By Trey Mongrue
While the first game of the season is still weeks away, the 2014 football season began in earnest for the LSU Tigers earlier this week with the start of Fall Camp. The festivities began on Sunday with 104 players reporting to campus to undergo physicals and to be fitted for equipment.
The following morning, the veterans and a few selected freshmen hit the practice fields for the first real football activity as a team since the Spring Game back in April.
“It’s definitely very intense,” said senior D.J. Welter who returns as the Tigers’ starting middle linebacker. “We don’t have pads on right now, so the coaches are trying to make it as intense as possible.”
Entering his tenth season at the helm, head coach Les Miles fully understands the importance of this teaching period, not just in preparing for LSU’s season opener against Wisconsin but to also set the tone to achieve the lofty goals that are now a given with each passing season.
“The team actually gets to improve in the next 29 days. That’s the call to action,” Miles explained. “I’m looking forward to improving over this practice schedule because there’s a need for every guy to improve.”
Miles and the Tigers come into the 2014 campaign on the heels of their fourth consecutive 10-win season, which was capped off with a 21-14 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl last January.
“The team actually gets to improve in the next 29 days. That’s the call to action.” – LSU head coach Les Miles
LSU returns 15 starters, along with several other key contributors, from last year and will start this season ranked 13th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. In that poll, the Tigers find themselves looking up at four other Southeastern Conference teams: Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina start in the top ten, while Georgia is one spot ahead at 12.
However, those are just empty numbers to Miles.
“I really give little thought to where we are ranked,” Miles said. “Sometimes they are too low and other times they are too high. It’s that team that puts their head down, works hard and doesn’t really care where they are ranked that somehow ends up on the other end of this thing.”
What Miles is more focused, especially in this preseason period is numerous position battles that are currently taking place.
Whether it is Ronnie Feist or Duke Riley attempting to break into the linebacker rotation or Anthony Jennings’ battle with freshman Brandon Harris for the starting quarterback job, there will be competition aplenty throughout the month, which will assuredly ramp up once the team goes to full pads next week.
“There will be a number of competitions,” said Miles with a wry smile. “We will see this competition as necessity to having a great year. I think you’ll find that certain guys will have great starts while other guys will have great starts and great finishes.
“It’s going to fun to watch.”
Mills Returns to Team
After missing Monday’s morning practice, junior safety Jalen Mills was dressed out and participating in drills with the rest of the defensive backs in the afternoon session.
His presence signified his reinstatement to the team following a summer-long suspension stemming from his arrest for hitting a woman in May.
“After an entire summer of suspension,” said Miles, “we felt like, while this thing was still being decided, we’d bring him onto the team and then continue the discipline.”
After losing the starting cornerback job midway through last season, Mills found his way back onto the field at safety and was poised to enter this season as the full-time starter there. However, the incident put everything in limbo.
His reinstatement to the team came on the same day that he was formally charged with a misdemeanor by prosecutors – a downgrade from the felony second-degree battery charge at the time of his arrest.
“Misdemeanor being what is,” added Miles, “we’re moving forward.”
With Mills back on the team, the only player on the roster that has yet to report to camp is freshman defensive tackle Travonte Valentine who is waiting on final word from the NCAA Clearinghouse before he can join the team.
“I think the reality is that his high school (Champagnat Catholic) and the Clearing house have to communicate and I think they are doing that, ” Miles explained. “Sometimes there’s easy answers, sometimes there isn’t. Hopefully, this will be an easy answer.”
Magee Tabbed as Next No. 18
Throughout the summer, there was much speculation about who would succeed Lamin Barrow and be the next Tiger football player in line to wear the No. 18 jersey – a relatively new tradition that signifies the team leader.
Ultimately, all of those conversations ended with the general consensus that senior running back Terrence Magee would get the number. That speculation was proven true on Sunday night when it was announced that Magee would be the eighth player to wear the number since the tradition began with quarterback Matt Mauck back in 2003.
However, if you ask Magee, he maintains that he was shocked that the team staff voted for him to wear the number.
“I got chills because I didn’t expect it to be me,” said Magee who has worn No. 14 in his first three seasons at LSU. “There are a lot of guys that sit on the front row of the room who truly deserved to wear the number.”
While not a purely performance-related recognition, Magee did turn in one of the best seasons of his career last season, a year in which was his first as a legitimate option to get the ball out of the backfield.
He solidified himself as a big play-threat as shown by his 7.3 yards per carry average to go along with his eight rushing touchdowns. He looks to improve on those numbers this season while also embracing his role as a team leader.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Magee said. “I’ve seen three guys wear the number since I’ve been here in Brandon Taylor, Bennie Logan and Lamin Barrow. They’ve really showed me what it means to wear the number and to represent this team as a leader.”
There has not as much fanfare regarding an incoming LSU player than there has been for running back Leonard Fournette. And while he checked into campus on Sunday, his true arrival to LSU did not commence until he took the field for the afternoon practice session.
With one practice now under the heralded freshman’s belt, Miles liked what he saw, but he only caught a quick glimpse.
“It’s kind of like having Tiger Woods on the golf course with a putter, you just want to see him tee off,” Miles said. “We have to put pads on him to really see him.”