Fruge gets hold of role with Tigers

Seth Fruge said growing up as a middle child in a family with seven siblings helped him in his LSU football career.

“I had to fight for attention growing up,” said Fruge, the third-youngest. “I learned from my childhood experience that you have to stand out to get noticed.”

That skill that has served him well as a Tiger.

Fruge was a four-sport competitor who stood out as a linebacker at Notre Dame High School in Crowley. But when he got to LSU four years ago as a speedy but undersized defender, he was just another face in a very large crowd.

“I came here to play outside linebacker,” Fruge said. But it quickly became apparent that special teams — where his speed and tackling ability served him well — would provide a far more realistic avenue to the playing field.

Since redshirting as a freshman in 2009, Fruge has played in 34 games on special teams the past three seasons. When the Tigers began the season against TCU in AT&T Stadium on Saturday night, Fruge was one of the four team captains who participated in the pre-game coin toss.

Fruge might seem an unlikely candidate to be a team captain, but that designation is a testament to how he has stood out to his teammates. After finding a niche on special teams, he volunteered to add holder to his skill set, graduated from walk-on to scholarship player — and ultimately special teams captain along with punter Jamie Keehn.

“He’s a guy that fought like heck to get special teams snaps and fought like heck to learn how to hold,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He ends up being a special teams captain. He’s a guy that everybody enjoys.

“He’s one of the leaders of our team, a quality student having a great experience here at LSU.”

Fruge’s talent as a 100- and 200-meter sprinter as well as the anchor leg on relay teams in high school helped him on the kickoff and punt teams. He said his experience as a tennis player helped with hip movement that was useful in playing linebacker.

But it was playing baseball that helped his hand-eye coordination, which is key to being a holder.

In high school, Fruge, who’s from Welsh, played linebacker and returned punts and kickoffs. He and current LSU linebacker D.J. Welter, who’s from Crowley, would sometimes line up in the backfield together, Welter blocking for Fruge so he could use his speed in space, or both of them using their linebacker physicality blocking for another runner.

“I just went out there whenever they called me,” Fruge said. “I did a little bit of everything.”

Fruge demonstrated that willingness to jump in wherever he could help two years ago during preseason camp by volunteering to learn how to hold, becoming the backup to punter Brad Wing.

“I just saw it as an opportunity to find another way to get on the field, and I wanted to contribute any way that I could,” Fruge said. “I just picked it up and learned from Brad. Every chance I get I work on it. When Brad was injured, I stepped up to the position and showed coach that I could do it.”

Fruge got into two games as the holder when Wing was injured in 2011, including participating in Drew Alleman’s 4-for-4 performance kicking field goals against Mississippi State.

He held again last season when Wing was injured for the opener against North Texas and suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Clemson.

When Wing left early for the NFL draft after last season, Fruge took over as the holder. He participates on each special team and occasionally will reprise his linebacker role if the scout team needs someone to simulate a fast linebacker.

Fruge’s size — 5-feet-11, 189 pounds — which wasn’t conducive to being a major-college linebacker, was more conducive to being a holder.

“He was a more athletic, small linebacker, more like a safety,” Miles said. “He has real ball skills. Certain guys can learn to hold, and certain guys have a very natural ability to hold, and he has the natural ability.”

The skill sets for a linebacker and a holder are hardly the same, which is why holders are usually quarterbacks, punters or wide receivers.

But, Fruge said, just having good hands doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a competent holder.

“You’re in an awkward position on the ground, you’re not in a position where you’re normally catching a ball or running with it,” Fruge said. “It’s totally different. You’re low to the ground, and you have to work on catching it and getting it to the ground at the spot where it needs to be with the lean it needs to have for that kicker — in tenths of a second.”

Fruge had to learn how to hold precisely the way each kicker prefers and also account for the speed with which they approach the ball before striking it.

Fortunately for Fruge, Colby Delahoussaye, who made all three of his field goals and all four extra points in his debut in the 37-27 victory in the opener, is very similar to Alleman.

But James Hairston, the Tigers’ kickoff specialist who has to be ready to try a long field goal at any time, is different. That presented a challenge for Fruge, especially early in camp when the competition was wide open and Delahoussaye and Hairston were splitting reps before Delahoussaye separated himself.

Delahoussaye, like Alleman, prefers the ball be tilted slightly to the side toward the holder and back toward the kicker, whereas Hairston prefers the ball be stood straight up.

“I had to change the hold each time,” Fruge said. “It took me a few weeks to adjust to the way James likes it before it became second nature.”

Fruge said it was especially important for him to master the nuances for Hairston, whose kicks likely will come from beyond 50 yards because the slightest effect on the rotation can become exaggerated from that distance.

Welter said the holder’s position is in good hands, which he conveyed to folks back home who were unaware of the turn Fruge’s career took.

“It’s pretty cool to see Seth come out and instead of giving up, he went over to special teams and did something good for the team,” Welter said. “He found his niche and rolled with it.

“I’d talk to people back home and they’d say, ‘They have Seth listed as a holder in the program.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, he’s actually the holder now. That’s his job. That’s what he does every day — and he’s really good at it.’”

Fruge is pretty good in the classroom too.

A three-time member of the Southeastern Conference academic honor roll, he is on the verge of getting his degree in nutrition with a minor in biology and preparing to take the Medical College Admission Test. His plan is to enroll in medical school — preferably at LSU — and become an orthopedic surgeon.

Fruge said he turned down “a lot” of scholarship offers to walk on at LSU.

As a preferred walk-on, he was able to work out with the team during the summer and preseason camp, unlike most walk-ons. Still he had to ward off new walk-ons each year to maintain that status before competing with scholarship players for playing time.

Fruge said, “it relieved a lot of pressure” early in the summer when Miles told him he was going on scholarship as he prepared to letter for the fourth time. But that wasn’t his focus when he joined the team.

“I was more focused on the success of the team and being a leader than earning a scholarship,” Fruge said. “I wasn’t playing to get a scholarship. I was playing to help the team.

“Ever since I was a child, it was a dream of mine to play and be a leader at LSU. I wasn’t going to give up on that no matter what.”