BATON ROUGE, La. — If you were caught off guard by Will Clapp’s decision to leave LSU early for the 2018 NFL Draft, don’t feel too bad. So was his backup.
“I really didn’t expect it,” LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry said. “But when he declared, he called me and told me to step up and be a leader. But I thought he was coming back. I wasn’t really surprised. I just knew it was my time. I waited two years behind him and [Ethan] Pocic, and now it’s my time to turn up.”
After waiting two seasons behind NFL prospects in Pocic and Clapp, Cushenberry enters this spring as LSU’s starter at center, which isn’t a foreign territory to him. After all, Cushenberry started at center last spring while Clapp was rehabbing an injury. But this time there isn’t an All-SEC-caliber returning starter looming behind him on the depth chart. Cushenberry has to be the guy.
That puts Cushenberry in an interesting position. LSU’s offensive line is simultaneously young and experienced heading into 2018. Sophomores Saahdiq Charles and Ed Ingram are still underclassmen, but they’ll be second-year starters. Junior college transfers Badara Traore and Damien Lewis have never played Division I ball, but at least they have starting experience at a college level. And guard Garrett Brumfield is the senior of the bunch, but when it comes to starting experience, he’s in the same place as Ingram.
That leaves a line in search of a leader. In practices and in the room, Brumfield will almost certainly take that mantle. But as the center, Cushenberry said he’s taking it upon himself to be more vocal. Since the center is the player tasked with making the calls on the offensive line, he doesn’t really have a choice.
But that’s where Cushenberry’s sponge-like devotion to learning from Clapp and Pocic can pay off. Cushenberry said he’s spent the last two seasons trailing the Tigers’ stud centers and observing their traits, hoping to someday be able to regurgitate them in his own way.
“Will and Ethan, they taught me a lot my first two years,” Cushenberry said. “Especially last year, everything Will did, I tried to do. Everywhere he went, I was right behind him. The main thing is probably being calm under pressure. Things will go not as planned during the game and both of them would stay calm and be the great leaders they were. They never folded.”