3 locals part of LSU’s BCS plans

LSU could be best of all-time with win
January 3, 2012
How LSU got here?
January 3, 2012
LSU could be best of all-time with win
January 3, 2012
How LSU got here?
January 3, 2012

When the first whistle is blown and the opening kickoff is smashed into the air, approximately 90 LSU football players clad in white jersey tops and traditional gold helmets will try and unite one last time to become national champions.

Of that 90, three are brethren sons of the Tri-parish area.

And they all expect to have a giant say in the outcome of the big game.

Former Patterson standouts halfback Kenny Hilliard and long snapper Joey Crappell join E.D. White graduate – turned – LSU tight end Chase Clement as key contributors in the Tigers’ arsenal.

With the big game looming, their high school coaches sounded off on their former players this week, saying they all deserve the opportunity to make college football history.

“It’s really a proud feeling when you look out there and see those kids play,” Patterson coach Tommy Minton said of Hilliard and Crappell. “To know that not too long ago, they were playing on your high school field and now they have a chance to make history, that’s a pretty awesome feeling.”

“We haven’t had a lot of kids to go on to play at that level and in that kind of national stage,” E.D. White coach Kyle Lasseigne added of Clement. “We’re obviously all proud of him. And he’s still that down to earth kid who’s gotten to where he is because he works hard. … I’m glad to see he’s getting that chance to contribute in what’s been a greatly successful season for LSU.”

Hilliard is the prospect amongst the trio that generates the most attention. That’s because he’s been scoring touchdowns by the bushel in the second half of the season.

The 5-feet, 11-inch, 240-pound standout has toted the football 57 times for 320 yards in his true freshman season at LSU.

But the former Lumberjack has been the Tigers’ go-to back in the red zone and he’s tied for the team lead with eight rushing touchdowns.

That’s not too bad considering all eight of those scores have come in LSU’s final six games of the season.

Some of his runs have come in vintage Lumberjack Hilliard fashion with the freshman barreling defenders forward for extra yardage.

That’s brought back great memories of the standout’s run in St. Mary Parish, where he became the all-time leading rusher in Louisiana history.

“That’s something my wife said just the other day,” Minton said with a laugh. “She said watching him play in the SEC Championship Game, he looked just like he did playing at Patterson. He’s definitely got some confidence and he’s playing pretty well right now.”

But Hilliard’s path to the end zone wasn’t carved from smooth pavement.

Minton said LSU coach Les Miles offered Hilliard two options before the season started.

The first was to redshirt in 2011 and refine the skills.

“That’s because of the great depth they have at the halfback position,” Minton said.

The second option was to use his freshman year to play fullback.

Hilliard chose the latter and started the season as a short-yardage fullback and a receiver in the flats out of the I-formation for LSU.

“To me, that shows the type of character this kid has,” Minton said. “He said, ‘Whatever ya’ll need me to, I’ll do it.’ He never barked at moving to fullback. He just wanted to help his team.”

Things changed in the middle of the season for Hilliard when starting halfback Spencer Ware was suspended for LSU’s game with Auburn, freeing a few carries for the former Lumberjack as a running back.

Hilliard made the most of his opportunity, rushing for 65 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns.

He’s been in the team’s gameplan ever since.

“Everything’s going smooth for Kenny right now,” Minton said. “He passed the fall semester with 14 hours and a 2.75 GPA. He’s doing well in school and he’s enjoying himself. He’s getting to play and he’s just very happy. … We’re very proud of what he’s done.”

Hilliard’s rise to collegiate stardom was sort of inevitable – the kid was a highly touted blue chip prospect.

But Crappell’s ascent wasn’t quite as expected.

A former defensive lineman and tight end, Crappell walked onto the Tigers’ team in 2007.

Minton said Crappell was promised when he joined the team that if he ever became a starter, he’d be given a scholarship.

Apparently that served as positive motivation because Crappell has been LSU’s starting long snapper for each of the past three seasons.

This year, his presence was recognized as he was named the team’s permanent captain for special teams.

“That’s a great story,” Minton said. “It’s just a testament to what you can do with a little hard work and a little character. I think it says a lot about him that they’ve named him as one of the four permanent captains. To hold that spot on such a prolific team, that says a lot.”

Obviously as a snapper, it is Crappell’s goal to stay unknown – to not have anyone know his name.

So far in his LSU career, he hasn’t had a bad snap. Minton boasts that stat while also knocking on wood, of course.

“You hate to say it, because I don’t want to jinx nobody,” the coach said with a laugh. “But he hasn’t had a bad snap in those three years. We just have got to hope one doesn’t come in the national championship game.”

Minton also notes that Crappell has evolved into one of LSU’s best coverage players on the punt team, adding that LSU coaches believe that the former Patterson snapper will be able to advance to the NFL.

“He’s actually the second leading tackler on the punt team itself,” Minton said. “So he’s done a great job both snapping and covering.”

In high school, Patterson and E.D. White are fierce district rivals.

But at LSU, the two former Lumberjacks are united with E.D. White’s best player in recent memory, LSU junior tight end Chase Clement.

Like Hilliard and Crappell, Clement has also had a sizeable hand in LSU’s run to No. 1, serving as one of the team’s primary tight ends.

That’s not a type-o – Clement is a tight end at LSU.

Tri-parish fans remember Clement as a bruising defensive lineman with the Cardinals.

Like Hilliard and Crappell, the LSU coaches approached the former E.D. White standout in regards to a position change when he enrolled. Like his teammates, he complied, showing a mark of selflessness, according to his coach who added that Clement doesn’t “have a selfish bone in his body.”

“Chase’s main objective was just to contribute to the team,” Lasseigne said. “Even though he was doing that on special teams, he saw he had the opportunity to move to the other side and get on the field a little quicker. He did it and he’s growing into the position.”

Lasseigne admits there was “apprehension” with the move, but that Clement always stayed focused on the goal – being the best player for what LSU needed.

“A lot of that apprehension had to do with learning the playbook,” the coach said. “Once he committed to the change and started to understand the system, it’s been a nice transition for him.”

Clement made the move to tight end in between his freshman and sophomore seasons.

His first year at the position, the Tigers used the former E.D. White star primarily as a blocker.

This year, his role has grown and he’s caught seven passes for 96 yards and a touchdown.

With starting tight end DeAngelo Peterson graduating following the Alabama game, Clement’s role figures to be even greater in the future.

“There’s definitely an opportunity there,” Lasseigne said. “He’s in line to be a guy they’ll count on more and more.”

With all three players having acclimated to their college surroundings, one constant remains the same – a humble personality.

Minton said he speaks with each of his former players a handful of times a week through phone calls or text messages.

Lasseigne said his contact with Clement is equally frequent.

Both coaches also tout the players have never changed from their high school days. Besides a couple additional pounds of muscle, of course.

“They’ve stayed humble,” Minton said.

“He’s the same kid now as he was when he was with us,” Lasseigne said. “That’s probably what we’re most proud of.”

LSU halfback Kenny Hilliard searches for yardage during a game
this season. The Tri-parish native is a big part of LSU’s BCS