BATON ROUGE, La. — The best stories for a writer are the ones that seem to write themselves. After plenty of hand-wringing, my final story for SEC Country fits that bill.
It has taken some time. Turns out writing your own obituary is a bit of a challenge. I advise letting someone else do it whenever your own demise is imminent.
Each time I stared at the computer I soon have to return to the company like a TV cop handing over his badge, a wave of sadness overwhelmed me. If I keep putting it off, maybe they can’t shut us down. Right?
So I would go back to bed. Or walk away. Stare longingly at the ceiling fan for a good 120 rotations or so. Anything to avoid the finality facing me.
In that spirit, which is to say that of total depression, my steadfast co-worker Nick Suss and I decided to attend a concert in New Orleans on Tuesday night. The Pixies and Weezer. A perfect combination of rocking out some angst followed by a cheerful chaser.
On our way back to Baton Rouge in the dead of night, things started going a bit haywire in Nick’s car. Lights were flashing on and then off. The dashboard looked like something from a scene on the X-Files right before someone is about to be abducted by aliens on a dark country road.
If only we had been so fortunate.
Instead, Nick and I were stuck with a dead car, the confusion only mounting in regards to who would provide us with help since his vehicle had the extraordinary foresight to die at a crossroads that apparently serves as the border for three different parishes.
It ended up being the perfect allegory for Nick and I as SEC Country ceases operation on June 30.
We’re in a dark and unfamiliar landscape, unaware of what our next step will be. There are bloodthirsty, pterodactyl-size mosquitoes everywhere. Dozens of cars and trucks pass us without their drivers blinking an eye at the gangly and distraught doofuses next to the road who only possess a dead car, some pastries and glow sticks.
As grim as things look, we’ll still probably get to where we are meant to be, even if it takes a little time for aid to arrive — just as it took us until 3 a.m. to finally get home Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.
But enough about the miserable present and the frightening future. Those adjectives are only applicable because our two years covering the LSU Tigers for SEC Country with Sam Spiegelman comprised a wonderful past.
The possibilities were endless when I was hired in the summer of 2016, and it’s in the Spirit of ’16 that I look back at some of my favorite moments covering LSU. I’ve broken it down by linking to some stories about the most enjoyable personalities I encountered, as well as my coverage of a few significant moments from the last two years.
It pains me to not have an outlet to tell even more of these stories — there are things I know about Chris Curry, Davin Cotton, Terrace Marshall Jr., Dare Rosenthal and Dantrieze Scott and their roads to LSU that would drop your jaws. Somehow and some way, I hope those stories get told some day.
For now, though, let’s smile and look back at the stories that already have been written.
I don’t know how LSU will fare under Ed Orgeron. This season will be telling, and 2019 is probably the make-or-break year for him. Regardless of what happens, I do know he is one of the unique characters in college football.
How did he get that way? A trip to his hometown of Larose, La., shed some light on the man behind the myth.
- Read the full story: Ed Orgeron left his hometown — but Larose has never left him
Even when Leonard Fournette was on the roster, I found myself more fascinated with Derrius Guice. Fournette was groomed for stardom from a young age and always knew the right thing to say.
Guice? He catapulted into fame more unexpectedly, and with that came a refreshing lack of a filter.
That trait probably hurt him on draft night, and I understand why. Derrius is not for the stodgy. NFL ownership, already a salute to stodginess, will move even further in that direction with the fear that random screeds from the White House will hurt the bottom line.
Of course, Guice’s fall wasn’t directly attributed to that, but more nebulous whispers about his character. While the speculation swirled among national talking heads, I reached out to one of his high school coaches to get some insight into the real Derrius Guice.
- Read the full story: Derrius Guice’s high school coach spills the beans on his behavior
A couple of months ago, Danny Etling was in my shoes when he gave me a call. Uncertain about his future, but hopeful something good was about to happen.
He was somewhere in northern Mississippi, driving back home to Indiana from Baton Rouge. Probably as a result of his boredom at the time, we ended up talking for about an hour-and-a half about a variety of topics, some very much off-the-record. (Sorry — I’m unemployed, but I’m still a good journalist. You’re not getting the juicy stuff.)
Etling is among the cleverest and most self-aware athletes I’ve covered, and joked that the clicks from our interview were going to put SEC Country over the top.
Turns out he was right about one thing.
When Etling was unexpectedly drafted by the New England Patriots, I reworked the feature story I had written, which suddenly got plenty of attention.
Alas, Danny’s clicks didn’t put us over the top. Or even keep us in business. But damned if he didn’t try to help.
