With cameras focusing in on him, Will Clapp’s eyes darted from lens to lens Thursday afternoon, hours after the sophomore, still recovering from April hip surgery, participated fully in LSU’s first veteran preseason practice.
Clapp is peppered with questions while Ethan Pocic — whom Clapp calls “Po” — lurks behind the scrum, snapping a photo on his iPhone while taking pleasure in his teammate’s calm uneasiness.
The centerpieces of LSU’s retooled offensive line underwent nearly identical hip surgeries, repairing the labrum — a ring of cartilage that helps hold the thigh bone securely to the hip socket.
“It’s pretty similar to a shoulder labrum,” Pocic said last month at SEC media days. “It’s not like a hip replacement. They go in, scope it, shave the bone down, fix the cartilage. It’s not as bad as you’d think.”
Clapp felt pain in the middle of his breakout freshman season in which he started all 12 games at guard. He endured but admitted that the hip was bothering him “a good bit at the tail end” of the season.
During spring practice, trainers sent the Brother Martin product for an MRI, revealing the injury.
“(Pocic’s) surgery was obviously a little more significant than mine,” Clapp said. “Mine wasn’t as big as a tear, but he guided me through it. He told me, ‘This is what it’s going to feel like; this is what the first two weeks.’ He guided me through everything and really showed me all the steps.”
Those first two weeks? A trying time, Clapp said, that left him nearly immobile. He was forced to slowly move with a walker, just as Pocic did during the spring. For a moment, doubt creeped into his mind.
“You can’t do much,” Clapp said. “And then telling yourself you’re not going to be able to do the things you used to be able to do right after that. Those first two months, I couldn’t even get into a stance. I was struggling a little bit.”
Clapp returned to campus last week for a meeting with coaches, who gave the 6-foot-5 lineman nearly free rein over his practice time and reps.
He was absent from Saturday’s practice — the last of camp open to reporters — but coach Les Miles said Clapp returned for Monday’s first full-squad workout in pads, an attempt to “temper his exposure.”
“Whenever I’m not feeling well (and) the hip starts to get fatigued, they told me to pull myself,” Clapp said. “But it’s all up to me. They all had to sit me down and tell me, ‘It’s not time to push it,’ but you have to get in shape somehow. It felt fine, but we just have to stay on top of it.”
Clapp scoffed at questions about his availability for the team’s Sept. 3 season opener against Wisconsin, saying all that concerns him now is being healthy to practice. Maea Teuhema’s sprained ankle pairs with Clapp’s recovery to produce a tinge of uncertainty, so Clapp does not want to leave the group “short on numbers” as it tries to find its way.
Miles indicated Monday that, in Clapp’s absence, Garrett Brumfield steps in at right guard. K.J. Malone takes snaps at left tackle in Teuhema’s absence. Freshman Lloyd Cushenberry III also drew Miles’ unprompted praise Monday.
“Last year, Maea and I were the young guys of the group,” Clapp said. “But now everyone’s played. Toby (Weathersby) started a game last year and rotated half of them probably. K.J. played a lot over his career, seen everything. And me and Po have been there.
"It’s a more overall experienced line, and it’s going to be a special group.”