There’s no avoiding the Christmas spirit for LSU football players.
Before they can even step foot in the operations building, Tigers must first walk under a massive, purple-and-gold wreath hanging above the door. Once inside, they’re greeted by the purple-and-gold Christmas tree twice as tall as Arden Key.
The bannisters up to the coaches’ offices are lined with purple-and-gold garland and several more trees lie in wait throughout the facility.
And Danny Etling is having none of it.
The LSU quarterback has chosen to make his stand against the program, officially declaring himself against any and all Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving.
Christmas may be his favorite holiday season, but not until Thanksgiving gets its month in the sun.
Thanksgiving is every bit as good in his eyes, and it should be celebrated as such.
“Thanksgiving is underrated,” Etling said in a passionate defense. “Everyone’s already moving on to Christmas. You see the Christmas movies, Christmas music. We’re putting the tree up. Everybody needs to slow their roll down, jumping the gun.
“Let Thanksgiving have its moment. It’s a good holiday. It has football, got great food. Got the same food as Christmas. It has football, food and better weather (than) Christmas. And there’s a parade.”
LSU coach Ed Orgeron and his staff specifically requested the Christmas decorations be put up around the facility prior to the final week of the season so recruits visiting for this weekend’s game against Texas A&M could see the Tigers looking their holiday best.
But much to Etling’s pleasure, LSU isn’t completely bypassing Turkey Day.
Orgeron said Monday LSU would have a team dinner on Wednesday — a meal of fried chicken at the request of defensive line coach Pete Jenkins after seeing the menu originally called for baked chicken — and then an early practice Thursday so players can spend the evening with their families.
“It's a fine line there,” Orgeron said. “As a coach, you want to be receptive to all your employees, obviously. All the players and all their families, I want them to spend time with their families. But I don't want that to be a distraction. So we're going to go as planned Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday; nothing is going to change.”
While defensive end Rashard Lawrence said he’s a fan of the fried chicken dinner, what he’s really looking forward to is his grandmother’s macaroni and cheese back home in Monroe.
The cheesy dish is a popular one with the Tigers. Nose tackle Greg Gilmore said his favorite food is his aunt's secret macaroni and cheese recipe.
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Gilmore said he'll be cooking a full turkey for his mother who arrives on Wednesday, opting to forgo the traditional fried turkey for fire-safety reasons.
But Lawrence and Gilmore are a few of the lucky players who either live close enough to make it back home in time or can have family members come to Baton Rouge.
Out-of-state players and others who won't be able to spend the holiday with loved ones, Orgeron said, will be set up with local teammates so everyone has a place to go.
Tight end Foster Moreau, who is from New Orleans, said he doesn’t want the holiday to be a distraction from the final game, so he and Etling will eat with a teammate from the area.
“It just kind builds the team mentality that we have,” Moreau said. “One team, one heartbeat. No Tiger left behind. That’s just what you’ll see. I’m sure before coach Orgeron said anything like that, I’m sure there were plenty of guys that were going to hook up with other people’s families and eat there. That’s just the type of character and quality you have on this football team.”
Defensive end Christian LaCouture said he’ll have a few out-of-state teammates over to his house for Thanksgiving, effectively backtracking from a previous pledge he made to ban his fellow defensive linemen from ever eating at his place ever again.
Earlier this year, when the Tigers’ season-opening opponent BYU opened its season the week before LSU, LaCouture had the entire defensive line over for pizza and a watch party.
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He thought four large pizzas would be enough. He was wrong.
By the end of the game, the teammates ate 10 full pizzas and only stopped when LaCouture began putting limits on how much certain individuals could eat.
Apparently, he didn’t learn his lesson, though, because he’s left an open invite for teammates without a place to eat.
“A guy that has eaten a lot at my house is Lewis Neal,” LaCouture said of his former teammate. “He basically ate my mom’s whole pan of macaroni and cheese before anyone got there. I’m not even kidding. It was a whole pan, and he left a little square in the corner for five people. Davon Godchaux ate all the mashed potatoes.
“I’m scared because I don’t know how many people are going to come. I hope it’s more DBs and wide receivers. If we bring over D-linemen, it’s a wrap.”