BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU secondary might be even better at coming up with clever nicknames than it is at producing NFL talent.
After losing the likes of Shaq and President Mal to the NFL in April, the Tigers’ secondary has reloaded with Head Honcho, KT, Paw-Paw Batman and Eddieboh, better known as Donte Jackson, Kevin Toliver II, John Battle and Ed Paris. And it’s now the responsibility of that quartet of upperclassmen to take over where Shaq (Tre’Davious White), Mal (Jamal Adams), Rickey Jefferson and Dwayne Thomas left off a season ago.
“After the bowl game, Tre’Davious and Jamal and Dwayne and Rickey, they made an emphasis that me, John, Kevin and Ed, we’re going to be the guys now,” Jackson said. “We’re going to be the guys that the young guys coming in want to learn from. So it’s a different swagger you’ve got to have about yourself knowing that you’ve got to be the guy that everybody looks to. You’ve got to make sure you’re doing everything right on and off the field.”
As the self-proclaimed head honcho of the unit, it should come as no surprise Jackson is the most experienced of the four. Jackson has played in all 24 of the games LSU has played season he arrived in 2015, starting 12. In his 11 starts in 2016, Jackson intercepted 2 passes, broke up 8 more and recorded 39 tackles, putting him in position to take over for White as LSU’s No. 1 cornerback in 2017.
Opposite Jackson will be Toliver, another junior who has seen the field plenty in two seasons in Baton Rouge. Toliver made eight starts as a freshman in 2015 and another five in 2016, but didn’t play in LSU’s last four games a season ago due to injuries.
Now, however, Toliver said he’s as healthy as he’s been since fall camp in 2015, and as a result, Jackson says this is the best he’s seen Toliver play. Never the type to qualify his claims, Jackson went on to say he thinks he and Toliver make up the best cornerback tandem in the nation.
But Jackson and Toliver only make up half the secondary. There’s also Battle, who started the last seven games of the 2016 season after Jefferson broke his leg, and Paris, a converted cornerback who is heading into his first full season as a safety since his sophomore year of high school.
Battle and Paris will be playing with two clouds over their heads in 2017. One is the pressure put on them by former 4-star prospects and freshman standouts Grant Delpit and Todd Harris (colloquially known as Javier and Terminator Todd, for what it’s worth). And the other is the standard set by former teammates such as Adams and Jalen Mills, both of whom are poised to star in the NFL this season.
To Paris, there’s no sense in thinking about the latter idea.
“Let’s just be honest right now,” Paris said. “Jamal is one person. We can’t be Jamal, we can’t have a Jamal-type thing. I can only be Ed Paris, and John can only be John Battle. You know what I’m saying? That’s just what it is. There’s always going to be excitement in games and practice. But as far as being Jamal? Jamal can only be Jamal.”
As for Delpit, Harris and freshmen cornerbacks Kary Vincent (Care Bear) and Jontre Kirklin (Kirk), there’s a new generational responsibility for Jackson, Toliver, Battle and Paris. Just as White, Adams, Jefferson and Thomas taught them how to embody LSU’s “DBU mentality,” the Tigers’ new veterans have to instill that attitude into the next class.
And Paris is more than ready to fill that role.
“[You mean] being the paw-paws of the group?” Paris joked when he was asked about becoming a leader. “It’s good. I call [Battle] Sally May, that’s his nickname from me because he’s old. But it’s all a brotherhood. It’s not just me and John being the old guys. It’s Kevin Toliver, and it’s Donte being old guys and Xavier Lewis being old guys also. There’s lots of old guys in the room, even though we’re still young.”