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Quarterback Lowell Narcisse (right) hands off to running back Derrius Guice (left) at LSU's first spring football practice on Saturday, March 11, 2017.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY TRAVIS SPRADLING

Something felt a little off the first time Lloyd Cushenberry watched Derrius Guice break through a hole in the LSU offensive line.

He wanted his teammate to do well, but there was something unnatural about cheering on Guice.

If you had asked Cushenberry three years ago what he thought of the potential Heisman Trophy candidate, there would be no question: Cushenberry didn’t want to see him succeed, at least not on the field. And Guice likely would have said the same of Cushenberry.

Back then, separated by all of 17 miles, they were sworn enemies, doing whatever they could to stop each other.

Cushenberry was a Dutchtown High Griffin, Guice a Catholic High Bear.

Now, it’s a different story.

The one-time rivals are united under a common banner, fighting alongside each other instead of against. It may have been awkward at first, but there’s no hesitation anymore.

They're now Fighting Tigers.

“Everybody from Louisiana grew up watching LSU and dreaming of being in Tiger Stadium,” Cushenberry said.

Cushenberry’s words ring true, especially around Baton Rouge. Coach Ed Orgeron has been clear on his recruiting philosophy that LSU must lock down its home state — and its hometown more than anything.

The Tigers boast 23 players from greater Baton Rouge on their roster, the most of any other metro area. By comparison, 21 players from the New Orleans area hold spots on the team.

Besides Cushenberry (offensive line) and Guice (running back), LSU also could start offensive lineman Garrett Brumfield (University High) and wide receivers Russell Gage (Redemptorist) and Drake Davis, who is from Baton Rouge but graduated from IMG Academy in Florida.

In the running backs room alone, three of the six ball carriers went to high school within a 15-minute drive of Tiger Stadium, including Guice, Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Catholic) and Nick Brossette (U-High).

“Louisiana is No. 1 to me. Anywhere in Louisiana, it doesn’t matter to me,” Orgeron said. “But obviously Baton Rouge, we’ve got to take care of our own backyard. We know we’ve lost a lot of big-time players to our opponents, and we don’t want that.

“I tease the running backs: We don’t have to go out of Baton Rouge to get a running back. … We want the best players in Baton Rouge to stay here, and that means a lot to us.”

In just this past year’s signing class, eight of LSU’s 30 true freshmen — including scholarship players and walk-ons — hail from the Baton Rouge area, again the most of any metro area. Players like Edwards-Helaire, linebacker Patrick Queen (Livonia), defensive back Jontre Kirklin (Lutcher) and safety Todd Harris (Plaquemine) have received praise from coaches and teammates throughout their first camp.

And the Tigers already have four players committed from Baton Rouge for the 2018 signing class.

“Speed. A lot of guys (down) here are a lot faster,” said defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence, who played many Baton Rouge teams while at Monroe's Neville High. “Well, I don’t want to say that. We’ve got some good athletes in north Louisiana. But I would say speed (is the difference). Guys like Drake Davis, they can fly.”

What keeps Baton Rouge area players home is just that: It’s home.

Brossette could have played at a number of Power Five conference schools coming out of high school, programs where he wouldn’t face as much competition. But he just couldn’t leave his hometown.

Davis left the state to finish high school, but he passed on 20 offers from just about every other major program, according to 247Sports.com, choosing to come back home.

For most high school football players in Baton Rouge, suiting up for LSU is what they’ve always dreamed of. And the Tigers want to make sure as many of those dreams as possible come true.

“It feels good to know that you have guys from your own hometown that want to represent and make a name for where you’re from,” Davis said. “When you stay in your hometown, you’re welcomed by the fans and the people that support you. Being from here makes a big difference for me, compared to going somewhere else.”

Follow Mike Gegenheimer on Twitter, @Mike_Gegs.