At Lutcher High School, Sully Laiche was a three-time district defensive most valuable player, was three times All-State and was chosen Class 3A defensive MVP as a senior.
However, when it came to scholarship offers, the big schools didn't really bite.
“Three days before signing day, LSU asked me to walk on, but I wasn't going to do that,” said Laiche, who is from Gramercy. “I was about to commit to Southern Mississippi, but they wanted me to greyshirt (sit out his freshman year without a scholarship). I said 'No. If you're not even going to give me a shot, that tells me pretty much how you feel about me.'
“They'd had a coaching change. I'm definitely glad to be here.”
Laiche signed with Nicholls State. At 6-foot-2, 270 pounds, he was deemed too short or too small to play defensive tackle for the big schools.
Now a junior, Laiche has become a stalwart for the Colonels' defense, which ranked first in the Southland Conference in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense and second in passing defense.
When No. 13-ranked Nicholls plays at No. 3 Eastern Washington in Cheney, Washington, on Saturday, Laiche, along with nose tackle Brandon Fontenot, defensive end Kenny Dotson and the rest of the line rotation will be counted in a major way. Eastern Washington led the Big Sky Conference in scoring, averaging 45.2 points per game, along with total offense and rushing.
If Nicholls wins, it would advance to the FCS quarterfinals for the first time in school history.
“We have the same mindset going into this game, that we have to stop the run, make them one-dimensional,” said Laiche, a three-time All-Southland selection, including first team as a freshman and this season. “They are similar to Incarnate Word, which is a team we played (on Oct. 27) — double-pull counter (plays) and all that.”
Laiche has a knack for showing up big and certainly for making big plays. During the first quarter of last week's first-round playoff game in Thibodaux, San Diego looked poised to drive and tie the score. However, Laiche broke through the line and stopped running back Terrence Smith for a 3-yard loss. Linebacker Evan Veron stripped the ball from Smith, giving the Colonels the ball at the Toreros' 49.
Four plays later, quarterback Chase Fourcade scored on a 19-yard run for a 21-7 lead. By halftime, it was 35-10.
Laiche credits the pivotal play to film study, which he said is a big reason behind his success.
“I saw one of the guards leaning outside because he was going to pull,” Laiche said. “So I knew a counter (play) was coming. I knew the tackle was coming down hard on me, but the way I come off the ball is pretty explosive. I got past him and just met the running back in the backfield and wrapped him up.”
Laiche served notice in the season opener against Kansas that he was a force, whether going against an FCS or FBS opponent. He had two sacks and four tackles for losses as Nicholls won 26-23 in overtime at Lawrence, Kansas.
Colonels defensive coordinator Tommy Rybacki said Laiche became dominant in the second half against the Jayhawks.
“He played really well down the stretch,” Rybacki said. “It was that time in the game, and he leveled up and made some plays. He made the last tackle of the game in overtime on a quarterback draw.”
One of Rybacki's favorite memories of Laiche is of the first game of his career, which came at Georgia.
“The first play of the game, he made a tackle for a loss,” Rybacki said. “He makes plays that get our defense, our fans excited.”
That wasn't the first time Laiche made an immediate big impression. After graduating from Lutcher, he came to Nicholls State during the summer for workouts and set the program record for the power-clean weight lift.
“He works very hard, he studies film and he's just a football player,” Rybacki said. “But he's obviously a powerful guy. He's explosive out of the hips, and I think that represents his run-playing ability.”
Laiche says he squats 600 pounds. To him, his lack of height is an advantage. On the line, often, the low man wins. Laiche can get under an offensive lineman's skin in more ways than one. He uses a battery of moves — the swim, bull rush, push-and-pull, pull-and-bob and rush-by — to get 300-plus-pound opponents off-balance and beat them.
Rybacki said Laiche “is pretty dynamic.”
“I've got lower-leg leverage on all the big offensive linemen, who don't move as well as I do,” Laiche said. “I am going to run down the middle of you, and if you're on your heels, you're going to fall back, without a doubt.”
He has 25½ sacks in three seasons, which ranks third on the active FCS list. This season, he has 16½ tackles for losses, 8½ sacks and two forced fumbles. He is on the Buck Buchanan Watch List for the best defensive player in the FCS.
“The sacks are eating me up, though,” he said. “I set a goal before the season to get double digits, so I've got to get a couple more.”