As the first question is asked, Derrius Guice’s iPhone slips out of his hands and bounces on the carpeted floor of football coach Dale Weiner’s office.
The Catholic High senior-to-be grins while picking up the phone and says, “Oh, that scared me for a second,” as he looks down at the phone.
It’s a playful side of Guice that hasn’t been on display much in recent months, and it provides a metaphor for one of Louisiana’s top Class of 2015 recruits.
Spring was a blur for the running back who can offer a blur-like illusion on the field. What transpired made people wonder whether Guice’s potential might slip through his fingers, much like that phone.
First, Guice was suspended from the team in April and given conditions to meet to be reinstated. He committed to LSU in late May, prompting a social-media frenzy. A day later, he was reinstated by Weiner. After weighing in at 219 pounds, Guice ran the 40-yard dash in an incredible 4.35 seconds at LSU’s camp last month.
Now in summer school and just weeks away from his senior season, Guice knows the stakes are high and plenty of people are watching. He is the first Catholic running back to commit or sign with LSU since Kevin Franklin in 1993. He would be the first Bear to sign with the Tigers since lineman Doug Planchard in 2002.
“I really learned to not put myself before anyone,” Guice said. “That’s what kind of messed me up the whole time. I decided to work through the consequences. I’m proud to say I’m back on the team and I did what I had to do to get back on the team.
“I wouldn’t call it as much a wakeup call. I’d say it was a reminder to stay focused. I got hung up with outsiders. I let things distract me and keeping me from focusing on my main goals, which are to graduate from here, try to win a state championship and then go off to LSU.”
Those statements exude the maturity Weiner seeks from Guice. Too often, coaches are accused of riding the talent of a top player while offering little substance, much like the guy who kicks the tires of a sports car.
Weiner, who has 288 career wins in 40 seasons and is entering his 28th year at Catholic, did more than look under the hood with Guice. He got up in his grill.
“I didn’t have a conversation with Derrius until after final exams,” Weiner recalled. “It was close to two months. We met the day after he committed. One of the things I told (LSU offensive coordinator) Cam Cameron when he did commit was that I was really excited for Derrius, but I didn’t know if he’d be playing for someone else in the fall or for us.
“We had a super meeting. Derrius has continued to do well this summer. He’s working out hard. I’m proud of him, and I can see some maturity. This was about being able to handle things, being here on time, getting things done on time. It’s about when you’re out of our sight in the classroom: What are you doing? I’ve seen a much better version of Derrius.”
Weiner is aware of the pressures that Guice, who turned 17 a few days ago, faces after a meteoric rise that started a couple of games into his sophomore season. Guice ran for 836 yards on 94 carries with 12 touchdowns in a backfield that included Khalil Thomas, now a sophomore at McNeese State.
During an injury-interrupted junior year, he had 1,101 yards on 166 carries with 13 TDs. A thigh bruise suffered in the season opener against Parkview Baptist and a shin bruise against East Ascension slowed Guice, as did a suspension for the St. Amant game.
“I think greatness is when you don’t remind anybody of someone else,” Weiner said. “Derrius doesn’t remind me of anyone else, at least not at Catholic High. He’s a big, strong kid who breaks tackles, and he’s a load. When you go to tackle him, it’s a jarring thing. But he can also pull away from people.
“There’s a responsibility that comes with that. He has a responsibility to his teammates and to himself. He is young. … He’s a man-child. I can’t relate to being pulled in all the directions he’s pulled in because I wasn’t a great athlete. Social media increases that.
“I told him when we met, ‘You’ve got little kids out there who are pretending to be Derrius Guice in their front yard. It’s just like what you did when you were growing up. Do you want those kids to think of you as somebody to look up to and be a hero? Or do you want to be a punch line because you’re the guy who could have been something? You’re a leader by default based on your talent.’
“There are a lot of little things I see that I like. He texted me, saying ‘Happy Father’s Day.’ He’ll encourage someone else in the weight room.”
Weiner and Guice also know his suspension offered a breeding ground for rumors — about everything from his grades to his actions and attitudes. There were rumors that Guice would transfer to McKinley, located near his home, and speculation about other schools courting him.
Both Guice and Catholic Athletic Director J.P. Kelly quickly nix grade rumors. Kelly said Guice has always had the C average required by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association and that Guice’s discipline issues were minor.
“After I got suspended, I had to make sure I didn’t fall behind,” Guice said. “It was a matter of not falling backward and not getting anything lower than a C in all my classes. I worked at it and I did it. I was always getting in trouble for little stuff — like not shaving. You do it once and it’s lunch clean-up duty, and you do it again and it’s detention. It all adds up.”
During the suspension, Guice took on a lower profile at school. He was busy with tutoring when his teammates were going through spring practice.
“I was disappointed and down,” he said. “I needed some time away from it. I didn’t come around until after the meeting when I got reinstated. I thought it was best to let (the team) do their thing and I’d do mine.”
Learning the system of new offensive coordinator Gabe Fertitta has brought some frustrations, but Guice makes it clear he’s excited about the fall. He plans to attend as many LSU games as possible to follow the progress of Leonard Fournette, the nation’s No. 1 running back in the Class of 2014.
“Right now the leadership role with me is off because I’m playing that catch-up role because I’m trying to learn the offense,” Guice said. “I can’t say, ‘This is what you need to do.’ (The offense) is more like the college offenses you see, and that will help me get ready for LSU. I’ll be following what Fournette does to see how he adjusts to college.”
Guice had designs on rushing for 2,000 yards last fall. He said he has no individual goals this year.
“I’m more motivated and have more of a desire to win this year,” he said. “The numbers, they don’t matter. It’s about winning.”