GONZALES, La. — As a student at East Ascension High School in the early 90s, Darnell Lee was classmates with Kecia Wire, a basketball player boys and girls alike didn’t mess with.
About 25 years later, Lee — the football coach at East Ascension — had the pleasure of mentoring Kecia’s son, 3-star tackle and LSU signee Cameron Wire. Lee says the similarities between mother and son are uncanny.
“It’s natural, man,” Lee said of the Wire family’s aggressive on-field demeanor. “I graduated with his mom so I knew her. She was the type of person who you mind your business and don’t bother her. That’s the type of lady she is. She raised him on her own. So she had to play mom and dad and I think she did a great job with it.
“He’s kind of mild-mannered and mild-tempered, but I’ve seen him on the field when he gets challenged. When he has somebody across from him he knows he can dominate, he doesn’t take it easy on him. He fundamentally beats them.”
Kecia Wire can see the similarities, too.
“Off the field, we’re very calm, humble, happy, grateful people,” she said. “But when it’s time for us to actually get in the sport and play, our main agenda is to win. I want my team to succeed and I want my school to succeed. He’s got that same thing.”
At 6-foot-7 and 297 pounds, Wire comes to LSU as the No. 1 tackle prospect in Louisiana in the Class of 2018. He’s a potential blind-side tackle of the future in a recruiting class that also brought offensive linemen Badara Traore, Damien Lewis, Chasen Hines and Cole Smith to Baton Rouge. A unique athletic specimen, Wire has drawn comparisons to Dallas Cowboys All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith from LSU offensive line coach James Cregg. And Cregg should know; he was Smith’s offensive line coach at USC.
But the athlete to whom Wire can best be compared? You have to head to the hardwood to find that answer.
Center to tackle
Wire was 6-1 in the seventh grade. It’s hard to be that tall that young and not play basketball, and the sport was Wire’s first love. As the biggest guy on the court, Wire could’ve coasted by on size and strength alone. But he put the time in to learn how to handle the ball in space and how to defend outside the paint, emulating one of his basketball heroes: New Orleans Pelicans center Demarcus Cousins.
“I was a real big Demarcus Cousins fan,” Wire said. “Yeah, I like his passion for the game. How he takes it all out on the court. And his handles, I started handling the ball like him. I wasn’t just a post-up guy.”
Eventually, Wire grew too big to keep him off the football field. Thanks in part to the recruiting prowess of East Ascension graduate and three-year NFL veteran Shawn Nelson, Wire joined the Prairieville Broncos, a local youth team under the tutelage of a coach named Jeff Daniels. Wire credits Daniels with being the first coach to see his potential, even if that manifested itself with Wire playing defensive end.
By the time he got to high school, Wire was standing out as a two-sport athlete. On the basketball court he was garnering interest from area colleges such as Southeastern Louisiana and Northwestern State. But on the football field, Wire unlocked his true potential when he moved to tackle.
Wire’s talents translated naturally to the responsibilities of playing offensive line, especially pass blocking. The footwork he’d honed his entire life defending quicker, smaller basketball players equipped him with the ability to slide and stay even with pass rushers, making him a stalwart in protection. Plus there was the added perk of always being in on the action. When Wire played defense, teams ran away from him. He didn’t see much fun in that. But on offense? He got to hit someone every play.
“I’ll say I reached a point where I wanted to play football more my sophomore year because I started playing O-line and I started to love the feel of it and how I could take all my aggression out on the field,” Wire said. “Unlike basketball, [where] you can’t really be as aggressive as you want to. Then I started to get some offers and that put that in my head that I could go really far with this.”
The offers started trickling in after Wire’s sophomore season. The trickle turned into a stream after his junior year as Texas, Oklahoma and Florida became major players in the Wire sweepstakes. One school that was notably absent from Wire’s offer list was the school a half-hour down the road.
It’s not as if Wire wasn’t in communication with LSU. He was. The offer just wasn’t coming. LSU coach Ed Orgeron and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes preached patience. Wire practiced it. Until May 9, 2017, when the LSU offer finally came in.
Grimes came to watch Wire during a spring practice. He filmed the practice to bring back to Orgeron, then told Wire to give Orgeron a call later that night. Wire rung Orgeron and was offered a scholarship. Less than a month later, Wire was committed to LSU.
“Yeah, that was the only offer that I was really, really excited about,” Wire said.
That pesky meniscus
Upon committing to LSU, Wire said he shut down his recruitment. He wanted to focus on getting his grades straightened out and using his senior year to better position himself to compete in college. Unfortunately, those goals changed.
Wire twice injured his right knee during his senior season. First, he sprained his MCL in a preseason practice when a teammate fell helmet-first into his leg. Then, on Senior Night, two defenders collided into Wire’s knee, leaving the big man down on the ground with a torn meniscus and his mother rushing to the fence only to be told she couldn’t come onto the field.
RELATED: Cam Wire talks injury, rehab process
“All I heard was they said a player got hurt on the field,” Kecia Wire said. “And when I saw the coaches running on the field and I looked, I said, ‘I think that’s my kid on the field. That kid looks tall.’ Then when they got up close, I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s my baby!’ So I ran down but I couldn’t get on the field. They had to wait until the next day and do an X-ray.”
The X-ray confirmed the worst. Wire needed surgery to repair his torn meniscus, ending his high school football and basketball careers in an instant and condemning him to crutches, casts and six months of grueling rehab. Kecia describes her son as someone who doesn’t like to stay still, so being unable to walk wasn’t easy on Wire.
Wire said the hardest part of living with the injury was how much sleep he lost. He prefers to sleep on his side with his legs curled up to his chest — which is kind of hard to do with a straight-leg cast. So he’d lie awake at night and rehab during the day. He rehabbed tenaciously and effectively enough that the doctors allowed him to begin running ahead of his prescribed six-month waiting period.
As for when he wasn’t rehabbing, Wire mostly spent time in his backyard playing fetch with his German Shepherd, Buck. That and aggravating his mom. His words, not her’s.
“No, he didn’t aggravate me,” Kecia Wire explained. “It’s just that, you know how if somebody had a little bell and you say, ‘Is there anything you need before I walk out the room?’ and they’ll say, ‘No that’s it,’ but the minute you sit down he rings the bell like, ‘Oh, I forgot?’ Well it was every three minutes he was doing that. So I told him if he did that again, I would not answer him.”
The worst days of Wire’s rehab are behind him. On June 5, he enrolled at LSU to begin summer classes and workouts. He expects to be full-go by the time fall camp rolls around and he’d like to play as soon as possible. If he has to redshirt, he said he’ll be happy to learn and hungrier when he finally gets back on the field.
But as excited as Wire is to play at LSU, Lee might be more excited to watch him grow. Because based off the player he saw at East Ascension, his old coach said he expects the SEC to turn his pupil into a superstar.
“Once he starts getting that level of coaching, he’s got the tools,” Lee said. “He’s going to get a lot stronger, he’s going to get a lot bigger. He’s got a mean streak. The basketball athleticism he has at his size, to be able to move laterally, is going to give him a chance to play. He’s pretty good naturally in pass protection.
“Like I said, once he starts getting coached by those guys he’s going to have it good.”