Even the most die-hard LSU fans might struggle to name just one of the Tigers’ walk-on offensive linemen.
That’s by design. If everything goes right, there should never be a reason for one of them to step into a game instead of one of the, presumably, more talented scholarship players.
Most years, they’re little more than scout-team cannon fodder, a live tackling dummy to run drills against.
And then there’s this season.
This season, 11 players, including five linemen, have left the team for various reasons. This season, as many as four starters on the line have been out with injuries during the first two weeks of preseason practice.
This season, it’s the walk-ons’ time to shine.
“I like to think we’ve always been important, but now we’re seeing a lot more action because you have to,” guard/tackle Turner Simmers said. “All five of us walk-ons have got a lot of reps. There’s guys like me, Rory (Luke), Justin Mikush, who have got the reps before, and we know how it works. But there’s younger guys like Michael (Smith) and Jabrail (Abdul-Aziz) starting to get reps, too.”
For a line that features just 11 scholarship players, the walk-ons' stock has risen dramatically as walking, breathing insurance policies.
As many as four walk-on linemen have worked with the second-team offense in the past few weeks, at least one of them playing with the group on a consistent, rotational basis.
If the Tigers need an extra guard or center, it’s often one of the walk-ons who gets the call.
They call themselves the Bs. Or the Bucks.
With a few weeks left in camp, there’s a strong possibility Smith will be the third-string center behind Will Clapp and Lloyd Cushenberry.
It isn’t entirely unusual for walk-ons to see increased practice time at some point during the season, but Simmers said this camp is on another level.
“There’s no difference,” said Abdul-Aziz, a guard. “We learn the same offense everybody else learns. We do the same work everybody else does. We run the same sprints. Everything’s the same. We’re expected, when we get on that field, to do it exactly like anyone else.”
The life of a walk-on at a major college football program isn’t glamorous. You wake up every day, go to class and then head to practice, where you get steamrolled by some of the best players in the country. And, for your trouble, you get a hefty tuition bill every semester.
A very lucky few may get a chance to earn a scholarship and make it into a few games. J.D. Moore was awarded the coveted No. 18 jersey at the start of camp. Just two years ago, he was a walk-on himself.
Those are the success stories that keep walk-ons going.
For a week of preseason camp, LSU’s offense hummed along without its starting center, Will C…
For most, though, the daily grind is what it means to be part of the team, even in the smallest of ways.
“You don’t walk on to a place like here unless you really love the game,” Moore said. “You’re not just here for the gear. Those guys get run off real quick. ... It’s too much hard work to stick around for a Nike shirt here and there.
“The guys that stick around are guys that love the game of football; usually love LSU football, otherwise they’d be somewhere else; and for the most part guys with great work ethic and tenacity and a great attitude.”
Moore said he feels a special connection with the walk-ons given his history, and he will try to take them under his wing if he sees a guy he thinks deserves it.
But as players who show up every day with little incentive, the walk-ons always hold a special place for the team. There’s a long LSU tradition of the walk-ons getting special nicknames, typically relating to some type of automobile.
Mikush is better known as “Tow Truck.” Smith is “Bus Driver” or sometimes “Uber.” In the past, there has been “Pork Chop,” “Cab Driver” and “Meatball.”
Even coach Ed Orgeron struggled at one point to remember their real names.
Simmers has the unfortunate luck of being known as “Lunch Lady” to his teammates, thanks to a comment from former tight end Colin Jeter a few years back. It's a nickname he’s glad is beginning to die out.
But whatever you call them, there’s no questioning their value to the Tigers — especially this season.
“Those are our boys,” Clapp said. “They get messed with, the nicknames and everything. 'Tow' and 'Bus' have really stepped up. Turner Simmers, he’s been taking a ton of reps. … Those guys have stepped up, making their reps count. These guys are running with the (second team), and maybe one day they can make a name for themselves here.”