Rabalais: La’El Collins not regretting returning to LSU

“I’m thankful to be around great caliber guys like this. Everybody wants to be here. I haven’t seen a guy on this team who is down.” LA’EL COLLINS, LSU offensive lineman

Had he chosen differently, La’El Collins would be in some NFL city somewhere having just completed his first round of OTAs and mandatory minicamp.

But instead he was at All Star Lanes in Baton Rouge on Tuesday night, cutting up with his teammates and seeing whether he or LSU coach Les Miles in the lane to his right could knock down the most pins.

There’s no doubt Collins left a substantial pile of cash on the proverbial table by not turning pro after his junior season. If former teammate Trai Turner could go in the third round to the Carolina Panthers as a right guard, certainly Collins would have commanded a higher pick as a left tackle.

But while second guessing is a cottage industry among LSU football followers, Collins is having none of that for himself. Instead he is reveling in his last college season — even if he rolls the occasional gutter ball.

“I’m loving it,” Collins said between frames. “It’s a chance for us to come out and enjoy ourselves. We work hard all year.”

As much as anyone playing for the Tigers’ in 2014, this is Collins’ team. If there is pressure in leadership, it rolls off the slopes of his massive shoulders.

“To be a leader of this program means a lot to me,” he said. “Any time we get together means a lot to me.

“I’m thankful to be around great caliber guys like this. Everybody wants to be here. I haven’t seen a guy on this team who is down.”

At 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, Collins is no small person. I can’t swear to it, but I thought I saw a couple of bowling balls pulled into orbit around him by his gravitational pull.

OK, that’s a joke. But having him back on the team isn’t as far as LSU is concerned.

The Tigers will be breaking in a brand new (Brandon Harris) or relatively new (Anthony Jennings) quarterback this fall. There are lawns around town that are less green than LSU’s receiving corps.

But the running back position — this is no joke: Leonard Fournette looks like he’s 30 – is a strength, even though the Tigers return just 35 percent of their ground gains from 2013.

So is the group of players who will be blocking for the running backs.

Turner was the only loss on LSU’s offensive front. The other four starters return, with Collins at left tackle, Vadal Alexander at left guard, Elliott Porter at center and Jerald Hawkins at right tackle. Evan Washington or Fehoko Fanaika (he’s a pin-seeking missile as a bowler, we hear) will replace Turner at right guard.

Talent and experience count for a lot on the O-line. So does chemistry. That’s what Tuesday’s bowling and mini-golf outing was all about, a little time to cut up and blow off steam from a hot summer of grinding.

Collins’ typical week day goes like this: up at 6:30 a.m., hitting the weights by 7 a.m. with LSU strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt, class in the evening, then often more weights.

Collins doesn’t mind paying the price. He said he isn’t disappointed by the work being put in by his teammates, either.

“The good thing is our coaches recruit guys who want to work, want to grind,” Collins said. “So when they come in they’re very confident and get with the program, do everything coach Moffitt asks them. Just get it done.”

The preseason college football publications are starting to materialize on magazine racks, and Collins is getting a fair amount of respect. Athlon’s and Phil Steele peg him as a third-team preseason All-American. No doubt he’ll make a slew of preseason All-Southeastern Conference teams as well.

One way too early 2015 NFL mock draft (do these guys ever sleep?) I saw recently had Collins as the 24th pick in next year’s first round.

There will be time for pro ball. Collins is loving the chance to soak in one more college season, one last chance to impart a little wisdom that was passed down to him by teammates now departed.

“Spending time with my offensive line,” Collins said when asked what he is enjoying most about his summer. “Making sure when I leave here those guys are able to pass on what the older guys left me like Chris Faulk and Josh Dworaczyk. Just re-stating what we do here.”

So definitely no regrets, Mr. Collins?

“None at all.”

He smiled broadly. It was time to bowl with his team again.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.