Josh Boutte finally got the message in the days leading up to the Music City Bowl last year.
LSU linemen Hoko Fanaika and Evan Washington sat down with Boutte and told him that he should have started at right guard last season and not them.
It sunk in.
“Just hearing that from them and Vadal (Alexander) telling me how much potential I have, it put that in my mind, ‘I can actually do it,’” Boutte said in a recent interview.
And here he is. He’s doing it – at least so far.
Boutte has climbed the steep ladder from fourth string to first string in less than a year, mounting a charge during spring practice, dominating in summer workouts, and then “mauling people,” as one lineman put it, so far in preseason camp.
The 6-foot-5, 340-pound Boutte is LSU’s projected right guard on an offensive line that’s expected to be one of the strengths of this team. It’s a veteran, experienced group with bodies that are both tall and wide.
Boutte might be the largest of them all.
“He’s the biggest man I’ve ever known,” coach Les Miles said earlier this summer.
LSU’s average height for its five projected linemen: 6-foot-5½. The average weight: 317.
Boutte’s the biggest of a gang that includes a senior (left tackle Jerald Hawkins), three juniors (Boutte, left guard Ethan Pocic, right tackle Alexander) and a redshirt freshman (center Will Clapp).
Boutte’s addition to the group — it came about midway through spring practice — was somewhat of a surprise. Boutte passed up a highly ranked local product in Garrett Brumfield and beat out K.J. Malone — two players who worked with the first string at both guard spots early in spring drills.
His emergence comes after two seasons of mediocrity. Boutte admits to not working hard enough his first two years in Baton Rouge. It took that chat from Washington and Fanaika to change his mindset.
Those two players started a combined six games at guard last season. What did they tell Boutte?
“Really, if you would have pushed yourself hard, you could have had the right guard spot last year,” Boutte said.
His focus from the bowl week on turned to a starting spot. That included dieting and training, running extra with strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt.
Boutte “went from 335 of mostly fat to 335 mostly muscle,” Moffitt said.
“His attitude has been different,” Clapp said.
Brumfield said: “He’s a massive, massive, massive player.”
Boutte may finally get the chance to live up to his billing. He arrived at LSU in 2013 as a four-star prospect out of Westgate High. All three major recruiting services ranked him nationally as a top 10 offensive guard.
His first two seasons, though, were spent on the field-goal and extra-point teams.
“Freshman year, I was just excited to be here,” he said. “The transition from high school to college is a lot more than what most people think. It’s not just, ‘Oh I’m going to go learn different plays.’ That’s something I should have realized coming into that summer.”
Boutte’s name began to surface after he got the starting nod in the spring game. Miles then made those comments about him in front of hundreds of Baton Rouge big wigs at Rotary Club meeting in July.
“I appreciate it coming from coach Miles,” a soft-spoken Boutte said. “I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest …”
Boutte grew up on a farm outside of New Iberia. He helped his grandfather raise cattle and horses. He never could ride.
“I was too big,” he said, laughing.
He’s country, indeed.
One day last week during interviews, Boutte’s vehicle was heard roaring out of the football operations building parking lot. It’s just like him: colossal.
“He’s got a big ole F-150,” Clapp said.
POSITION PREVIEW SERIES
Monday: Defensive line
Wednesday: Offensive line
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.