Les Miles roamed the indoor practice facility Wednesday during LSU football media day as reporters fired questions at his players.
Then Miles stopped in his tracks.
“Hey linebackers, what’s the matter?” Miles asked. “No one wants to talk to you guys today? Don’t worry, just remember, y’all want the postgame interviews.”
Freshman linebacker Clifton Garrett didn’t know that feeling.
Being one of only three freshmen in a corps that contains eight upperclassmen, Garrett remains one of the few LSU linebackers who has yet to experience the electricity of Tiger Stadium. He hasn’t been in the press room after a close contest.
Not yet, at least.
For Garrett, the attempt to break through as a starting linebacker for the Tigers has come with its share of hurdles.
Before even adjusting to the speed of Southeastern Conference competition or the LSU defensive scheme, Garrett first had to fight a less conventional adversary.
Being a Plainfield, Illinois, native, Garrett’s first real test was surviving the Louisiana humidity.
“You’ve just got to come out here and just push through it and get used to it,” Garrett said. “Coming out every day and training helps. It’s a mindset thing. You’ve got to be mentally tough about everything. It’s just pretty moist down here.”
Once the rookie got his legs under him early in camp, he quickly began turning heads as he worked side by side with his veteran teammates. At 6-foot-2, 242 pounds, Garrett is the biggest linebacker on the squad.
It didn’t take long for his fellow linebackers to make note of his potential.
“The biggest thing is his hard head,” junior linebacker Deion Jones said. “He strikes those offensive linemen real hard and his hand placement is really good. He still has a lot of little things like footwork and grasping the scheme to work on, but other than that, he’s been doing really good.”
That being said, there’s still plenty for Garrett to improve on before his name skyrockets to the top of the depth chart.
It’s the same challenge every freshman on LSU’s defense faces — learning and thriving in defensive coordinator John Chavis’ scheme.
Lucky for Garrett, he has more than enough tutors to speed up the learning process.
“I’ve got a bunch of good guys around me,” Garrett said. “All of the guys know the system, so when I have a question about something and Chief is busy, I can look to my left and my right and there’s guys who know what to do in certain situations. I can always count on those guys to answer the questions I have.”
Senior linebacker D.J. Welter said there’s another area most freshmen, including Garrett, have to work on when they arrive in Baton Rouge: the mental aspect of being a linebacker.
Garrett has had to endure those mental growing pains early and often.
“It’s about not getting frustrated when you make a mistake,” Welter said. “It’s about clearing your mind after that one play and focusing on your technique the next play. It’s about climbing that mountain and getting better every day.”
Through the first few weeks of fall camp, Garrett said he isn’t worried about that mountain.
Though there are roughly six names standing between him and a starting linebacker title, Garrett said the position battle is more of a confidence boost than a concern. It’s a fight to improve, not to take another’s job, according to Garrett.
Regardless, Garrett said he’d do whatever he could to get on the field, whether it was on defense or special teams.
So as Miles’ words rang through Garrett’s ears on media day, the freshman could look in either direction and find a player who has run through the tunnel and into the roar of more than 92,000 fans.
Both Jones and Welter said they can’t begin to prepare him for the first time he sprints out to more than 100,000 at the newly expanded Tiger Stadium.
For now, Garrett can only dream.
“It’s going to be an amazing feeling,” Garrett said. “I can’t really explain how it’s going to be because I already get chills just looking at the stadium. I’m extremely excited, and I can’t wait for the opportunity.”