- Read the full story: Patriots invest in Danny Etling’s NFL dream
The top-rated recruit in Louisiana in 2017, Tyler Shelvin sat out last season as a redshirt. So it wouldn’t hurt for you to get to know the big defensive tackle before he plays his first game with the Tigers.
Meeting recruits and their families to learn their stories after they’ve signed with LSU was my favorite part of the job. Shelvin and his grandmother are among the cream of the crop, so it pains me to know I’ll be missing his first season.
- Read the full story: Tyler Shelvin has long been the apple of Ed Orgeron’s eye
OK, so maybe I have a thing for 375-pound defensive tackles.
However, Dominic Livingston’s story is fascinating not because of his size, but due to his favorite hobby — training horses.
- Read the full story: Meet LSU’s 375-pound horseman
I’ve always believed in giving the fans what they want. And they want butts.
In terms of clicks, few things I’ve ever written have gotten more attention than Etling’s musings on his center’s hindquarters.
- Read the full story: Danny Etling likes big butts — and he cannot lie
A Tiger funeral
Not many people get to cover a tiger’s funeral.
When Mike VI died in 2016, I got the opportunity to see why he meant so much the LSU community.
- Read the full story: LSU fan’s pay respects at Mike VI’s funeral
LSU linebackers grant a final wish
We always hear about (and I write about) when football players get into trouble. But behind the scenes, many of these guys are doing wonderful things without seeking attention for their actions.
This was the case when LSU linebackers Patrick Queen, Jacob Phillips and Tyler Taylor visited a fan only two weeks before he died from cancer. It was never meant to be a story — I only knew about it because Queen’s dad mentioned something to me in passing when I saw him one day at a spring practice and asked what Patrick had been up to lately.
- Read the full story: How LSU linebackers brought joy to a dying LSU fan
LSU and Louisiana-Lafayette make hate great again
I’ll never be convinced any game in NIT history was more fun than the one played in Baton Rouge on March 14, 2018
The tournament may be considered second-tier, but the entertainment was first-rate as Louisiana-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin had to be restrained from going after LSU counterpart Will Wade at the end of their heated first-round matchup.
To me, it was a game that says a lot about the future of LSU basketball under Wade. In several ways, he’s reminiscent of Bob Knight — his basketball IQ is off the charts, but he also has the temperament to come slightly unhinged at times. Knight was just 31 when Indiana hired him, which is not a far cry from Wade’s age of 34 when Joe Alleva made the best move of his tenure.
Wade is the first college coach I’ve covered who is younger than me, albeit by just a few months. I suspect he’ll be coaching basketball for much longer than I’ll be writing about it. But I also have a feeling Marlin will not be the last coach who will want to wring Wade’s neck. (Coming from me, that’s a compliment of the highest order.)
- Read the full story here: LSU and UL-Lafayette make hate great again in NIT first round
Les Miles is fired after 2016 Auburn loss
I had the best seat in the house.
It was only because Auburn had screwed up in the first place, neglecting to give me a seat assignment in the SEC West’s worst press box. (To be fair, I haven’t covered a game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, so Jordan-Hare’s might only be the second-worst.)
With the help of someone in sports information, I was given refuge in a seat saved for Pat Dye, who clearly wasn’t expected to appear in the actual press box. So it was from that perfect location that my line of sight was in direct view of LSU’s final snap and the game clock for the Touchdown That Never Was.
As officials reviewed the play, I used the time to frantically revise my story after the wild finish, which I correctly deduced was a case of close-but-not quite for LSU. I saw the 0:00 just before the snap left Ethan Pocic’s hands.
I knew the loss was bad news for Les Miles, but I did not foresee just how grim it was. As rumors began to bubble up the following morning, I tried to hustle back from Montgomery, Ala., to get the story. No such luck. I was trapped in a traffic standstill in Mobile when the news broke that Miles was done at LSU.
Since I couldn’t break that one, I’m sharing my look back at the wild ramifications of the game known as the Buyout Bowl.
- Read the full story here: How Auburn abruptly ended the Les Miles era at LSU
Tom Petty tribute
This wasn’t an LSU moment, per se, but the Tigers were part of it.
The most magical thing I witnessed while covering this beat was Florida’s tribute to Tom Petty following his death in October 2017. The Gainesville, Fla., native and rock legend had died earlier that week. Petty has always been — and forever will be — in my music top 10, so it was one of the rare celebrity deaths that shook me to the core.
I knew I wasn’t the only person to feel that way, so I started rolling at the end of the third quarter. What ensued was pure electricity, and a video that has gotten more than 9 million overall views.
No, I won’t back down.