HOUSTON — Everything’s bigger in Texas, they say, and few people do a better job of demonstrating that maxim than incoming LSU lineman Dominic Livingston.
The defensive tackle’s 6-foot-4, 375-pound frame makes him impossible to miss. But it’s when he swallows your hand — “shake” isn’t a sufficient enough verb to describe what happens when he takes your hand in greeting — that you really notice.
“I’ve shaken some big hands in my life,” said LSU coach Ed Orgeron. “But you could put a ribeye [steak] inside of his hand.”
Thing is, size isn’t even the most Texas thing there is about Livingston. To best understand him and where he’s from, you have to understand his love of horses.
The Houston Horseman
The city of Houston is no stranger to America’s biggest sporting events. It played host to the World Series last fall. Three Super Bowls and three Final Fours have come to Space City, too.
But in Livingston’s eyes, one event stands above the rest.
The annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
“I don’t like tight spaces, but it’s a fun thing,” Livingston said of the rodeo, which regularly packs NRG Stadium. “If you’ve never been, you should get you a ticket to go.”
Houston is the country’s fourth-largest city by population, but all that humanity is spread out over a sprawling 627 square miles. One can be in the country while technically living in the city. Thus, the rodeo is a huge part of the culture.
“When I tell people I’m from Houston, they think, ‘Oh, he’s a city boy,’ ” Livingston said. “Nah. I tell them, ‘I’ve got horses, I’ve got land. I’m not into the city life.’ To me, the country life, that will keep you out of trouble.”
Livingston started playing football early. He was 4 when he first went head-to-head with his brother Darion Jones, who is five years older. Horses have been part of the equation for even longer.
“It’s been in our family from generation to generation,” said Dominic’s father, Wilmot Livingston. “When they were little, we had two acres and we’d just let them ride around.”
Dominic has grown quite a bit since those days, so he no longer rides after getting thrown a couple years ago.
“That’s a long fall,” Livingston said. “I’ve got way too much going for me. You can always buy another horse, but you can’t buy another human.”
You don’t have to ride a horse to love it. Dominic acts as the trainer and handler, while Darion rides in harness races around Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Though you might not see it on first glance, Livingston thinks there are numerous parallels between the horse track and the football field. Mostly, it’s about preparation.
“Having racing horses is just like playing football,” Livingston said. “Before they go out there to race, there’s a lot of practicing you’ve got to do. You’ve got to make sure your horse stays in his game. You’ve got to jog them every day. You’ve got to ice their legs. There’s a lot of stuff you’ve got to do. It’s a second job.”
As the de facto coach of their operation, Livingston breaks down the performance of his brother and their horse, Jenga, the same way he looks at game film.
“You know how we watch film for football? You’ll see where you messed up. With horses, it’s the same thing,” Livingston said. “If you lean on your horse wrong, you can throw it off-balance when it’s in the gate. You have to keep the horse consistent. You want to be consistent on the field, and it’s the same thing. He’s the jockey, and any little thing you do wrong can start a horse off wrong out of the gate. So I’ll help him.”
The art of physically tracking down a loose horse has its own unique form of on-field benefits.
“If you’re a running back, you’ve got to be Barry Sanders or something,” Livingston said. “Because running through the middle is a dangerous situation if I’m right there.”
A major transition
Visiting the stable was a regular part of Livingston’s high school routine. It was work, but it also provided an escape.
“You clear your mind,” he said. “Most of the time I’m thinking about football — how can I get better, how can I help my team. But when I come out here, I can just chill.”
The hardest part of Livingston’s life at LSU does not figure to be the schoolwork or being away from his family. If anything, he sees getting away as the key to getting down to a playing weight of 360 pounds.
“My grandma cooks sweets all the time. And my mom buys sweets all the time. I don’t know what’s going on,” he said in mild protestation. “That’s my whole problem right there. When I stay away from them, I’ll be good.”
Some might say Livingston was a tiny bit spoiled by those maternal influences growing up, but that’s no surprise when you learn that he wasn’t always this big and strong. He had to battle just to make it home from the hospital.
“He was a tiny little thing. He stayed in the hospital for like a month after he was born,” said his mom, Tametra Jones. “He had jaundice. He was just sick a lot. He’d get bronchitis or something like that every year.”
Livingston figures he can handle life without sweets, and mom and grandma are just a phone call or video chat away. The greatest challenge will be a life without horses.
“It’s going to be a hard four years,” said Livingston, who enrolled at LSU earlier this month. “When I’m going to visit, I’m likely to come right back here [to the stable].”
Football: A means to more horses
The toughness that suits Livingston in the trenches was molded by his older brother in their head-to-head battles, but they have taken different paths.
“He was real good at football, but he didn’t have football in his heart,” Livingston said.
“He was in love with this,” he continued, pointing to the nearby outdoor horse arena on Houston’s far north side. “And this area. This is his everyday job.”
It’s different for Dominic, who at this point is a full human heavier than Darion.
“I think there are better opportunities for me playing football,” he said.
Livingston hopes those opportunities bring him the means to spend more time with horses when his career is finished.
“If I was to make it to the NFL, I’m going to buy horses,” he said. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.”