a big, strong guy, I’m a big, strong guy so there you go. It’s two guys working hard, two guys trying to get done the assignment their coach set out there to do. It’s just competition every day.”
The competition started when offensive line coach Greg Studrawa decided to get Collins some work at guard in addition to his work at tackle.
“Coach said not too many guys can play more than one position, and I said, ‘Yes, sir, I’ll play it,’ ” Collins said, “I’ll do whatever it takes to help my team out so my team can go to the next level. I’m here to come out and compete every day and listen to the coaches and be able to be coachable and give my all every day.”
Collins, who’s trying to find playing time at the most experienced area of the LSU team, said he’s focused on improving each day, whether he’s working at guard or tackle, whether the playing time comes sooner or later.
“I’m going to get better every day,” Collins said. “With these coaches out here pushing me and me putting in everything I need to put in, all the effort, all the time, all the extra things out here — just being able to come out here and work and compete every day is really catching a lot of coaches’ eyes and that’s what I’m going to do every day. … Wherever coach feels I can contribute as a freshman, that’s what I’ll do.”
The defensive line isn’t nearly as experienced as the offensive line, and it seems everyone expects Johnson to contribute as a freshman.
“He’s very, very talented,” defensive coordinator John Chavis said. “I think a lot of it depends on opportunities, which he will get, so we’ll have to see. He has all the talent he needs to be a fine football player. We’re going to give him opportunities to be successful because he is talented and also hard-working.
“A lot of times we don’t mention character, but it would be hard to find a young man that had better character. When you look at character, talent and his willingness to work I think he will make an impact. I don’t know how big but he will make an impact.”
Johnson graduated early from OPW, enabling him to enroll at LSU in January and participate in spring practice.
“The biggest thing for talented freshmen is their perspective on how to learn,” head coach Les Miles said, “how to be aggressive learners, and he is that. He works hard.”
Johnson said the defensive line is hoping to duplicate the success of the 2007 line, which was led by All-America tackle Glenn Dorsey and helped the Tigers win the BCS title.
“I came in with the mindset that I wanted to play and I wanted to play early,” Johnson said. “I came here for a reason — we needed a lot of help on the LSU front line, and I thought I could give my talents and give my abilities to help win a national championship and keep it in the state of Louisiana.
“Me and my guys are working hard on the d-line, trying to get better as a unit, trying to be like Dorsey and those guys back in ’07. I have a lot of big expectations for this year coming up.”
Johnson said he was given the nickname “The Freak” by Monte Kiffin, who at the time was defensive coordinator at Tennessee and was recruiting Johnson.
“I was 315 pounds and I ran a 4.8 40,” Johnson said, “so he called me the Freak and ever since then it’s stuck with me.”
Collins said Johnson is “a cool guy, a real funny guy” and that the pair laugh a lot together. But, he added, “when it’s time to work, Anthony knows that it’s time to work, and I know that it’s time to work. We’re working very hard. That’s one thing I like a lot about Anthony — he works very hard every day, and I do the same thing.”