Ethan Pocic set to start at center for LSU

Ethan Pocic’s parents met in a tall club.

A tall club.

It’s so bizarre that Pocic wonders if his father is joking.

“He might have been messing with me,” a smiling Pocic said.

LSU’s new starting center — Pocic dethroned senior Elliott Porter — stands at 6-foot-7. It’s easily explained.

His father, Gary, is 6-7 as well. His mother, Kim, is 5-10. His brother is 6-5, and his sister is 5-9.

Tall clubs, by the way, are very real. They unite people whose commonality — being tall — affects their daily lives.

Pocic isn’t just tall. He’s 300 pounds. He’s also quick footed, smart and rangy — all reasons the LSU coaching staff will thrust the sophomore from Illinois into a starting role in the season opener.

LSU coach Les Miles finally admitted publicly Monday what he’s suggested over the last week: Pocic is in line to start when No. 13 LSU meets No. 14 Wisconsin Saturday night in Houston in front of an ESPN audience.

Pocic did enough during fall camp to usurp Porter, the incumbent starter. Miles said Porter is not injured. Reporters are not allowed to watch practice, and Porter has been unavailable for interviews over the past week.

Either way, Pocic did enough to claim the role. There’s at least one guy not surprised by that: his coach at Lemont High, Eric Michaelsen.

“His size and athletic ability,” Michaelsen said, “that’s what made him special.”

Pocic was destined for this starting role. As a true freshman last year, he competed with Porter in a tight battle for the starting spot.

A four-star guy, Pocic was ranked as the fifth-best offensive tackle in the 2013 class, according to 24/7 Sports’ composite rankings.

A year into his stint at LSU, Pocic said he has improved his footwork and has grown stronger. He’s been running with the starting group in practice for more than a week.

“It’s pretty cool,” Pocic said.

New offensive line coach Jeff Grimes calls Pocic an “unusual kid” because of his versatility.

“He can do so many things,” Grimes said. “You don’t often find a kid that has the physical skills set to play all five positions. You don’t often find the guy that’s intelligent enough to handle that amount of knowledge. He has the respect of the unit because he can.”

Pocic is one of three Midwesterners on LSU’s roster, joining defensive tackle Christian LaCouture (Nebraska) and linebacker Clifton Garrett (also Illinois).

Pocic is still searching for a good slice of pizza, and he’s slowly growing accustomed to the sticky conditions of Southeastern Louisiana.

His second career start — he started one game when Porter was injured in 2013 — will come in a climate-controlled environment. The retractable roof of NRG Stadium is expected to be closed.

Pocic has more knowledge of Wisconsin than most at LSU. The Badgers courted him heavily during his high school days. Madison, Wisconsin, is just 150 miles northwest of Lemont.

He took multiple visits to the campus before committing to LSU, spurning several Big Ten offers.

Born and raised in Big Ten country, Pocic headed to the rival Southeastern Conference. He hears about that, too.

“Everyone has their opinion,” he said with a smile. “You let it roll off your back.”

The decision to sign with LSU was two-fold, he said: Pocic wanted to win a national championship and do it at a place that ran a pro-style offense.

He took the opposite road of his brother.

Graham Pocic played offensive line for Illinois and was recently signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Graham’s lasting legacy at Lemont High paved the way for Ethan’s success.

How so? Pocic wanted to play linebacker upon arriving at the high school. Coaches knew better.

“We had his brother as a template for what we were expecting,” Michaelsen said. “At our school, we don’t get people like that all of the time.”

It’s a good thing, too. By the end of his freshman season, Pocic was standing 6-5, a 7-inch growth spurt that began while he was an eighth-grader.

His height is genetic, sure. There’s something else behind it, too.

“My mom,” he said, “made me always drink three glasses of milk a day.”

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv. For more coverage of LSU football, follow our Tiger Tracks blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/tigertracks/.