Posted at 9:39 am on April 17, 2018

Surprise, Surprise: Jonathan Giles, the latest to sport No. 7 for LSU, is ready to turn heads in the Tigers’ new pass-happy offense

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Cody Worsham

Editor at Tiger Rag
Cody Worsham has been the editor of Tiger Rag since 2012. He covers LSU football and basketball and is a graduate of the LSU Manship School of Journalism.

Jonathan Giles gets it. In fact, he was just as surprised as you were.

Giles, a junior transfer from Texas Tech without a down of football to his name for LSU, can sympathize with fans, media, and other observers of the program who might’ve done a double take when it announced he would follow in the footsteps of Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Leonard Fournette, and DJ Chark, among others, to don the No. 7 jersey, recently reserved for the team’s top playmaker.

He didn’t believe it at first, either.

Derek Ponamsky, LSU’s special assistant to the head coach, delivered the news to Giles, approaching him one day while hosting a horde of recruits.

“One day, we were recruiting, and DP walked up to me and said, ‘How would you feel about wearing No. 7?’ When he first told me, I laughed and walked away,” Giles says.

“Then he called and told me he was being for real. I was like, ‘Really?’ I talked to my parents about it, talked to DJ about it, the next day I went to Coach O’s office and told him I’d love to wear it.”

It was the latest, and greatest, surprise of Giles’ collegiate career, which has been as productive as it’s been unpredictable. The 2018 season doesn’t mark the first time he’ll be counted on as a No. 1 receiver, but it is the first time he’ll be expected to be a No. 7-worthy playmaker.

“To be honest with you, it’s an honor just to be playing at LSU,” he says. “I never thought I’d be here. Being here is motivation for me and my family.”

“To wear No. 7,” he adds, “is an honor.”

 

Photo by Chris Parent, LSU Athletics

THE FIRST SURPRISE of Giles’ LSU career came before he’d even considered the possibility of an LSU career.

It also came before his morning alarm.

In the early hours of a May 2017 morning, Ed Orgeron, freshly-minted full-time head coach of the Tigers, rang up Giles, then perhaps the most hotly-pursued receiver on the transfer market. The Missouri City, Texas native had hauled in 1,158 yards and 13 touchdowns – both would’ve led the SEC – in his sophomore season as Patrick Mahomes’ primary target in Texas Tech’s top-ranked passing offense. But differences with his position coach – “I wasn’t treated respectfully,” Giles says – convinced him to continue his career elsewhere, and college coaches from across the country were soon dialing Giles’ cell phone number.

Orgeron wasn’t the first to phone, but he was the earliest. His first effort to connect didn’t arouse Giles from a night of sleep, but the second did.

“When I heard that voice, I knew exactly who it was,” says Giles. “I answered, and said, ‘Hello?’ And the first thing he said was, ‘I love your film.’ From that point, I fell in love.”

The two needed no introduction. Orgeron, of course, knew Giles from his tape and his production. Giles, meanwhile, knew Orgeron from following the Tigers closely growing up in the Lone Star state. LSU came to town every year for recruiting and seemingly every year for a neutral site, road, or bowl game.

“He was so enthusiastic and energetic,” Giles says. “I’m rubbing my eyes. I’m just now getting up. When he called me, I had to hurry up and get up because he was so enthusiastic. It motivated me. The energy and passion he had through the phone excited me.”

“I watched LSU as a kid. Everyone watched LSU. Just getting that call from him was motivation.”

It wasn’t just the timing of the call that caught Giles off guard, though. He didn’t even know he was on LSU’s radar. Just weeks before, in late April, he’d announced his intention to leave Tech, catching the college football world by surprise. It’s not every day Biletnikoff Award semifinalists become available on the transfer market, after all.

Oregon, Florida State, Washington State, and Indiana were already hot on his trail. Houston and Purdue even extended offers to Giles, a high school quarterback, to take a shot under center. Giles was planning a May 21 visit to Eugene to visit the Ducks when Orgeron called. By the time they hung up, Giles had already made up his mind. He promptly canceled his visit to the Northwest and began planning his move to Baton Rouge.

“It was very surprising, because I didn’t know he was going to call me,” he says. “I didn’t even know at the time LSU was even looking at me.”

Giles pulled in 1,158 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016 at Texas Tech, both of which would’ve led the SEC. Photo courtesy of Texas Tech Athletics.

 

 

BATON ROUGE AND Lubbock may reside in neighboring states, but they aren’t exactly close. The drive is around 771 miles and takes nearly 12 hours. No airlines fly direct from BTR to LBB, and a plane ticket will set you back about $400, if you’re lucky.

The geographic gap is nothing, however, compared to the philosophical gulf separating the offenses each college town is accustomed to. Leaving traditionally pass-happy Texas Tech for traditionally pass-poor LSU required some adjustment from Giles.

