BATON ROUGE, La. — It began as a trickle last year.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey each sat out their bowl games. Though their precise reasons were different — Fournette was already banged up while McCaffrey was seeking to eliminate the risk of injury — each had an eye on the NFL draft.
This year, the trickle is starting to grow into a trend. So far five college players have gone on the record to say they’ll be sitting out their bowl games: Oregon running back Royce Freeman, Florida State safety Derwin James, Texas safety DeShon Elliott, Texas offensive tackle Connor Williams, and West Virginia running back Justin Crawford. More may follow.
LSU wide receiver DJ Chark is steadfastly refusing to join that crowd.
“I feel like going into the bowl, you always want to play in that historic bowl,” Chark said. “But it’s also a chance to play with your team one last time. To get that extra win. You’re not going to get it back. I feel like if you’re capable of playing in it, why not?”
The most obvious reason not to play is the risk of a draft-altering injury. Any of the seniors on the roster of LSU’s Citrus Bowl opponent have seen that firsthand. Two years ago, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith tore his ACL and LCL in the Fiesta Bowl. The injury was so catastrophic that Smith tumbled from potential top-10 status in the draft to the second round.
But as Chark sees it, that’s football. He isn’t going to play scared.
“There’s the risk of injury, but I’m a firm believer in what’s going to happen is going to happen,” Chark said. “Rather than not play in the bowl game — I could have hurt myself in the last regular-season game as well.”
Chark’s logic is thus: If he does get hurt in the bowl game, he can still find his way onto an NFL roster. But he can never again play as an LSU Tiger. His eligibility is exhausted no matter what. To him, that’s what is most important.
“It’s one last time to play college football. That’s something you can never do again,” Chark said. “You can always try back out for the NFL or CFL. You can never try back out for college football. You get that one last chance to play in front of your program, your family and friends. You can’t take that away.”