BATON ROUGE, La. — Not to make sixth-year LSU outside linebacker Corey Thompson feel old, but one of his freshman teammates was Trai Turner. You know, the two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman in his fourth year with the Carolina Panthers.
At the risk of making the 23-year-old Thompson feel even older, consider that another previous teammate was a member of the 2007 Tigers squad that won the national championship.
Former Tigers offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk knows what Thompson is experiencing this season. In 2012, it was Dworaczyk who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA because of a preseason injury before what was supposed to be his senior year.
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The similarities don’t end there. Both players were born in Missouri City, Texas, though Dworaczyk’s family moved to New Iberia, La., when he was a toddler. And like Thompson, Dworaczyk’s sixth-year contribution was thanks in part to a position change.
Dworaczyk and Thompson spoke to SEC Country about their roles as LSU’s elder statesmen.
‘I should be a doctor’
Dworaczyk, who works in the oil business these days, didn’t expect to peruse the 2017 LSU roster and see the name of a former teammate.
“I was kind of blown away,” said Dworaczyk, who will turn 28 next week. “I’m almost speechless that it takes two six-year seniors to span 2007-2017. That’s impressive, to say the least. I kind of did a double take.”
For Dworaczyk, the running gag is that he spent enough time in school to have attained a slightly higher level of education.
“The joke is that I should have a Ph.D.,” he said. “It wasn’t until I got injured that I realized I’d be there another year and a half. I should be a doctor.”
He’s not a doctor, but Dworaczyk knows he and Thompson have LSU’s medical and training staffs to thank for their ability to receive the NCAA’s sixth-year waiver and get back on the field. Dworaczyk was granted a sixth year after missing the 2011 season with a right knee injury.
“When you’re going through the rehab, they’re the ones who are like Mom and Dad,” Dworacyzk said. “As much time as you can spend with them, you’re with them. They’re the reason you see a sixth year. They go to the NCAA and get you that one year. For me and Corey, that’s all you’re praying about and hoping about that whole time.”
Dworaczyk described the wait for a sixth-year waiver as a difficult time.
“When you get hurt, it’s, ‘Not again.’ I can remember being on the table and [quarterback Zach] Mettenberger said, ‘You’re going to come back and block for me,’ ” Dworaczyk recalled. “I was just thinking ‘Poor me.’ It’s a lot of anxiety and anguish.”
New positions, new opportunities for LSU
Not surprisingly, Dworaczyk and Thompson didn’t know each other well in 2012. Sixth-year offensive linemen rarely hang out with freshman defensive backs. But Dworaczyk recalls his then-youthful teammate.
“I remember his recruitment more than anything,” Dworacyzk said. “You’re always excited about getting a guy from Texas. And, obviously, in the secondary, anyone who gets recruited is a tremendous athlete. … He’s quiet. Didn’t say a whole lot. He wasn’t trying to make a name for himself with his mouth, but his athletic ability.”
Dworaczyk opened his sixth year splitting time with La’el Collins at guard. Given Collins’ otherwordly talent, that arrangement probably wouldn’t have lasted long.
But when the Tigers lost left tackle Chris Faulk for the year with a right knee injury, Dworaczyk moved over to replace him and played well, notably against South Carolina standout defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Thompson is in a similar position. A defensive back from 2012-15, he moved to outside linebacker last year before he was lost for the season with a broken ankle in August camp.
Through the first two games of this season, the 6-foot-2, 228-pound Thompson looks totally comfortable as a linebacker. He leads the Tigers with 3.5 sacks despite being subbed out when the defense moves from the 3-4 to a nickel package.
“It keeps me motivated. When I’m out there, I have to make something happen,” Thompson said. “But it also gives me a chance to substitute and catch a breather.”
There might not be as many breathers moving forward. The Tigers likely will tweak their defensive scheme specifically to find ways to keep Thompson on the field.
“We have a new grouping that keeps Corey in the game,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “And that’s what [defensive coordinator] Dave [Aranda] has worked on just for that reason.”
Just like Dworaczyk before him, Thompson is proving the value and importance of the experience level a sixth-year player can bring. They were in different places back then, but now there is a common bond.
“To be a sixth-year guy, you’ve got perseverance. You’ve got a check mark next to that,” Dworacyzk said. “The guys you came in with are gone. You’re the only one. You’re kind of bridging the gap between two generations of football teams.”