Since LSU is No. 1 in the country, getting ready to play No. 3 Arkansas and trying to complete a perfect regular season, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Friday is also Senior Day — even for the seniors.
“It’s kind of hard to think about the fact that we are seniors and it’s our last game here because of everything that’s riding on it,” senior linebacker Ryan Baker said, “but this really is my last game in Tiger Stadium. I have mixed emotions about it. I’m excited but at the same time I have to think about this being my last go-round.”
It’s the last go-round for 25 Tigers, 19 scholarship players and six walk-ons who will be introduced for the final time in Tiger Stadium, a moment they’ll never forget in a season that might also be unforgettable.
“I think they will be those kinds of men that once they graduate they will be excellent leaders in business, quality fathers and husbands,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think you’ll find that they will be successful in whatever endeavor they aspire to.”
They’ve certainly been successful in football. The Tigers are 11-0 and 7-0 in the Southeastern Conference as they try to win an outright West Division title by beating the Razorbacks, who are tied with Alabama one game behind LSU.
“I promise you they will be playing a very impassioned game in their last event in Tiger Stadium,” Miles said. “I can imagine the emotions that will run through them. I will also encourage them to understand that they need to put them away because they are facing a game with its own impact.”
Four of the seniors are offensive linemen — guard Will Blackwell, guard/center T-Bob Hebert, tackle Greg Shaw and guard Josh Dworaczyk. Blackwell has started all 11 games, Hebert has started eight, Shaw has started one and been a key reserve on a line that has helped LSU become the second-highest scoring team in the SEC. Dworaczyk suffered a season-ending knee injury during preseason camp. He has remained involved as a student assistant and hopes to be granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.
Blackwell said this game “means everything” to the seniors.
“We have a personal vendetta against Arkansas,” he said. “It’s the only team that we’ve played consistently in a series that we won’t have a chance to have a winning record against in our career and that stings a little bit. Arkansas has taken that boot away from us the last few years, and we really want to get it back in Baton Rouge before we leave.”
The boot is a trophy that goes annually to the winner of the LSU-Arkansas game. The Razorbacks have claimed it three of the past four seasons and will have it on their sideline Friday thanks to their 31-23 victory last season.
The offensive line has been helped by a trio of seniors who have been relatively unheralded contributors — tight ends Deangelo Peterson and Mitch Joseph and fullback James Stampley, a converted offensive lineman who had the first three carries and first touchdown of his career in the 52-3 victory at Ole Miss last week.
“Being a tight end, it’s not a glamorous position like quarterback or running back or receiver even,” Joseph said, “but we still have a major role in the offense. The recognition doesn’t matter as long as we’re winning.”
The secondary features almost as many seniors as the offensive line does. Brandon Taylor has started every game at safety, Ron Brooks has started two games and played a lot at cornerback, and Derrick Bryant has been ready when called upon. He filled in for injured Eric Reid at free safety last week and made a career-high eight tackles. He could see extended time Friday if Reid isn’t fully recovered from a thigh injury.
Miles said Taylor “is that guy that puts everything together for us in the secondary” and he said Brooks, who has two interception returns for touchdowns “is really a starter.”
Brooks said he didn’t appreciate the significance of Senior Day as he watched older teammates experience it in previous seasons.
“Now that I’m a senior and I’m going out there in those people’s position,” Brooks said, “I see what they were talking about and how they felt. I just want to make sure that I let all those guys that aren’t seniors know that we want to go out at the end of the regular season and do something special that we haven’t done before, and we have to come out and play with an intensity that can’t be matched.”
Baker has started 10 games and is one of three seniors who have been key contributors at linebacker, along with Stefoin Francois (seven starts) and Karnell Hatcher (three starts). Kendrick Adams has started at defensive end when healthy and Dennis Johnson has been part of an unusually deep defensive line.
“Things are just going great for us right now,” Adams said. “We’re not worried about what all the other talk is. We’re just focused on Arkansas.”
Long snappers Joey Crappell and Alex Russian provide senior representation on special teams. Crappell has been the long snapper for 2? seasons and has successfully completed every snap on punts and field goals.
“He’s been on the money all year,” punter/holder Brad Wing said.
Of course the two seniors who get the most attention are quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, who have shared the position this season. LSU has won 22 games that Jefferson has started, the most among active SEC quarterbacks, and the Tigers have won 14 games that Lee has started, third-most.
Blackwell said previous seniors have provided examples of how to handle Senior Day.
“They understood that Senior Day can be a distraction if you let it be,” he said. “One of the things they did was to just go out there and be with your family and do the Senior Day thing, but as soon as that’s over it’s not Senior Day anymore. It’s the Arkansas game.”