DJ Chark has seen the film of Billy Cannon’s famous Halloween Night punt return against Ole Miss.
He also knows of Odell Beckham’s punt return against the Rebels in 2012, a run that also covered 89 yards stitched south to north across Tiger Stadium, just like Cannon's.
“Those are legendary plays by legendary players,” Chark said Monday.
DJ Chark knows about cancelled flights.
Foster Moreau knows Duke Riley as a goofball.
Legends, indeed. But to put a modern spin on the line from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” this is the SEC West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
Or print the story of the latest one.
Things were getting dire for LSU on Saturday against Auburn, and its comeback needed a restart.
LSU fought from 20-0 down in the second quarter to make it 23-14 at halftime, but its comeback stalled in a scoreless third quarter. Just seconds into the fourth, Chark stood near the LSU 30-yard line to await a punt from Auburn’s Aidan Marshall.
A wide receiver by trade, eager to score a touchdown every time he touches the ball, Chark has more modest goals as LSU’s punt returner. But in this moment, with the shadows enveloping the playing surface and time becoming a deadly adversary, he knew he had to make a play.
“I knew if I had the opportunity I was going to have to do something with it,” Chark said Monday. “That was my mindset the whole time. But I never said, ‘I’m going to return it,’ because field position comes first. You can’t be selfish and do something when you’re not supposed to.
“First thing is to catch the ball. But if I know I can get a little separation, I try to do what I can with it.”
With Marshall’s punt in the air, Chark looked downfield to judge where the Auburn gunners were. Then his eyes went back skyward as he backpedaled a bit to the LSU 25. Gathering the ball in, he turned left to elude Jamel Dean, who may have been blocked in the back by LSU’s Greedy Williams (no flag).
Looping around to the LSU 19, Chark turned upfield near the left hashmark, blowing past Auburn’s Malik Miller as he returned to the 25. Cutting left toward the Auburn sideline, Chark picked up an escort from JaCoby Stevens. He used the freshman as a human shield before Stevens took out Andrew Williams, the last man with a realistic chance to bring Chark down, just past midfield.
One of LSU's two starting tackles practiced Monday.
Touchdown. Fourteen minutes, 33 seconds remained and LSU still trailed 23-21, but Chark had taken a huge lever and shifted momentum to his team’s sideline. A pair of Connor Culp field goals in the final 2:36 eventually allowed LSU to spring the remarkable 27-23 upset, the biggest comeback in an SEC game in Tiger Stadium.
Earlier Chark feared he was going to be part of the problem, not the solution. Danny Etling hit him with a 39-yard pass in the first quarter, but Chark fumbled, setting up an Auburn touchdown drive that gave the visitors a quick 10-0 lead.
The rest of the game, Chark was stellar. He led all receivers with five catches for 150 yards and added 83 more on a pair of punt returns, earning Southeastern Conference offensive player of the week honors.
“Coming into this game,” Chark said, “we were going to give it our all.”
All Chark is doing as a senior is making an indelible mark on LSU football history.
He and yet another LSU legend, Kevin Faulk, are now the only players in the program’s annals with 75-plus-yard scoring plays three ways. Chark had a 79-yard touchdown run in the 2015 Texas Bowl against Texas Tech and caught an 80-yard TD pass from Etling last season against Southern Miss.
Now he’s within hailing distance of one of LSU’s oldest records: the delightfully nicknamed Pinky Rohm’s three punt-return TDs in 1937. It's all the more remarkable when you consider that before this season, Chark hadn’t returned punts since his senior year at Alexandria Senior High.
“When I got here, I knew I probably wouldn’t play a lot on offense, so I wanted to do returns,” Chark said. “But we had Leonard (Fournette) on kick returns and Tre’Davious White on punt returns.
“When I would see Tre’Davious catch those punts, I was like, ‘Man, this is a real significant part of the game.’ Because if he muffs it, it changes field position and who has the ball. I understood the importance of those roles.
“I had to study it and do my best. It’s a real serious role.”
Teams may seriously begin punting away from Chark, lest LSU’s latest legend grow at their expense.
Call it karma, maybe?
With his punt return for touchdown Saturday against Auburn, DJ Chark joined Kevin Faulk as the only LSU players to score 75-yard touchdowns three different ways in their careers:
Scoring play, Opponent
75-yard punt return, Auburn (2017)
79-yard rush, Texas Tech (2015 Texas Bowl)
80-yard reception from Danny Etling, Southern Miss (2016)
Scoring play, Opponent
78-yard punt return, Houston (1996)
80-yard rush, Houston (1996)
81-yard rush, Idaho (1998)
88-yard kickoff return, Notre Dame (1998)