The first start of his college football career happened so fast for Russell Gage that he didn’t even have time to text his parents to fill them in on the good news.
They, along with 100,000 other LSU fans, had no clue until Gage ran onto the field and lined up for the Tigers’ first offensive play in last week's Southeastern Conference game against Missouri.
At the same time, they were probably trying to figure out what LSU, playing its first game under interim coach Ed Orgeron and new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, was doing with four wide receivers on the field.
Even Gage, a defensive back-turned-wide receiver, was trying to process the news he received just two hours before kickoff: He was going to be in the starting lineup with Travin Dural, D.J. Chark and Malachi Dupre.
Gage, a former two-way standout at now-shuttered Redemptorist High, had received more repetitions in practice since coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron were fired, but he didn’t know what it would mean until Dupre and his fellow receivers told him.
“They came up to me before the game and were like, ‘You ready?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, brah,’ ” Gage said this past week. “This is what I’ve been waiting for, so it was exciting. That’s all I can ask for.
“Starting for LSU, it’s a dream. I was prepared, but the preparation has always been there every week for all situations, just in case my number is called.”
Gage, a reserve safety for two seasons before being switched to offense this spring, said his parents, Alisa and Russell Sr., were as surprised as he was.
“They were excited. … They were kind of shocked,” he said with a smile. “But after watching me, they were just excited and ecstatic.”
It turns out Gage was more surprised to hear LSU was going to start the game in a four-receiver set.
“It was exciting to be on the field, but it was pretty shocking that we opened the game with four-wide,” he said. “It was good to start off with something new like that.”
The Tigers ran all four of their plays on their initial series with four wide receivers, starting with an 11-yard completion from Danny Etling to Dural. Even though Etling’s next three passes fell incomplete, the change in strategy created excitement for fans who have been clamoring for a more modern passing attack for much of Miles' 11-plus years in Baton Rouge.
Gage wound up being on the field for 25 of LSU’s 65 offensive snaps through three quarters before the coaches started substituting after stretching the lead to 35-0 en route to a 42-7 blowout win.
Gage didn’t catch a pass, but he was targeted at least twice, including on a deep ball by Etling. Gage also had a key downfield block on Derrius Guice’s 42-yard touchdown run on LSU’s second possession.
It was a big change for Gage, a member of LSU’s heralded 2014 recruiting class who played in just six games before last Saturday night — including two as a freshman and one a year ago. This season, he didn’t play in the opener against Wisconsin and got in for only a couple of plays against Jacksonville State and Mississippi State.
“It felt good, being out there fighting with my teammates,” he said of his extended playing time. “It felt really good.”
Based on that, Gage may get more opportunities this season. His teammates, especially Dural and Dupre, had been touting Gage’s abilities at his new position since preseason camp.
One of the plays that turned heads came when Gage, running a jet sweep in a full-scale scrimmage, leaped over All-SEC free safety Jamal Adams.
“Jamal had outside containment and there was nowhere to go, so I hurdled him,” Gage said. “It’s something you don’t plan to do; it just happens.”
“He’s very, very fast,” Etling said. “He might have the highest vertical on the team. He’s a freak athletically. He’s an impressive athlete.”
Plays like Gage’s leap over Adams clearly opened the coaches’ eyes, Guice said — not to mention his hard work in practice.
“That has a lot to do with it,” Guice said. “Coaches love to see that people appreciate their opportunities and just take full advantage of them. Whenever he gets the opportunity, he’s going to make some great plays. Whenever a ball is thrown into a crowded area, he’s going to go get it.
"Russell is a guy that will throw his whole body out there for the team. He doesn’t care.”
Ross Dellenger and James Bewers contributed to this report.