Andre Anthony was alone.
No teammates, no coaches, no trainers. It was just Anthony attending class at LSU, lifting weights, running and, of course, eating.
The NCAA ruled Anthony ineligible as a freshman last season. At the heart of the issue was a snag in his coursework from a New Orleans high school that had shut down. He spent the fall of 2016 like any other freshman student — aside, of course, from all that training.
“It was a lonely time,” he said Wednesday during his first meeting with reporters since enrolling last August. “I lifted weights on my own, pushed myself on my own to get better every day. I knew my time was coming up to get back on the field again. I knew I had to be ready.”
His playing time may come more quickly than he imagined.
Three days into camp, Anthony is joined by two other young players battling at the Buck position, an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid spot manned the past two seasons by Arden Key.
Key, the All-American who set the school sack record last season, may miss early portions of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery. Anthony is “hoping” Key will be ready for the season opener Sept. 2 against BYU in Houston.
But if he’s not?
“We’re all ready when our name is called,” said Anthony, a 6-foot-5 Edna Karr product. “We just got to be ready any time. Anything can happen.”
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Anthony speaks in plurals because the Buck position includes several young, aspiring players ready to replace, if need be, one of the nation’s top pass rushers.
Anthony and Ray Thornton, both redshirt freshman, and true freshman K’Lavon Chaisson are rotating at the spot, along with Key (shoulder) and sophomore Sci Martin (knee), who are limited during drills. They’re all tutored by the head man himself: Coach Ed Orgeron’s focus at practice is on the edge-rushing Buck position.
These Bucks, or “B's” as they call themselves, stick together. During an eight-minute interview, Anthony referred to the group as “brothers” three times. Thornton, a chiseled Texas native, followed suit while holding his own interview surrounded by a half-dozen reporters.
“We’re like brothers, basically. We’re just two brothers doing our thing,” Thornton said. “He teaches me stuff. I feel like he’s the better pass rusher than I am, so I do learn. I do have some trouble pass rushing sometimes, and he has some things that he has trouble with off the run.”
The biggest hurdle for Thornton is the pass-rushing part of the Buck position. The hurdle for Anthony is in pass coverage. The position is a hybrid that calls for a variety of skills. Thornton played a similar role at Killeen High, just north of Austin. Anthony played more of a defensive end role in a 4-3 defense at Karr.
There are growing pains.
“Drops (in pass coverage), I’m not used to it,” Anthony said. “But now I’ve got the hang of it.”
And then there’s Chaisson, one of the most highly rated edge rushers to emerge from high school in the last recruiting cycle. He played a similar role to LSU’s Buck as a senior at Houston’s North Shore High.
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He has impressed Orgeron enough that the coach suggested Chaisson and a healthy Key could be on the field at the same time this year in a pass-rushing package. The comment might get LSU fans’ hearts pumping, but don’t forget about Thornton and Anthony — who are both a year ahead of Chaisson despite not playing last season.
Coaches used Thornton’s redshirt by training him at the F-outside linebacker position last fall before moving him to Buck in the spring. He’s rotating at both positions. Thornton said coaches this season are making the roles of the F-OLB and the Buck more similar.
“They’re really looking to make both sides kind of equal,” he said. “Of course, one side will be dropping more than the other.”
Anthony isn’t playing any F-OLB. His focus, since rejoining the team, is the Buck.
He became eligible to practice with LSU during bowl preparations in December. His fall was spent alone, gaining 25 pounds to his current 244-pound weight, all the while motivated by the unusual circumstances of his eligibility.
The NCAA never cleared Anthony for his freshman year, and the governing body denied LSU’s appeal. The hang-up surrounded the courses Anthony took during his year and a half at Miller-McCoy Academy, which shut down in 2015.
The NCAA’s decision elicited a passionate statement from former coach Les Miles during SEC media days last summer: Miles pounded on a table while speaking to reporters.
Anthony took it in stride.
“It was hard sometimes, knowing I wouldn’t be able to play,” he said Wednesday. “But I knew my time was coming.”
Mike Gegenheimer contributed to this report.