As a fifth-year senior, Christian LaCouture is one of the more veteran, experienced and astute members of the LSU football team.
Others turn to him for advice. Not the other way around.
That changed Monday, when he learned the Tigers would open the season Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It’s a venue familiar to many on this team, but not to him, a northeastern-bred player who, in four previous seasons here, hasn’t played in New Orleans.
“A lot of the guys have been there and know what to expect,” LaCouture said Tuesday, a day after ESPN announced the game's relocation from flood-ravaged Houston to the Superdome. “I was asking them what it’s like.”
“There’s nothing like it,” sophomore Rashard Lawrence said. “I love playing there.”
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No. 13 LSU meets BYU on Saturday night under the same lights that so many on this squad have played. It’s a return home, too, for about 20 New Orleans-area players.
The team erupted in celebration Monday afternoon when athletic director Joe Alleva, midway through practice, gathered players to announce the news: We’re going to New Orleans, guys.
“We started screaming and yelling,” Lawrence said. “It was definitely good to hear that. I was kind of hoping it was in New Orleans, because it is a lot of fun.”
Lawrence has played at the Dome, maybe, more than any other LSU player. His Neville High School teams won state titles in 2014 and 2015 and lost back in 2012. He has spent so much time there that he referred to the Dome on Tuesday as his “second home.”
LaCouture made sure to ask him for a little advice.
“I know it’s high school, but he was telling me how so many people pack in and how big it is but how small you feel in there,” he said.
To Ty Detmer, the age thing is overblown.
The excitement of playing in the Dome extends beyond the players.
Doug Thornton, a Superdome official, has spent the past few years working with administrators at LSU, the Sugar Bowl and major TV networks in an effort to schedule the Tigers for a kickoff event there. In a roundabout way, he got one this year.
The circumstances are unfortunate, he admitted, given the devastating flooding in Houston. New Orleans, he said, is prepared to give back. Game officials plan to partner with the Red Cross for a fundraising event Saturday.
Nonetheless, the Dome finally has LSU for a kickoff event. And the Tigers could be returning in the future.
“Down the road, we may have the opportunity to host a game like that with LSU,” said Thornton, senior vice president at SMG, which manages the Superdome. “It’s more complicated than people might think. We’d love to have an early-season game down the road. (It's) something we’ve talked about with various parties.”
Verge Ausberry, LSU’s deputy athletic director, predicted earlier this month that the Tigers will play in the Dome in a season-opening affair in the next “four to six” years.
“We definitely want to do something in New Orleans,” he said. “It’s a hotbed for us. Been talking to a few folks for that.”
It’s a hotbed for recruiting, justified by a gander at the roster. One-fifth of LSU’s 85 scholarship players are from the New Orleans area. None of them has played in the Dome while a member of this team.
The Tigers' last trip to the Dome is a nasty memory. In the 2011 BCS national championship game, Alabama shut out the Tigers 21-0. Famously, LSU's offense did not cross midfield.
That elicited a humorous exchange Tuesday between defensive lineman Greg Gilmore and T-Bob Hebert, a center on that 2011 team who’s now a radio host. Hebert did not play in the championship game, a notorious decision by former coach Les Miles.
“Do you think the offense will cross the 50?” Hebert playfully asked Gilmore.
“I watched that game on TV,” Gilmore said.
“Yeah,” Hebert said, “a lot of people did.”
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In addition to Lawrence, at least 10 other LSU players have won or lost state titles in the Dome, and a few of them played against each other. Redshirt freshman edge rusher Andre Anthony, for Edna Karr, and Lawrence, for Neville, battled in 2015. Freshman Jontre Kirklin’s Lutcher team beat fellow freshman Lowell Narcisse’s St. James squad in 2015, too.
Lawrence might be the most experienced in the Dome, but he’s not the most excited. That title goes to former Riverdale cornerback Donte Jackson. Lawrence’s Neville team beat Jackson and Riverdale 57-7 on their march to the 2014 title.
Jackson has never played in the Dome, a reason for his outburst when the words rolled off Alleva’s tongue Monday.
“He jumped up pretty high,” center Will Clapp said, “and screamed pretty loud.”
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LSU has played 18 games in the Superdome. It has 13 wins. The Tigers have played in three national title games and four Sugar Bowls:
*national championship game