Shauna Ricks had watched her son play through injuries as they progressively got worse before, so the sight of Eli Ricks struggling to lift his arm last weekend as he tried to tackle someone looked troubling and familiar.
Ricks rarely reveals when he’s in pain. He already had played with a re-aggravated shoulder injury for weeks. But he left the stadium Saturday night in Kentucky saying, “This is hurting.” When he admitted that, his mom knew there was a serious injury.
“He knows how to play in pain,” Ricks’ mother said. “He does that well. He can do that. But there was something in this last game where something felt different. It was really hurting.”
Ricks underwent an MRI, and after receiving the results of a torn labrum, his family decided this week he needs surgery to repair his shoulder, ending his sophomore season. Coach Ed Orgeron announced the decision Wednesday morning, another loss for an already battered team.
“Lord knows I want to be out there playing the game I love,” Ricks wrote on Twitter. “I have been having a reoccurring injury that has had me limited and incapable of doing some things on the field that I know I can do for some time now.”
Ricks’ mother spoke because she wanted to address rumors she heard that Ricks might be ending his season early or preparing to transfer. The family dealt with similar speculation last winter. As Ricks underwent surgery on the same shoulder, people thought he might transfer away from LSU.
Shauna Ricks assured that’s not the case. They had eight family members flying from California to see LSU play No. 20 Florida this weekend. Her husband’s parents are from Hammond. They bought a house here when Ricks enrolled.
The pain in his shoulder simply became too much.
“He doesn't like being hurt,” Ricks’ mother said. “He doesn't like not playing. It doesn't even matter if it's a workout. He loves football.”
For LSU, the decision added another starter to its list of injured players. The Tigers have now lost defensive end Andre Anthony, linebacker Jared Small, wide receiver Kayshon Boutte and Ricks for the season. All-American cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. also remains out indefinitely after undergoing a procedure on his left foot, and there’s doubt he will return.
The injuries to Boutte, Ricks and Stingley came within the last two weeks, suddenly making three of LSU's best players unavailable as the Tigers approached the most difficult part of their schedule. Defensive end Ali Gaye is also hurt, and safety Major Burns and nose tackle Joseph Evans have missed multiple games.
Ricks, a former five-star recruit and freshman All-American, had made 11 tackles and one interception this year. He and Stingley gave LSU one of the best cornerback tandems in the country entering the season.
Without them, Orgeron said LSU likely will move nickel safety Cordale Flott to cornerback and freshman Sage Ryan to nickel.
Flott has been one of the best slot defenders in the Southeastern Conference this season with 26 tackles, two pass breakups, one interception and one forced fumble. Ryan, a former five-star recruit, made his debut last weekend against Kentucky after finally recovering from what Orgeron described as a "nagging injury."
"It does make it tough, but next man up," Orgeron said. "Somebody's got to rise up to the occasion. We've lost several players, especially starters on defense. We've got some young guys that have to step up."