Near the beginning of LSU’s first preseason practice, K’Lavon Chaisson jogged forward, planted his right foot in the grass, rotated his body and thrust his left hand. A tackling dummy dropped to the ground.

Chaisson ran forward. He swatted a second bag to the turf, spun past a third, drove a fourth into the grass and leveled the final dummy without leaving his feet. Chaisson’s muscles tightened and stretched as he moved. His abs rippled.

“I’m finally back,” Chaisson said.

Eleven months ago, Chaisson lay face-first on the turf inside AT&T Stadium. He had recorded a sack and five tackles, but near the end of a season-opening win against Miami, Chaisson tore his left ACL.

Chaisson, a 2017 Southeastern Conference All-Freshman selection, entered his sophomore year surrounded by expectations of a breakout season. The Tigers needed him to lead their pass rush. Linebacker Devin White predicted Chaisson would break LSU’s single-season sack record.

Instead, athletic trainers rolled Chaisson onto his back. They evaluated his knees. Chaisson winced. He limped as he walked off the field. Two days later, LSU announced his season had ended.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Chaisson said, “so I don’t have anyone to blame for it. It’s God’s timing.”

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Chaisson spent the rest of the year on the sideline, hobbling as he cheered. He kept himself around his teammates, knowing some injured players have experienced depression. He didn’t want to feel alone.

Chaisson didn’t hesitate during his recovery. He did not believe God put him on Earth to hold back, so when LSU’s athletic trainers told him to run, Chaisson did.

“They could have told me to do a backflip,” Chaisson said, “and I probably would have tried to do a backflip.”

On Nov. 8, three months after his injury, Chaisson posted a video of himself sprinting. Once his ligament healed, Chaisson worked twice a day to improve the strength of his quadriceps.

“I really felt like I could have put some Icy Hot and a knee brace on and kept going,” Chaisson said. “I know a couple positions that play with an ACL (tear), but I know it’s not really possible in the D-line position.”

Though his promising sophomore season ended before it really started, Chaisson considered himself lucky. He thought about Ryan Shazier, the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker who injured his spine. Shazier has not played football in almost two years. He had to re-learn how to walk.

Chaisson did not participate in contact portions of spring practice — he thought he could have — but he showed progress. He exploded through drills, and he received praise from coach Ed Orgeron, who believes Chaisson can have 12 to 15 sacks this fall.

“Him rushing off the edge,” safety Grant Delpit said, “we know we've got guaranteed pressure on that side.”

“You're not going to be able to block K'Lavon one-on-one,” quarterback Joe Burrow said.

Last Thursday, the night before LSU began preseason practice, Chaisson received LSU’s coveted No. 18 jersey along with center Lloyd Cushenberry.

Chaisson didn’t expect to receive the honor. He thought it might go to long snapper Blake Ferguson or defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence. He looked up to them as leaders. 

But LSU noticed how Chaisson responded when he hurt his knee. Despite his injury, he smiled around his teammates and supported them through the season. He made the SEC Academic Honor Roll for the second time. The coaches respected Chaisson's character and leadership. They gave him the number as a redshirt sophomore. 

“I know he’s going to wear it well,” Orgeron said. “I’m proud of him.”

In about a month, LSU expects Chaisson to lead a revived pass rush. The Tigers finished last season with 34 sacks, seventh in the SEC. They had to get creative without Chaisson. This year, LSU wants him freed to rush the passer.

Chaisson thinks he can improve LSU's pass rush. He also believes more sacks will take the entire defense.

Still, Chaisson has looked at the school's single-season sack record: 12, set by Arden Key.

“I know my talent level and I know my mindset,” Chaisson said. “Once you have your mind set on something, you’re going to do whatever it needs to be done and get it done.

“All I need is one and a half sacks a game and that’s 18 sacks. That’s a record right there. All I know is I do my job, and I’ve done enough offseason training. I’m doing enough training now to where it’s possible to get it done.”

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