Lonzo Giles raised his son around the athletic facilities at Texas Southern.
Jonathan first learned to swish 3-pointers and bank in layups from inside the H&PE Arena. There he was, at age 8, on the court surrounded by TSU’s basketball players and coaches, all of them ogling over the nifty moves and impressive stroke of such a young kid.
Jonathan retrieved his first punts and caught his first real passes at Houston campus' football practice fields. There he was, a middle-schooler surrounded by TSU football players and coaches, all of them with the same reaction the basketball members experienced years before.
“Have you watched your son catch the football?” a TSU football coach asked one day to Lonzo Giles, the athletic video coordinator at the school.
“No, not really,” he answered.
“Hey, man,” the coach said, “I know talent. That’s talent.”
About a decade later, that talent, 21 years old, raced around an indoor practice field Sunday some 270 miles from Texas Southern in his first practice at LSU as something other than a scout teamer.
The 6-foot, 195-pounder showed the moves and hands that made him one of Texas Tech’s most dangerous weapons in 2016. Giles is the most experienced of any of the eight scholarship receivers participating in spring. He’s caught 84 passes in his career. All other LSU wideouts have caught 36 combined. He’s scored 16 touchdowns. The others combine for three.
Giles ran through drills as the Tigers practiced in only helmets — the first day of an NCAA-mandated two-day acclimation period before contact is allowed on Day 3. He did not need full contact to show the skills that have made him the talk of Baton Rouge. No LSU football player has so much buzz around him, and that continued Sunday.
"He caught some big balls, made some big plays," coach Ed Orgeron said after practice. "He caught some balls on crossing routes, beat the safety for a deep post for a touchdown."
The spotlight on Giles has grown brighter by the week. Orgeron proclaimed him as a starter on Feb. 7. Strength coach Tommy Moffitt told The Advocate he is, pound for pound, the strongest player on the football team. Later, special-teams coordinator Greg McMahon, in a radio interview, anointed him as DJ Chark’s heir apparent at punt returner.
Then, on Feb. 27, the school announced that Giles, despite not playing yet in a single game for LSU, would wear the prestigious No. 7 jersey in 2018.
The announcement resulted in confusion among some fans: They didn’t know a Jonathan Giles was on the LSU football team.
Ed Orgeron addressed reporters during a 15-minute news conference after LSU's first spring practice.
LSU football is back, and you might not recognize many of the participants.
Even his mother, Diane Giles, is still “amazed,” she said, that her son was given a number worn by guys like Leonard Fournette, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Bert Jones.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but he’s a calm guy,” said Joshua Giles, Jonathan’s older brother who still resides in Houston. “When he found out he was wearing No. 7, he called us. ‘Going to be wearing No. 7!’ He had excitement in his voice. ‘I’m going to go out and show everybody why I’m wearing No. 7.’ ”
So who is this new No. 7?
Most recently, Jonathan Giles was a Texas Tech receiver who as a sophomore in 2016 posted 1,158 receiving yards (ninth-most in school history) and 13 receiving touchdowns (fourth-most in school history). He ranked in the top 50 nationally in five receiving categories: yards, touchdowns, yards per game, receptions and receptions per game.
But his pass-catching ways started long before, discovered at his father’s place of work.
“It all started here,” Lonzo Giles said in an interview from his work. “I raised him here at Texas Southern.”
Jonathan Giles is the youngest of three boys — a “surprise” to his parents, Diane laughed — raised in a family built on “football and church,” Joshua Giles said. Jonathan is the “spitting image,” Diane said, of his father, a defensive back and running back for the University of Houston in the 1970s.
Lonzo Giles’ claim to fame is playing a game against Joe Montana and Notre Dame in the 1979 Cotton Bowl, when Montana led a fourth-quarter comeback for a 35-34 victory. Lonzo and Jonathan often squabble whether son could beat dad in his heyday, Diane said, going “round and round.”
Jonathan has what his mother called “anointed hands.” They’ve always been great, those hands. He used them to snatch passes over the shoulders and through the waving arms of his brother’s classmates.
His brother is 8 years older.
