ORLANDO, Fla. — Ethan Pocic now eats crawfish.
He’s not talking about the ones deep-fried over rice or the ones drizzled with sauce in a creamy pasta. He eats them out of a boiling pot of seasoned, red water, cracking the shells, sucking the heads and slurping down the tails — just like a true south Louisiana boy.
He eats gumbo, too, and étouffée. He’s gotten used to 80-degree days in November, 90-percent humidity in January and that beating sun during spring practice.
“I would tell you that now,” the LSU center said, “I’m part Southern.”
In four years in Baton Rouge, Pocic has transformed.
He’s gone from a Midwestern kid who, during the searing days of his first preseason camp, toyed with the idea of leaving to the man who can now withstand the heat. He’s a Chicago native — a big Cubs fan, too — who admits that South Louisiana has attached itself to him like the beat red shells of those crustaceans he now loves.
He’s developed into an All-American center and projected first- to second-round NFL draft pick, the veteran captain of an LSU offensive line that Pro Football Focus dubbed the top-ranked O-line in the nation this season.
Pocic is the senior leader of a team that he’ll direct for a final time Saturday morning when No. 19 LSU (7-4) meets No. 15 Louisville (9-3) in the Citrus Bowl. It’s a last hurrah for a kid who passed on the NFL a year ago to return for his senior season.
His mind is focused on that game, of course, but on the horizon are much bigger things. Pocic, already graduated from LSU, will play in the Senior Bowl in Mobile on Jan. 28, and he’ll begin his NFL training in San Diego after spending a few days in Orlando with his family next week.
The Pocics will arrive here in south central Florida later this week. Their youngest son arrived Tuesday with the other members of LSU’s football team. As their first order of business, they all overtook a Buffalo Wild Wings, consuming 4,000 wings, a restaurant manager said.
“I’m a big Buffalo Wild Wings guy,” Pocic said. “Boneless honey BBQ.”
Pocic stands outside of the restaurant on a breezy, warm Tuesday evening, smiling, chatting and shaking hands — his big sendoff as a Tiger just five days away.
It’s been a long journey to this point from his home of Lemont, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
Pocic is the only Midwestern native on the team, and it’s noticeable.
“He’s more ... like ... something about Ethan is different,” nose tackle Greg Gilmore said. “Just the way he acts.”
Pocic is just the sixth player from that region who LSU has signed in the previous 10 recruiting classes. The past two — linebacker Clifton Garrett and offensive tackle George Brown — transferred after their freshmen seasons.
Pocic never seriously thought about leaving. On second thought, he says smiling, “maybe in the middle of a camp practice my freshman year when it was 102 degrees.”
The 6-foot-7, 300-pounder is the baby in a stunningly tall family with roots in the Midwest. His older brother Graham, a four-year starter at Illinois, is 6-foot-6. His sister Hailey, the oldest of the three, and mom Kim are both 5-foot-10. His dad Gary used to be 6-8.
“He’s now 6-6,” Ethan say smiling. “He’s had two knee replacements.”
Gary and Kim met at a “tall club,” Ethan says.
“There’s an organization of tall people from Chicago that had parties and stuff,” Ethan said.
Explaining the height is not so easy, but a reasoning behind the Pocic children's thick, strong bones is. Kim Pocic, raised on Chicago’s south side, made each of her three children drink three glasses of milk — a day.
Kim delivered babies and worked as a hospice nurse, and Gary was a firefighter for 29 years. Ethan's brother Graham specialized in beating Ethan, five years younger, at everything.
“Basketball. Video games. Football,” Ethan said. “I remember my first year of football in the seventh grade. He was a senior, and we put on pads in the backyard. He hit me, and I did a back flip.”
He’s a long way from those days, his sights set on using his final chapter at LSU to showcase his skills for NFL scouts.
“Part of it is that,” he said. “Part of it is just going into a game knowing that it’s your last LSU game. To me, it means more than senior day.”
Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller says Pocic is a lock as a top-70 pick. CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang calls Pocic one of his “favorite” linemen in the 2017 draft class.
“I think LSU ever year contributes legitimate NFL offensive linemen. There’s so many O-linemen who come from the spread who take a year or two before they can contribute,” Rang said. “Pocic doesn’t have to have that learning curve.”
Pocic’s learning curve came over his 36 starts in Baton Rouge, each pushing him closer and closer to the crawfish-eating, gumbo-consuming, part-Southern he is today.
“If you would have told me at 8 years old, I would have graduated from LSU,” he said, “I’d think you’re crazy.”
LSU signees from the Midwest
Transferred after Year 1
Transferred after Year 1