At SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama, DIG Sports Editor Andrew Alexander caught up with former LSU and Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman and current SEC Network analyst Marcus Spears about the 2004 BCS title game, his SEC Network experience, how the LSU football team will fare this season and much more.
DIG: Growing up in Baton Rouge, did you always want to play for LSU?
Marcus Spears: Not really man. My mom and dad went to Southern University, and I went to Southern Lab. I thought I was going to Southern. It was one of those traditional things where I would go to Southern games every Saturday. I grew up in north Baton Rouge, and when we moved south I would hear Tiger Stadium from my house in south Baton Rouge. I was like, ‘man, I wonder what’s going on in there.’
To have the opportunity to go to high school and play well and have the opportunity to go to any college in the country, LSU was it for me. The opportunity to play with a lot of friends I had met over time in Baton Rouge. All of them having the same opportunity, there was so much positive to going to LSU. Coach Saban and his staff, I love those guys. It really was not a decision for me. I took some visits and showed interest, but LSU was always in the back on my mind.
DIG: You have a unique relationship with Nick Saban because you knew him before he was the “King of College Football.” How would describe Coach Saban in five words or less?
MS: The most organized human being on earth.
He is greatness. He really lives his life that way. People think about him as a coach. I got to know him as a man, and he’s just so organized. His day is planned and scheduled, and he lives by his code and does things that he considers to be the right way, day in and day out. He would always talk about consistency and just being consistent and being great. If you didn’t have the God-give talent, if you consistently worked at being great you would at least be good. A lot of guys bought into that, and that is why we experienced so much success. I just respect him tremendously.
DIG: How has the sport of college football changed since you played from 2001-2004?
MS: It’s more polarized. These guys coming out of high school are as well known as guys playing in college now before they play a game. It’s a great thing for them and it’s exposure and gets them an opportunity to get out in front of people and let them know who they are, but a great deal of responsibility comes with it. With Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, everybody’s the media now. Everyone with a camera phone is a media outlet. We see it day in and day out that nothing you do in public in private anymore. I hope that they are on the road to understanding and discovering the fact that we have to act different and do things differently. We can’t hang around with the same people. If you want to hang with your boys, let them come over to your place and have a set of rules of what y’all can and cannot do. There are ways to still have fun and be 17 and 18. It’s just a great responsibility knowing that everywhere you go, people will know who you are.
DIG: Normally, I would ask a former LSU player what his favorite memory is of his time as a Tiger. In your case, I think I already know. Take me through the pick-six against Oklahoma in the 2004 BCS title game.
MS: All week long we talked about if [Oklahoma] got in third down and five to seven yards, that they would throw a slant backside. We called that defense “field south” and Saban had that defense dialed up where I was the drop, and [OU quarterback Jason White] threw the ball to me. I played tight end so I was sure I was going to catch it. Running to the end zone….in New Orleans…everything. It happened so fast for me that I really didn’t appreciate it until I watched it after the game. The biggest part was being 45 minutes away from where I grew up. All my family was in the stands, and to win the national championship on what a lot of people say was the game-winning touchdown, it was unbelievable. That’s the greatest play of my career. I played a long time in the NFL and had a lot of great plays and a lot of good success, but that play will always stand out.
DIG: What’s your forecast for the 2015 LSU Tigers, and where do you think they will finish in the SEC Western Division?
MS: LSU has as much talent as anybody in the west. They have as talent as anybody in college football; it’s just the quarterback situation. How well the quarterback play will determine how well they are seeded in the west. Right now Auburn and Alabama look like the best teams, and that’s how it’s been for a couple years. But LSU has “it.” They have “it,” and if they can get production out of whoever it is, Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris, the talent around them is crazy.
I was down there this spring and had a chance to see those guys practice. They can be as good as anybody in college football, and it hinges on the quarterback. But if you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t win a lot of games anyway. Hopefully, the progression they made in the spring and what they’ll do in the fall can translate into the season. If they can do that, LSU will compete with anybody. We know in this league, if you get the game to the fourth quarter close, it’s anybody’s. They played Alabama tough last year, they played Ole Miss tough. That lets you know the talent level, and they really didn’t lose much. It’s a lot of talented guys that are still there ready to play. I picked sophomore safety Jamal Adams as my breakout player. He’s going to tear things up this year.
The talent is there. You have one of the best running backs in the country, so you know you can always hand it off if you get in trouble, but LSU has to be able to go downfield and create some plays.
DIG: As a former defensive lineman, describe the impact new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will have with LSU this season.
MS: It’s a huge advantage. I had the opportunity to play for coach Pete Jenkins when I was at LSU. Ed Orgeron can get anybody going. He’ll make a kicker run through a wall. He brings that enthusiasm, that intensity, but he also brings a healthy knowledge of coaching real good football players. Being from Louisiana, you know how bad he wants to have success at LSU and win games.
DIG: How have you improved as a broadcaster since joining the SEC Network?
MS: Little things. Pronunciation. Information has never been a problem because I watch football all the time so I pretty much know what’s going on. It’s slight improvements, understanding how to work well with the guys. The great thing about what we do at SEC Network is that we really like each other. The guys that I’m on set with, everybody behind the scenes, we really have a family oriented type of structure there, and I think that resonates on camera. The one great thing that I try to pride myself on is explaining things in a way the average fan can understand. That’s why you see me with the antics, having a good time because that’s what people do at home. When you’re sitting there with your dad and uncles, having a beer and watching a football game, those are the things that we do, and I think people need to see that on screen to feel comfortable enough to say, “I can walk up to this guy and ask him a question about what’s going on in football, and he’ll give me an answer I can understand.”
DIG: You recently began hosting an outdoorsman television show in North Texas, have you always been an outdoorsman or is this a recent development?
MS: Always! My uncle Duke took me to St. Francisville when I was a young guy to hunt. I saw a deer in the wild for the first time, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Hunting has always been a passion. I enjoy it, and I love the peacefulness of hunting. Getting the ranch with a bunch of great guys talking and sharing stories, the actual hunt and then best thing about it is putting the game on the Big Green Egg after I’m done with it.
DIG: What’s your best memory of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones?
MS: He walked out one day, and he had some ostrich boots on. I said, “Jerry, where’d you get those boots from?” He said, “Man, you couldn’t even count how much these boots cost.”
DIG: Who is the best LSU defensive lineman ever, not named Marcus Spears?
MS: Booger McFarland.
MS: Me hands down. No question. Booger has a low center of gravity, but Booger is old man. Booger old. Look at his fingers next time you see him.