LSU’s game against Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon will be the final one in Tiger Stadium for the Tigers’ 15 seniors.
It could also be the home finale for a few underclassmen if they choose after the season to depart as early entrants into the NFL draft, but the pregame ceremony will honor the players who are definitely saying goodbye.
This senior class features six starters — place-kicker Drew Alleman, tight end Chase Clement, defensive linemen Josh Downs and Lavar Edwards and offensive linemen Josh Dworaczyk and P.J. Lonergan — as well as two scholarship backups in defensive end Chancey Aghayere and wide receiver Russell Shepard.
“It’s going to be a tough one to swallow,” Clement said. “We put our heart and soul into this program.”
The fifth-year seniors have won 49 games and the fourth-year seniors 41. The whole class was part of last season’s Southeastern Conference championship, and the school-record 13-0 regular season and 8-0 SEC records. The fourth-year seniors have played every game as a Top 25 team, and the fifth-year seniors have been ranked for all but two. They all were part of a school-record 22-game home winning streak.
Lonergan singled out highlights as being the SEC title, a victory in the Cotton Bowl after the 2010 season and even the trip to the BCS Championship game last season, despite a 21-0 loss to Alabama.
“It’s hard to believe it’s the last game,” Lonergan said. “Sometimes it feels like yesterday, and sometimes it feels like, man, it’s been a long time.”
It’s been a longer time for Dworaczyk than anyone else. He was honored at Senior Day last season as it appeared his career had ended with a preseason knee injury, but the NCAA later granted LSU’s request for a sixth year of eligibility for Dworaczyk, who acted as an assistant coach while sidelined last season.
“The bottom line is to make one last memory at Tiger Stadium,” Dworaczyk said, “and hopefully it ends in a victory.”
Edwards and Downs are both role players who saved their best for last as senior part-time starters.
“I wanted my last season to be my best,” Edwards said, “so I just tried to come out and make it that way.”
Downs said he has tried to mentor younger linemen the way older ones, such as Drake Nevis, mentored him as a youngster.
“I remember seeing Drake was a really different guy (on Senior Day),” Downs said. “He was off by himself, seizing the moment and taking it all in for the last time.”
Alleman had to bide his time for three years behind All-American Josh Jasper.
“After five years here, it’s going to be emotional,” Alleman said. “It’s going to be the last time you get to run into that stadium, but I feel like my career here was good. I chose to come here. I knew maybe I wouldn’t get to play until my junior year. I knew the consequences because Jasper was here, and he was a great kicker, but I had my two years and I felt like I gave it all that I had.”
Shepard’s statistics haven’t matched the lofty expectations that accompanied him as a recruit, but he has otherwise met the loftiest expectations for a student-athlete.
“I love this school,” Shepard said. “Coming in and playing for a school like this and playing for a guy like coach (Les) Miles and playing with this group of guys, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
LSU knows it has two more games after this one. The Tigers (8-2 and 4-2 in the SEC) visit Arkansas next Friday, and will play in a postseason game to be determined. Ole Miss (5-5, 2-4) needs a victory against the Tigers or against Mississippi State next week to qualify for a bowl and extend its seniors’ careers.
“You want it so badly for the fans, but also for the few seniors that we do have,” first-year Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said. “You want to send those seniors out on a nice positive note like that.”
At least seven Tigers who have eligibility remaining after this season figure to be tempted to go to the NFL in 2013.
Defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery are projected to be picked high in the first round if they enter the draft.
Safety Eric Reid likely would be a high draft pick as well, and defensive tackle Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter and running back Spencer Ware might be tempted to explore their draft prospects. Even redshirt sophomore punter Brad Wing said it’s something to think about.
Miles said he’d compare this junior class, which was one of the highest-rated in the country when it signed, “with any in the country, period,” acknowledging “certainly there’s a likelihood in some regard that some of them will end up in the NFL.”
“I guess there’s a time to say goodbye, and this just isn’t it,” Miles said. “I’ve got games to play.”
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