When LSU last played in Vanderbilt Stadium, a 27-2 Tigers victory in 2010, JaCoby Stevens looked to his mom, Dionne, and said, “Mom if I go to LSU, I’ll be able to come back and play at Vanderbilt.”
Nine years later, the LSU junior safety and Nashville native is returning home as the Tigers face Vanderbilt to open Southeastern Conference play in his hometown.
“Tennessee’s finest going home,” Stevens joked to the media Thursday.
Actually, he’s not that far off. During his senior year at Oakland High in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Stevens was named an Under Armour All-American, Tennessee’s Gatorade Player of the Year and the Class 6A Tennessee Titans Mr. Football.
From a five-star recruit and a top safety prospect in Tennessee to a staple of LSU’s defensive lineup, Stevens is more than eager to make his return.
“It’s all a big homecoming,” Stevens said. “I have people texting me for tickets and telling me they’re excited to see me play and they can see me at the hotel when we go Friday. It’s pretty exciting to go in play in front of fans and family.
“When the schedule came out and I found out we were going back to Nashville, I’ve just been really excited and really pumped to go back home and play in front of some of my friends and family.”
Dionne said JaCoby probably has been looking forward to this date for longer than he cares to admit.
“To be honest with you, JaCoby probably always secretly had this date circled before he even went to LSU,” Dionne joked.
Stevens has not been back to Nashville since his freshman year, when his parents, Dionne and Jeremy, moved to Baton Rouge. There’s only a few places that wants JaCoby need to go in Nashville — Hattie B’s Hot Chicken and Pied Piper Creamery.
“Other than that, JaCoby loves home cooking,” Dionne joked.
Both Dionne and Jeremy are from Crowley and always planned to move back to Louisiana once Stevens graduated high school.
Neither Dionne or Jeremy pushed LSU on JaCoby. They wanted him to make his own decision independent of them, but they weren't upset when he wanted to be a Tiger.
Stevens grew up going to Vanderbilt games and hanging out on the university’s campus, which he describes as “easy and laid back.” He has attended games in Vanderbilt Stadium both as a fan and as a recruit and has friends from high school who attend the university, though he thinks he was able to convert some Commodores to LSU fans when he signed with the Tigers.
Dionne was more excited to see her son accomplish something he had dreamed of doing for such a long time. So long that she can remember when JaCoby used to make her pretend to be a quarterback in their backyard.
“(Going to LSU) was something he wanted to do on his own for a long time,” Dionne said. “He used to watch guys like Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson, and I think he wanted it. I’ve always tried to expose both of my kids to college life and raise them to make the decision to go to college and have a career.”
For as much time as he spent at Vanderbilt games growing up, Stevens never stopped trying to make excuses to be on LSU’s campus when visiting family in Louisiana, whether it was just to walk around, stop by to see Mike the Tiger or go on his actual recruiting visit.
Even though this weekend will be a homecoming for Stevens in Nashville, he felt like the true homecoming was when he early enrolled at LSU back in the spring of 2017.
“He’s been coming to Louisiana for a long time — probably since before he could crawl,” Dionne said. “He would spend summers here with my parents or Jeremy’s parents and all of his cousins. He was always very familiar with Louisiana; it was already a second home to him.”