Will Clapp's family had a tradition throughout his time in high school.
Each summer, Clapp's father, Tommy, signed up his son for coach Pete Jenkins’ defensive linemen camp at Nicholls State. Each summer, Clapp strongly resisted.
In Clapp's mind, there wasn’t much point in going to the camp. He was an offensive lineman, and he didn’t want to sweat it out in the summer heat to learn a position he was never going to play.
Still, his dad insisted. Tommy Clapp was an LSU defensive lineman in the mid-1980s, so he knew what it took to make it at the college level.
The idea of sending his son to “the lions' den,” as Tommy Clapp said, was to see how the offensive line works from the other side. The better you understand your enemy, the better you can stop him. The more you know, the more versatile you can be.
For four years, Will Clapp slogged his way through the camp, hating every second. But by the time he arrived on LSU’s campus as a freshman in 2014, he understood why his father did what he did.
Now that’s he’s the leader of the offensive line, he thanks his father for forcing him to go to that camp all those years.
“He feels like every year that he went to that camp, he was able to add some stuff to his mental toolbox that he uses today,” Tommy Clapp said. “He can anticipate. He understands what they’re trying to do from a technique standpoint. It gives him a leg up.”
Clapp needed that versatility and knowledge on Saturday more than ever. When LSU opened its season against BYU in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 53 days had passed since he landed a spot on the Rimington Trophy watch list.
It had been nearly two months since he was touted as possibly one of the best centers in college football, but he had never snapped a live ball in his life until Saturday night.
The LSU junior practiced the position plenty, and he was the team’s emergency center last season. But that was it; in high school or college, he had never played center in a real game.
Fortunately for LSU, Clapp was prepared and finished his first game at center without issue.
“It felt good,” Clapp said. “Just try to treat it like practice with snapping the ball, making all the calls. Coach O does a really good job making practice just as hectic as a game and I think that really came to my advantage tonight.”
Earlier in the week and after Saturday’s game Clapp said the biggest physical difference in playing center is learning to snap the ball.
He added that BYU mixed in a few defensive fronts that were different than what the Tigers were expecting, but offensive line coach Jeff Grimes’ advice to expect anything and everything when playing center came in handy.
But the reason Clapp is lining up at center this season isn’t because of what he can do physically. It’s what he provides mentally.
Before Clapp was named the starting center, coach Ed Orgeron said he wanted the most experienced player to anchor the line. That would be Clapp. Entering Saturday, he had taken 1,424 snaps at LSU and started 23 games, the most of any starter this year.
“He’s handled it well,” left tackle K.J. Malone said. “He’s just like (Ethan) Pocic. If you say a wrong call, he’ll make sure you get it right, even if he has to chew you out on the field. It’s like (quarterback Danny Etling) says: He’s too smart for the offense. There’ll be some play where he knows it’s going to be a fake, and he’ll already be in the right spot.”
Ultimately it’s that leadership that gave Orgeron confidence that Clapp could handle the job.
“The thing that we like about our center, he is the captain of the offensive line,” Orgeron said last Monday. “He makes all the calls. He calls the protection, he checks, Mike here, Mike there, he makes all the checks up front. So that's why we want an experienced guy."