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LSU running back John Emery Jr. (4) participates in a drill Friday, August 6, 2021, on the Tigers' first day of fall practice on LSU's campus in Baton Rouge, La.

The day before LSU’s season opener, coach Ed Orgeron found out running back John Emery Jr. — one of the players poised to lead LSU’s offense this season — had been ruled academically ineligible.

Ten days later, Orgeron confirmed Emery will miss the rest of the season because of academic ineligibility. The former five-star recruit won’t play unless there’s a sudden change in his status. Emery intends to further appeal the decision from the NCAA.

“John Emery is out for the year,” Orgeron said Monday. “He’s unavailable.”

The development ruined what could have been a breakout season for Emery and changed the dynamic of his position group. Without him, LSU will rely on junior Tyrion Davis-Price, freshmen Armoni Goodwin and Corey Kiner, and sophomores Josh Williams and Tre Bradford.

Emery, a junior, had entered preseason camp as LSU’s possible starter after he recovered from shoulder surgery that limited him during spring practice. LSU envisioned Emery catching passes as he developed into a complete, versatile running back. It used Carolina Panthers star Christian McCaffrey as an example of what he could become.

Orgeron often said before the season that he wanted Emery and Davis-Price to “shine” as the leaders in the backfield. Injuries limited their availability throughout the preseason — Davis-Price in particular — but they both practiced the week of the season opener. LSU expected them to split carries before the NCAA ruled Emery was academically ineligible.

Emery stood on the sideline wearing his No. 4 jersey and sweatpants during the UCLA game. Orgeron described the running back’s status as “week-to-week” after the game.

Emery practiced last week as LSU waited to find out more, hoping the decision would be reversed through an appeal and he could play against McNeese State. But the NCAA denied the request last Friday, and once again Emery was unable to contribute.

“Right now, he's unavailable,” Orgeron said. “Things could change. If they do change, we'll play him. But right now, he's unavailable. Could they change? Yeah. But that's out of my control.”

As he continues to fight the decision, Emery hired attorney Don Jackson to represent him. Jackson was the attorney who helped former LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton get reinstated a year early in 2018. The NCAA initially suspended Fulton for two years for attempting to cheat a drug test.

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Emery's academic eligibility marks the latest issue in his career. He arrived at LSU considered the second-best running back recruit in the country. People viewed him as one of the school’s next great tailbacks.

He produced inconsistent results while rushing for 566 yards and seven touchdowns over two seasons. He admitted last month that earlier in his career, he wasn’t focused enough. He said he needed to watch more film to better understand himself and the opponent. He admitted to sometimes missing a block in pass protection or running the wrong route.

Emery also had trouble seeing passes from certain distances because of poor vision in his right eye. He underwent LASIK surgery after his freshman year to fix that problem. The procedure helped Emery improve as a receiver, recognize blitzes and make reads. He also learned more by watching tape and listening to coaches.

“This is my upcoming third year, and I feel like I have to hold up to a certain standard,” Emery said during preseason practice. “I've been more focused throughout my upcoming third year, other than my last two years. I've grown, and I feel like this team that we have this year is about to be very successful.”

The Tigers going forward will lean on Davis-Price, who has 70 yards rushing, and their freshmen. Kiner recorded 57 yards and a touchdown in his first game, though most came in the fourth quarter against McNeese State. Goodwin had a 21-yard gain on his first career carry before hobbling off the field with an ankle injury, according to LSU radio.

As LSU approaches its next game Saturday night against Central Michigan, Orgeron described Goodwin as “questionable.” Bradford, who recently returned to LSU after transferring to Oklahoma this summer, should receive clearance to play.

“Tre Bradford, as far as I know, will be eligible for the game,” Orgeron said. “We need to see how the week goes. Hopefully we can play him.”

Regardless of who was in the backfield, LSU struggled to run the football the last two games, averaging 2.84 yards per carry. However, Orgeron saw improvement in the running game against McNeese State as LSU used more plays, from jet sweeps to counters. He thought the variety would help an offensive line that hasn’t created much space.

“You saw our two freshman running backs, who I think are outstanding,” Orgeron said. “You’re going to see more of them along with Ty Davis-Price. We got a lot out of our running game and there’s more to get later on.”

Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com

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