Travin Dural couldn’t sleep Sunday night.
“I was anxious thinking about it,” LSU’s sophomore wide receiver said the next day.
“It” is the return of football season. The thoughts of running through that narrow concrete tunnel, under the goalposts, between the LSU band and their shiny brass instruments and drums, out onto the gorgeous green carpet of grass and into that cauldron of sound that is Tiger Stadium.
“It’s always the same feeling, every time,” Dural said. “No matter the game or the time. From the first time I ran out there my redshirt freshman year to this weekend, it’s always the same rush. It’s great to have all those fans cheering and screaming for you.
“It’s something you dream of, and then you’re actually doing it.”
Eight months of talk and dreams and preparations, of sweat and planning and studying and more sweat build up to this: these 12 surprise packages, each waiting to be discovered one Saturday after the next.
The wrapping gets ripped open at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, when LSU hosts McNeese State. The thump of a kicker’s foot meeting ball, a swarm of flashes from smartphones and cameras around the stadium (the flash doesn’t help, folks), and away we go.
The last few moments just before the game may be the best of the entire season, heavy with the sweet anticipation of what may come and what has yet to happen.
A new season is like being reborn. The possibilities lie out there like a shimmering summer horizon on a long stretch of asphalt. It could take you anywhere.
But the games begin as they must. And they end. Football, as the late, great George Carlin still reminds us, is rigidly timed. The best college players’ careers last for three seasons. Five at most for the rest. Then it’s over, and there will be nothing like running through that tunnel again.
We’re reminded as well of the finality of football high above the field in the radio booth, where longtime LSU play-by-play announcer Jim Hawthorne begins the final season of a 30-plus-year career. For the sake of the “Voice of the Tigers,” you can’t help but hope they send him out with one last win in whatever bowl LSU plays.
Just what fate has in store for these Tigers is a huge mystery.
There is this strange confluence of numerology that may have Tigers fans optimistic for 2015. Since 2002, LSU has won eight games every six years. Since 2003, LSU has played for the national title every four years, winning twice.
LSU begins the season as a ranked outsider at No. 14 in The Associated Press preseason poll. Despite coming off a frustrating 8-5 season, LSU still commands enough respect to start in the same spot as the 2003 Tigers, who also were coming off an 8-5 season the year before. That team vaulted all the way to No. 2 before winning LSU’s first BCS national championship.
Do you see where this is going?
What’s more, do you believe?
Across this football-mad land, LSU isn’t taken seriously as a title contender, even in this dice throw of a Southeastern Conference season that’s harder to handicap than any in recent memory. Sure, ESPN’s Lee Corso picked the Tigers to win it all, but it’s hard to take a prediction seriously made from under a costumed tiger headpiece.
If there is hope, real hope for a real championship run for LSU this season, it rests on the shoulder pads of No. 6 in the purple and gold.
Look! Under the goalposts! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … well, it’s just Brandon Harris, LSU’s sophomore quarterback. It would be unfair to expect miracles, yet enormous expectations follow the Bossier City sophomore into this game like Superman’s cape after he wrenched the starting job away from the incumbent, Anthony Jennings.
Jennings lost the job in part because he spent part of the season suspended after an arrest. (The charges were later dropped.) It was only part of the offseason disquiet that so often seems to precede an LSU football season, along with health scares for 11th-year coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
In essence, though, the simplest view of the Tigers is probably on the mark. If Harris, or even Jennings, can pull LSU’s passing game out of the mud from last season — the Tigers ranked 114th in passing yards per game — then LSU could be on to something special. The rest of the Tigers’ talent, even without safety Jalen Mills (out the first half of the season with an ankle injury), is stacked sky high as usual.
But enough talk. It’s time to play.
It’s time to make that incomparable run through the tunnel.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.