As the football came toward him through Tiger Stadium air thickened by a pregame downpour and south Louisiana humidity, DeSean Smith could think of only two words: About time.
Not that he was counting, but it had been exactly 1,372 days since Smith, LSU’s senior tight end, had pulled in a touchdown pass, and this was finally his opportunity.
So when Danny Etling’s perfectly-thrown ball to a wide-open Smith settled into his outstretched hands, all he had to do was get to the end zone for his first touchdown since scoring two in the final game of his high school career on Dec. 8, 2012.
Finishing off a 46-yard touchdown catch in a 34-13 romp against Jacksonville State was the easy part for Smith, a 6-foot-5, 249-pound target. Getting the ball to come his way is something else, something he and his fellow tight ends have been waiting for year after year.
“The touchdown catch was a long time coming … and it finally came,” a smiling Smith said Monday. “It was one of the greatest moments of my life, really. Hopefully, we can continue that and get more and more.”
That remains to be seen, of course, but at least LSU’s top tight ends — Colin Jeter, Smith and Foster Moreau — seem to be getting more chances since Etling took over from Brandon Harris in the second quarter against Jacksonville State.
Etling’s first pass in an LSU uniform was fired at Jeter. Even though it was incomplete, it was an eye-opener for fans who've also been yearning to see the tight ends become more involved in the passing game.
Just three passes later, Etling, a transfer from Purdue, went to Smith after he blew past Jacksonville State linebacker Joel McCandless on a wheel route.
“When I went out there, I told Danny, ‘I got you,’ ” said Smith, a four-star recruit from Barbe High School. “He motioned me and was calling signals real quick, so I told him to calm down as I jogged by him on the motion.
“Once they snapped the ball, right when I got past the linebacker on the wheel and saw the ball in the air, it was like, ‘About time.’ I don’t remember pointing up or throwing the ball down, but the adrenaline was just unbelievable. … It was surreal.”
The last time Smith reached the end zone was in Barbe’s 35-14 setback against Rummel in the 2012 Class 5A state championship game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. He scored both touchdowns that night on receptions of 23 and 25 yards.
The touchdown against Jacksonville State was only the 11th career catch for Smith, who had surgery in January for a torn meniscus he suffered in the 2014 Music City Bowl.
He suffered that injury early in the bowl game and played with it for the rest of the game, catching four passes for 66 yards. The knee injury flared up late last season, forcing him to miss a handful of games and spring practice.
Since Etling has taken over at quarterback, there’s hope the tight ends will be more than just blockers in the running game or decoys in the passing game.
In seven quarters so far, Etling has targeted his tight ends five times in 34 pass attempts, or 14.7 percent of the time. Smith and Moreau each have one reception, and Jeter had a catch wiped out by a penalty.
While it’s not a lot, it’s still a bit higher than it was with Harris at quarterback in 2015 and Anthony Jennings the year before, according to ESPN.
While his first college catch didn’t produce a touchdown like Smith’s first reception from Etling, it was just as big for Moreau, a sophomore from Jesuit High School.
Moreau’s 18-yard grab against Mississippi State last week was his first since the quarterfinals of the state playoffs against St. Thomas More in 2014.
He was targeted once as a freshman last season in LSU's blowout of Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl, but the pass was underthrown.
“It felt good,” Moreau said of his opportunity against State. “I’m glad the team, my coaches, Danny, could put me in the position that I could handle the ball for the team.”
In addition to his catch that was nullified by a penalty against Jacksonville State, Jeter, a senior, has officially been targeted three times by Etling.
It’s enough, Smith said, to think the tight ends might have broken the ice and could become weapons in the passing game.
“No doubt,” he said. “Every year, it’s, ‘The tight ends are going to get more, the tight ends are going to get more.’
“From every camp, it looked like we were going to get more. But now, you see the balls coming our way. I think now is the time, and the ice has been broken.”
Advocate sportswriter Ross Dellenger contributed to this report.