NEW ORLEANS — Loyola University-New Orleans basketball coach Stacy Hollowell does not go for subtlety when describing the impact of having former LSU quarterback Trey LaForge on his team.
“Trey LaForge will die a legend in this city,” Hollowell said before emphasizing that he is not pulling the reporter’s leg.
We will get to Hollowell’s justification of that statement soon enough. But there’s no question the coach’s attitude played a big part in one of the most unusual transfers in college football this season. LaForge, an LSU walk-on quarterback, left the program after the Citrus Bowl to join the Wolf Pack basketball team in the middle of its season.
Torn between two loves
Playing sports was easy enough for LaForge at Jesuit High School in Mid-City New Orleans. He excelled at both football and basketball, with whichever one was in-season being the favorite.
LaForge’s biggest impact was on the gridiron, where he and future LSU teammate Foster Moreau helped lead the Blue Jays to their first state championship since 1960 with a 17-14 win over powerhouse program John Curtis in the championship game. Nearly 26,000 fans entered the Superdome for the game, making for one of the largest audiences to witness a high school game in Louisiana.
It’s that game that gave Hollowell credence to his claim of LaForge’s stature lasting for the ages.
“To lead Jesuit past John Curtis for state title, and for so much time between that 1960 state championship and then,” Hollowell said. “He and Foster will go down in Jesuit history.”
LaForge also was a talented basketball player, earning all-Metro honors despite always getting a late start on his season due to Jesuit’s postseason football success.
Once college came around, LaForge had to choose one over the other. And even though it was only as a walk-on, the lure of going to LSU was impossible for him to resist.
“I always wanted to play LSU football,” LaForge said.
Hollowell, who tried to recruit LaForge out of high school, understood it was a battle he wasn’t going to win — yet.
“I was disappointed when he went to LSU, because I knew what he could do for our program, our school and even the city. But I supported him,” Hollowell said. “You can’t fault a kid for going to LSU to play football. That’s big time.”
It’s difficult for any walk-on to make it on the field in Division I football. That’s exponentially more true for quarterbacks.
With only one able to make it on the field at a time, and highly touted recruits given multiple opportunities to fix their flaws, the move from walk-on to starter for a quarterback is like trying to climb a mountain in roller skates.
LaForge wasn’t naive to that reality, but sitting out as a redshirt in 2015 and being buried down the depth chart last season made him wistful for competition in general and basketball specifically.
“The love was always there (for basketball),” LaForge said. “Then after sitting on the sidelines and watching those guys get to play, it reassured my thoughts of actually wanting to be able to compete again.”
LaForge said wanting to play basketball played a bigger role in his decision than the prospect of battling against incoming freshmen Lowell Narcisse and Myles Brennan at quarterback.
“I feel like my future here, in the long run, was a lot more hopeful than LSU,” LaForge said. “And I just missed playing basketball a lot. If I had stayed, I would have battled it out as hard as I could with those guys. But I just missed basketball.”
And yes, LaForge did contemplate contacting Johnny Jones to walk on to LSU’s basketball team. But Loyola was able to offer a scholarship. (The school plays at the NAIA level, which has scholarships, unlike NCAA Division III).
“I definitely had a few people who suggested giving (Johnny) a call and walking on there,” LaForge said. “It definitely crossed my mind. But at the same time Coach Stacy offered me a good opportunity over here as well as getting a great education.”
‘A great experience’ at LSU
Transfers often come with a side of bitter grapes, but you won’t find LaForge having any regrets.
“I went into LSU out of high school and had a great experience there,” he said. “I just missed basketball. I missed playing.”
LaForge got in touch with Hollowell after LSU’s season ended, and, due to an injury, the coach had an open scholarship available. LaForge, who is still a freshman in eligibility, didn’t see any point in waiting.
“I felt like it was time for me to move on even though I really enjoyed LSU,” LaForge said.
Being at LSU was not a wasted cause for LaForge. He says Ed Orgeron will likely influence him well beyond his playing days.
“Coach Miles was great to me, and I really enjoyed seeing Coach O come in and turn up the program a little bit,” LaForge said. “He has a great motto, ‘One team, one heartbeat.’ It really laid the foundation through college sports and the rest of my life.”
Like Loyola’s namesake, St. Ignatius of Loyola, LaForge plans on spreading the gospel of “One Team, One Heartbeat.”
“Anybody can translate that,” LaForge said. “Most people today are not working alone. They are surrounded by some sort of team, whether they think so or not. That’s a great motto to live by both in collegiate sports and outside of football and basketball.”
LaForge is far from being in basketball shape. He is averaging 14 minutes per game in his four games since joining Loyola.
“It’s always taken a few weeks to get those basketball legs back. It’s a totally different type of conditioning,” LaForge said. “It takes a few weeks to get your legs back moving up and down.”
That said, Hollowell believes LaForge could translate into a massive talent at the NAIA level. It’s early, but LaForge is already averaging 10.5 points per game in his limited playing time.
“He’s a Division I athlete,” Hollowell said. “He’s never come into a basketball season in basketball shape. He’s always come straight out of football and played his way into shape.
“That was one thing that his high school coach and I had discussed when he was coming out. If he commits to just basketball, how good is he going to be?”
The next three-and-a half years will provide that answer. But it also raises another question.
Now that LaForge is gone, who is the most accomplished pickup basketball player on the LSU football team?
Nope, it’s not 6-foot-6 athletic freak Arden Key. According to LaForge, the first guy fellow students should draft as a teammate if there’s a pickup game at the Rec Center is 6-1, 265-pound fullback Bry’Kiethon Mouton.
“Mouton likes to post up. He’s very crafty. He knows how to play the game,” LaForge said. “You can tell he grew up playing it. We’d always meet up after the Rec after practice if we could get over there.”