“We’d play park ball in the playground,” said Joshua Giles. “He was snagging them over guys twice his size and age, catching passes on them.”
His hands were so good that Giles became the first freshman to play varsity football for Dennis Brantley, now in his seventh year as head coach at Elkins High, a school of more than 2,000 in the Houston suburb of Missouri City. His hands were so good, in fact, Brantley moved him from receiver after his freshman year to quarterback.
Lonzo did not like this idea at first. Jonathan didn’t necessarily love it either.
Brantley said he delivered to them both a message: “I told him, ‘If you don’t play quarterback, you won’t have the ball in your hands very much.’ ”
Jonathan threw for more than 2,000 yards in each of his three seasons as Elkins’ QB, whistling passes to eventual Missouri receiver J’Mon Moore as a sophomore in 2012. Schools like Indiana, Colorado, Colorado State, Fresno State and Utah recruited him as a quarterback.
“He wanted to go back to receiver, come back home to the position he loved,” Joshua Giles said.
Three years later, here he is, expected to be LSU’s No. 1 receiving threat in a more pass-leaning offense, Orgeron and new coordinator Steve Ensminger claim.
How Giles got here is still not completely clear. Giles left Lubbock last summer for Baton Rouge, an unusual transfer for a player who threw up such gaudy statistics as a sophomore. Those close to him are somewhat mum on the reasons for his departure, but they give clues.
The Tech staff, in a way, demoted Jonathan after that sophomore season. Coaches could not promise he’d be used in the same way his junior year, his father said.
“It was involving him not being one of the starting five receivers,” Lonzo Giles said. “The way they were talking, they wanted to make a change. At that time, Jonathan got a little disappointed, and he lost a little confidence in himself. I didn’t want him to go through a year that you waste a season not getting playing time.”
Brantley, Giles' high school coach, shed more light on a strange situation.
“He was not treated right and respectful,” Brantley said. “It wasn’t by everyone — just one particular coach. He’s a 'yes sir' or 'no sir' guy. This is the type of athlete you want. I didn’t know if this particular coach was trying to make an example out of him. I don’t know.”
Giles chose LSU over Florida State, Oregon and Ohio State, picking the Tigers in part because of connections to fellow Tech transfer Breiden Fehoko and fellow Missouri City native Corey Thompson, LSU’s former outside linebacker who exhausted his eligibility last year.
And so here he is.
How does Jonathan fit into LSU’s new offense, his father asked Orgeron recently?
Lonzo Giles said the coach told him, “Jonathan is going to be the main guy we build the offense around because of what he showed us (in practice) last year.”
Giles served as LSU’s top scout team receiver last season while sitting out adhering NCAA transfer rules. LSU defensive backs had trouble covering the speedy, sure-handed talent, Orgeron has said in the past.
While ineligible, Giles was not allowed on the sideline on home weekends. He couldn't travel on road trips.
He spent Saturday nights in the Tiger Stadium stands with his parents, watching his teammates race around the field in front of thousands of roaring fans. When the Tigers were on the road, he was in Houston watching from Lonzo and Diane’s couch, his brother by his side.
“Watching a game on the couch with Jonathan Giles is something to see,” Joshua Giles said. “He looks at the quarterback, and we can sit there and he’d say, ‘This is fixing to happen.’ Mostly, he’s looking at the defense. ‘If I’m DJ Chark here, I’m running here. When they’re in this formation, this spot is open.’ ”
It was a trying season, sitting out, especially those games at Tiger Stadium. In the season opener again UT-Chattanooga, Jonathan left his seat, winded through the stands and arrived at the black entrance gate to the field. He stooped down to touch the grass, his brother watching from their seats.
Joshua Giles became accustomed to hearing the phrase, ‘Man, I just wish I was out there playing.”
He’s got six more months of waiting. And so do LSU fans.
“It’s time for him to play,” Diane Giles said. “I know a lot of people haven’t seen him but have heard about him. They’re going to see who Jonathan Giles really is.”
This is a 12-part daily series counting down the days until LSU football begins spring practice on Sunday.
GILES VS. EVERYONE ELSE
Jonathan Giles provides experience and production for LSU. And it’s a good thing.
Every other LSU receiver