When bowl pairings were announced last Sunday – LSU was sent to the Texas Bowl against Texas Tech – defensive tackle Christian LaCouture reacted to the opponent differently than most LSU players.
Why? As a freshman in high school, LaCouture’s first visit to a college campus as a recruit came at Texas Tech, about a two-hour drive from his then home of Odessa, Texas.
“They played Texas,” he said. “I was so amazed. It was a huge thing for me.”
The meeting against pass-happy Tech had defensive back Tre’Davious White smiling. The Red Raiders’ passing offense, after all, is ranked second nationally at 389 yards a game, and White’s been watching that gun-slinging unit since receiver Michael Crabtree roamed the field years ago.
“That’s the challenge we’re looking forward to,” he said. “We’re going to have our hands full.”
No. 22 LSU (8-3) and unranked Texas Tech (7-5) meet at 8 p.m. Dec. 29 from Houston’s NRG Stadium.
Players weighed in on the matchup Tuesday during their first public media opportunity since the bowl announcement. They also chatted about their futures at the school.
All four players interviewed Tuesday – LaCouture, White, left tackle Jerald Hawkins and center Ethan Pocic – say they’ve requested draft grades from the NFL College Advisory Committee.
Each school is allowed to request grades for a maximum of five players but can ask for more. Coach Les Miles on Monday declined to say if LSU had requested more grades from the committee, made up of personnel evaluators from NFL clubs and scouting directors.
The committee returns three grades to players: first round, second round or remain in school. Each school is in charge of making the requests for the player, and the deadline for underclassmen to declare is Jan. 18.
Linebacker Kendell Beckwith and injured receiver Travin Dural, both absence at interviews, are other draft-eligible underclassmen projected for selection in the top three rounds.
Pocic, LaCouture, White and Hawkins all say their decisions to leave early won’t be made until after the bowl game. Miles said last week that some underclassmen have told him they planned on returning.
“I just put it in just to put it in,” Pocic said about the draft grade request. “I haven’t been asking too many questions about it because I really feel like no good can come out of that. Just distraction.”
Hawkins, a draft-eligible sophomore after last season, said he was “60-40” to staying last year before Miles secured his return with a visit to Hawkins’ home during a re-recruitment meeting in January. Hawkins is projected as a second to third-round selection, according to walterfootball.com, an affiliate of Fox Sports.
CBSSports.com has Hawkins as the 13th-best tackle in the 2017 draft. At least one analyst, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, says Hawkins could be a late first-round pick.
The 6-6, 300-pound junior isn’t worried about that, though, he said Tuesday. Hawkins is scheduled to graduate in the spring, he said.
“I’m just preparing for this game right now. I’ll wait til after the game to deal with all that with family,” Hawkins said. “Been focusing on school and graduating, trying to enjoy this year.”
White, the highest rated prospect of all of them as a late first or early second round pick, plans to meet with his parents and coaches after the bowl game regarding his future. Several national outlets – Bleacher Report and NFL Network – have reported that White is at least considering a return for his senior season despite his lofty projections.
LaCouture’s future is a “wait and see kind of deal,” he said.
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “I love it here at LSU. Wouldn’t trade (it for) any team in the country.”
Not even Texas Tech – his first love. LaCouture, son to a military mother, spent four years of his life in Texas, moving there from his native Boston before high school. The Red Raiders, then led by former Auburn coach and current Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, recruited LaCouture heavy as a sophomore in high school.
LaCouture attended the Red Raiders’ 24-14 loss to then-No. 4 Texas in 2010 – his first game as a college recruit. He attended a few more Tech games, too, that season and the next.
“I was really interested in them at the time,” LaCouture said.
The LaCoutures moved from Odessa to College Station after his sophomore season. He eventually committed to Texas A&M before the family moved to Nebraska. He signed with the Tigers and, unexpectedly, will be facing the school that first recruited him.
“I know the program real well,” he said.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.