To get to play football, Danny Etling had to strike a bargain with his mother back in the fourth grade.
Picture a handshake over the net on a tennis court.
“My mom didn’t want me to play football, because it was too physical,” Etling said Wednesday. “I got to play football because I won a tennis tournament. I told my mom, if I won the tournament, I’d get to sign up for football the next day.”
And he played.
But Danny’s mom had reasons to be concerned about her boy.
It was about this point in preseason camp last August that Etling injured his back. An injury that required surgery in April immediately after the LSU spring game. An injury that he somehow battled through to win and hold onto the Tigers’ starting quarterback position last September.
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LSU coach Ed Orgeron confirmed Tuesday night that the senior Etling, age 23, is still his starting quarterback going into this season, having survived what Coach O said was a real battle with true freshman Myles Brennan, age 18.
Whatever drama there was ended with a gag.
“Coach O played a little joke and said, ‘I’ve got to call you in for some academics,’ ” Etling said. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m in grad school. What I could have done in the first week of grad school?’ He told me quickly it was a joke and that I’d be the starter. It was really cool hearing that. I called my parents right after.”
Some players in Etling’s position, the incumbent trying to stay in office, might take the mental approach of, “This is mine, and there’s no way you’re taking it from me.” Not Etling, the one-time starter at Purdue who worked his way up from LSU’s scout squad to beat out Brandon Harris (now at North Carolina) in the first month of the 2016 season.
“You have to earn everything,” Etling said. “If you think something is yours or you deserve something, that’s when you’ll get beat. I always think, ‘How can I be the best quarterback for this team?’ If I’m the best quarterback for this team, then things will fall into place. That’s all you can focus on.”
It was a looser, perhaps relieved Danny Etling who met with reporters Wednesday and for the first time really revealed how much pain and discomfort he gutted through last season. There were times, plenty of them, when he was basically playing on one leg.
“You ever fall asleep on your arm, and it gets all tingly?” Etling asked. “That’s what it felt like. It would be all tingly and asleep. It would only hurt sometimes, but during games sometimes it would fall asleep. It would be random. I would be like, ‘Oh, God, not now.’ But you can’t control it. It’s when your body is in an awkward spot or you get hit hard — especially when you get hit. I’m having phantom (sensations) right now talking about it. That’s not something I want to go back to at all.”
One of the criticisms of Etling last season and in the spring game was that he didn’t have the strongest arm. That’s because his arm was often all he was throwing with — and not very well, either. Etling’s bad back made a casualty of his mechanics.
“I would just throw with all arm,” he said. “I’d be like, ‘All right, it’s going to get out there somehow.’ I couldn’t get my shoulder where I wanted to; I couldn’t get my hip through like I wanted to. I would just sling it and slash across my body. Hopefully that will be a lot better, because I developed a bad habit. I and (new offensive coordinator Matt Canada) have really tried to break that.”
Someone asked Etling whether he has been able to attack the vertical passing game as he would like to do.
“You’ve seen it a little,” he said. “I don’t think I ever needed to throw it much farther than I did last year. I can throw it 60-plus yards. I feel good about it. I need to continue to work to get my shoulder and my feet where I want to and push that hip through. It’s something that I’ve gotten better at since last year.”
A healthy Etling is someone folks who follow LSU football have never witnessed. Seeing how he looks next Saturday when the Tigers take on BYU in Houston will be one of the most compelling aspects of the season opener.
Then maybe we ask him about his backhand.