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LSU defensive end Frank Herron (97) signals an Alabama fumble was recovered by LSU in the third quarter, Saturday, November 5, 2016, at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. LSU lost 10-0.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

On and off the field, Frank Herron looks and feels like a new man.

Motivated to being the best he can be for his final collegiate season, LSU’s fifth-year defensive end has altered his eating habits and matured as a person — all with the goal of earning a starting job in 2017.

Regardless of what happens over the next four weeks in camp, Herron, the immediate backup at both defensive ends spot, will earn the biggest honor of what has been an unremarkable career Friday morning.

The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Herron will don a cap and gown and receive his degree in interdisciplinary studies — just seven months after being suspended for the Citrus Bowl because of academic issues.

It’ll be a milestone day to be sure for Herron, a Memphis, Tennessee, native who will become the first person in his family to earn a college degree.

More importantly, he said he hopes it will set an example for his 3-year-old daughter, Failyn.

“It was a relief,” Herron said of his reaction when he learned he had passed his final undergraduate course in geology this summer. “I’m the first one to graduate in my family, so I’ve set the foundation for a lot of people.

“I have a daughter, so she has to go to grad school now,” he said with a laugh Wednesday. “I’m going to grad school, but she’ll have to finish and get her master’s degree.”

It certainly wasn’t an easy path for Herron, who admitted he wasn’t mature enough during his first four years on the LSU campus — which culminated with his being left off the traveling party for the Tigers’ 29-9 blowout of Louisville in the Citrus Bowl.

It was, at least, the third game in which Herron was suspended during his career. He also sat out the season opener in 2014, his redshirt freshman season, and the 2016 opener against Wisconsin.

But it appears the Citrus Bowl was the tipping point for Herron, who dove into his books while dedicating himself to changing his workout and eating habits in time for spring drills.

That was easy, however, compared to pushing through his final elective in the summer semester.

“It was hard, man; it was a hard class,” he said. “But I stuck it out. The teacher worked with me, and I talked to him every day and got some extra tutoring.

“I had to pull it through when I needed. (Coach Ed Orgeron) said, ‘You have to pass.’ He said, ‘I know you're going to pass.’ I kept doubting myself at times, but when I got that 'C' it was a relief.”

Finishing his coursework with extra motivation from Orgeron was important, but so was the inspiration he received from fellow fifth-year defensive linemen Christian LaCouture and Greg Gilmore.

The trio worked out relentlessly in the summer heat while Herron, heeding the advice of strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt, gave up hamburgers and carbonated drinks and started getting more sleep.

Herron, who will proudly wear a special SEC patch on his jersey this season signifying he has graduated, certainly knew what was at stake.

“I can say I was immature. … I wasn’t focused like I needed to be,” he said. “But this is my senior year. This is it, there’s no coming back.

“It’s about how you want to be remembered. That’s what Coach O and Coach Moffitt talk about: ‘How you do you want to be remembered?’ I want to be remembered as a great defensive lineman.”


POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE

The LSU football team has seven players on its 2017 roster who have already earned their degrees:

  • LB Corey Thompson, Sports Administration (Dec. 2015)
  • DL Christian LaCouture, Sports Administration (Aug. 2016)
  • OT K.J. Malone, Interdisciplinary Studies (May 2017)
  • QB Danny Etling, Mass Communications (May 2017)
  • LB Jonathan Rucker, Interdisciplinary Studies (May 2017)
  • DL Frank Herron, Interdisciplinary Studies (Aug. 2017)
  • DB Abraham Wallace, General Business (Aug. 2017)

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.