Lionel Williams had the play lined up.
With about two minutes left in the first quarter of LSU’s spring game Saturday in Tiger Stadium, sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris reared back and fired a bullet deep down the right sideline.
Williams, a safety, blanketed sophomore Malachi Dupre, running with the receiver step for step toward the end zone ... until Dupre fully extended his arms, dived and hauled in a 35-yard touchdown reception.
These days, Dupre makes circus catches like clockwork.
“He’s a guy with real big hands and real long arms, and he’s real athletic,” junior wideout Travin Dural said. “He can make those hard catches look easy.”
Dupre showed flashes of his ability during his freshman season, catching 14 passes for 318 yards and five touchdowns. But with a year under his belt in the Southeastern Conference, the former John Curtis standout understood where he needed to improve heading into spring practice. After packing on pounds and developing a more physical mindset, Dupre is poised to break out for the Tigers this fall, possibly as their No. 1 receiver.
Dupre wasn’t going to be pushed around in his first spring game. Last season, opposing cornerbacks knew what they were up against: a 187-pound freshman who hadn’t played a full season against conference competition.
Dupre said cornerbacks would regularly get physical with him. He doesn’t plan on having any more of that as a sophomore.
He didn’t sulk after LSU’s 31-28 loss to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl. Instead, he planted himself in the workout room.
When he faced off against his teammates Saturday, Dupre was 10 pounds heavier than when last season ended — and it showed. He caught four passes for 112 yards and two scores as he bullied the Tigers’ second- and third-string cornerbacks.
“I know what I have to do to dominate,” he said. “I know what I have to do to make plays both in the run game and in the passing game.”
Physicality was a point of emphasis for him in the offseason. As part of a young offense still looking to make its mark in Baton Rouge, Dupre plans on making his presence felt on the field, and he hopes to be a leader, too.
“At the receiver position, if you make a statement by being physical, then that makes a statement for your team,” he said. “It opens their eyes and makes them say, ‘Wow, look, the receivers are making plays.’ So the more physical positions may look at us being physical on the outside and make them be more physical at their positions.”
Dupre is bigger and more experienced. More importantly, he’s more confident.
“From when I moved in the first week of June (last year) to now, I’ve seen huge improvement in myself,” he said. “Looking back on where I was then to who I am now … I feel like I’m a lot better player than I was. You have to take it upon yourself to do the little things, and I feel like I’ve done that.”
With spring practice coming to a close, Dupre and Dural appear to be the only two locks atop the depth chart at receiver. Coach Les Miles said he liked what he saw from Dupre when he was lined up opposite of Dural.
“A spot could be found for him toward the end of spring ball,” Miles said. “I think that’s where we really need to play him more.
“I think he does some things that nobody else does that well.”