HOOVER, Ala. — Derrius Guice spent hours preparing for his first, and probably only, trip to Southeastern Conference media days.
During two recent sessions with the LSU football team's interview coach, Guice walked through a list of questions he might receive during this media circus.
The brewing rivalry with the Florida Gators, for instance, was one. Comparing former coach Les Miles to current coach Ed Orgeron was another. He also prepped for questions regarding the series against Alabama and the Tigers’ new offense.
What he didn’t prepare for? Going half-deaf minutes before the event.
“I can barely hear,” Guice said, shaking his head and pointing to his right ear.
The hourlong plane ride from Baton Rouge to Birmingham, Alabama, left LSU’s star running back with an ear that wouldn’t pop, no matter how much gum he gnashed.
What a scene this was.
Just picture it: LSU’s Heisman Trophy hopeful and potential first-round NFL draft pick having temporarily lost half of his hearing while feverishly chewing gum between the short walks from one interview room to the other.
Keep in mind that he was, for a three-hour period, the center of this nationally televised event where the most essential skills are listening and answering questions.
He had trouble talking, too.
“Sounds weird when I talk,” he chuckled.
Guice made it through, bad ear and all, leaving in his wake hundreds of smiling and/or laughing reporters at the Wynfrey Hotel.
He hogged much of the spotlight, his affable and honest personality getting the big stage in the conference’s unofficial start to football season. He made this his time, sporting a suit he acquired at Brown & Brown in Baton Rouge that was as flashy as his sweeping smile: a light pink coat, blue shirt and matching hot pink bowtie and pocket square.
“I like pink,” he smiled. "I saw it on a mannequin and thought, 'This would look much better on me.' "
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This was his time, time to step out of Leonard Fournette’s shadow and into the bright lights of college football’s best conference, time to show his face and tell his story — a 20-year-old kid from the poverty-stricken streets of Baton Rouge whose older brother is in and out of prison and whose dad was murdered years ago.
“It all depends on what you’re fighting for and what’s your ‘why’ ” he told a room of television reporters in response to a question about his motivation. “My ‘why’ … I want better for my family. Everybody’s different. Your ‘why’ is your drive and your competitiveness.”
Guice wasn’t afraid to talk about his family.
Why does he run so “angry,” one reporter asked.
“I don’t want my family to be in this situation,” he responded. “I run for better days for them.”
Who is his family? Mom Beulah, 5-year-old brother C.J. and 21-year-old brother Derrick.
“He’s in and out of prison, running the streets,” Guice said of Derrick, arrested in the fall for a slew of charges, including attempted second-degree murder.
Derrick Guice was recently in the hospital, Derrius said. Why? He suffered gunshot wounds, the target of a shooting.
“That’s why I don’t hang around with him,” Derrius said. “I don’t want to get into all that.”
Derrius’ attempts to help his brother have failed.
“He doesn’t want to listen,” he said. “He wants to do his own thing.”
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So, Derrius runs. He plans on running right into the NFL, too. He expects this to be his last year at LSU, something he readily has admitted in the past and did again Monday during an interview with The Advocate.
Sure, if his production as a junior were to hurt his draft value enough, he could return, but his family needs his financial help. He hopes to give it to them soon, and it could be a significant payday.
The former Catholic High star is projected by many as a first-round pick in the 2018 draft. He’s hoping, like he did here at media days, to follow in the footsteps of Fournette, the NFL draft's fourth overall selection in April.
Fournette took this spin through media days the past two years. He offered Guice advice for this trip.
“Just got to be you,” Fournette told Guice.
Guice heard all about his predecessor Monday — the question he fielded most. He admitted, though, that he still works out as if he’s competing against Fournette. He knows how much weight Fournette would lift, knows how many sprints he would run. Guice said he does more.
A video went viral earlier this summer of Guice squatting three times his weight — 650 pounds. He brushes off a question about that.
“Don’t mean nothing on the field,” he said.
Can't see video below? Click here.
He welcomed questions about the Crimson Tide, his comment from November a topic during an exchange with a group of Alabama reporters.
After LSU’s win at Arkansas last fall and a week following the Tigers' 10-0 loss to the Tide, Guice called Alabama “scared.”
Does he still feel that way?
“Yeah,” he shot back. “That’s what I said.”
“Like I said last year,” he answered, “every time we were about to run, they have the whole box loaded.”
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If you’re wondering, Alabama and LSU meet Nov. 4 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. That’s a long ways from now, of course, a long way from this extravaganza, where this Baton Rouge standout leaped from the shadows — even more so than he already has.
After all, Guice is on pace, at nearly 8 yards a pop, to shatter LSU’s career record for yards per rush, set by Fournette last season. He already owns the school’s single-game rushing mark.
“He’s not under the shadow of Leonard this year, and I expect him to shine,” Orgeron said.
“Everything that we do is going to be based around our best player, Derrius Guice,” the coach later said to hundreds of reporters in the main room. “He's here today. You're going to love him.”
They did. And he charmed them all while half-deaf.
He finally popped that right ear toward the end of the day, so excited about it that he announced it to Orgeron and Derek Ponamsky, the special assistant to the head coach.
Orgeron laughed. Ponamsky quipped, “Popped it just in time for you to get back on the plane again.”