“At Tech, it was four-wide, run-and-gun, no-huddle, fast tempo,” he says. “When I first got here, it’s funny, after the first play, I lined back up, thinking I was in Texas Tech running no-huddle. But actually, it’s a huddle system. I forgot to get into the huddle. It was very funny to me. I realized I wasn’t at Texas Tech no more.”

It’s not just the new offense that Giles had to adapt to. The defenses in the SEC, in general, and at LSU, in particular, are just as far removed from their counterparts in the Big 12, in general, and Tech, in particular. Long gone were the days of the zone coverages in which Giles loved to find the gaps for chain-moving grabs. In their place were rep after rep of press coverage from the likes of Donte Jackson, Kevin Toliver, and Greedy Williams.

“It’s straight man here,” he says. “Big 12 was mostly zone. You’d have some teams like Oklahoma play man. SEC, for the most part, is straight man. I got a taste of it last year going against Donte and Kevin Toliver and Greedy.

“All I smelled was their breath.”

That’s what happens when defenders talk as much as LSU’s. Trash talk is mandatory at DBU, and while Giles can chirp when necessary, he prefers to let his play talk for him. The only way to shut up guys like Jackson and Toliver was to beat them.

Repeatedly.

“He played on the scout team last year,” Orgeron said in a radio interview this spring, “and we couldn’t cover him.”

That claim didn’t sit well with LSU’s defensive backs, who clapped back on Twitter by downplaying Orgeron’s praise. Linebacker Devin White didn’t like his defensive teammates’ abilities behind questioned, either.

“He wasn’t difficult to deal with,” White says. “They’re just trying to make him sound good. We have the best DBs in the country; do you think he was flying past those DBs? That’s Devin White’s quote: Do you think Jonathan Giles is flying past the best defensive backs in the country? He’s a great player and he’s going to do great for us, but we’re DBU. We lock everybody up and it shows on the field.”

From Giles’ perspective, perhaps things were a bit more even than either Orgeron or White indicate. The truth, like the gap in a Cover 2 defense, is somewhere in the middle.

“We competed,” he says. “Some days, they would win. Some days, I would win. It was good competition all around. We would go back and forth, have a little trash talk in there. It was just fun to compete against them guys.”

It tends to get loud when iron sharpens iron. The trash talk never escalated beyond words. But it did serve to keep Giles on edge during his year away from live competition.

“Having that off year, I felt like it was a chance for me to get better each and every day,” he says. “It was fun. For me, practice was my game.”

Photo by Terrill Weil

NOW, THE GAMES will be his game, and because of the number on the back of his jersey, all eyes will be on Giles. Can he be the go-to playmaker in an offense that, if LSU’s coaches can be believed, will emphasize the pass more than ever?

His teammates sure think so.

“He wears No. 7, and he deserves No. 7, because he is such a talent and such a leader and such a great player,” says tight end Foster Moreau, perhaps the next to wear No. 18 for LSU.

The Tiger most familiar with his game, fellow Texas Tech transfer Breiden Fehoko, agrees.

“I remember Coach O telling me, ‘Hey what do you think about Jonathan Giles?’” Fehoko says. “I said ‘Coach, he’s going to be the best receiver in college football come a year from now with a redshirt year under his belt and being the type of talent he is.’”

White, defiant as ever and as punishing verbally as he is physically, remains skeptical.

“I told him he’s got to prove he’s No. 7 worthy to me,” White says.

It’s an honor Giles doesn’t take lightly. He’s spoken at length with Chark, from whom he inherits the number, about the responsibility it carries, about the extra scrutiny wearing it entails. The number seven symbolizes perfection, Biblically, and LSU fans seem to expect exactly that from he who dons it in purple and gold. Giles is well aware of the shoes he’s filling and the shadows he’s following.

“I watched LSU growing up,” he says. “So I knew about Patrick Peterson, I knew about Tyrann Mathieu, I knew about Leonard Fournette and D.J. Chark. I knew about those guys beforehand.”

The Tiger he knew most about, however, sported not 7, but 80. Even before LSU was on his radar, Giles was a Jarvis Landry fan. He devoured his film, studying his releases, his breaks, his moves with the ball in his hands.

“When I’m at home, I love watching Jarvis,” he says. “I’m watching him and trying to figure out how to be like him and how to get better. I’ve always been a Jarvis fan. I loved the passion he has for the game, the route running, the dog mentality.”

He’s not yet met Landry, but it’s a moment Giles says he’s looking forward to. Truth is, even if their paths don’t cross between now and then, Landry will know all about Giles soon enough. Like the rest of those tuning in to Tiger football this fall, he’ll scan the field for that famous number, wondering if the player wearing it is worthy.

Giles can’t wait to put those questions to bed, one catch at a time. Getting the number may have been a surprise. Living up to its reputation? He expects nothing less.

“I’m grateful just to be wearing an LSU uniform, much less No. 7,” he says. “Every day I wake up, I just thank God for giving me the opportunity.”

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