Cushenberry trying to stay ready with NFL draft five weeks away

Fourteen years ago, Lloyd Cushenberry III’s mother Debbie Cushenberry first signed him up as an eight-year-old to play football. He wore No. 35 for the St. Amant Wildcats as a tight end and defensive end.

“I never envisioned anything else,” Cushenberry said. “I really never had a Plan B. It had to work. This was in my plans since I was eight.”

Suffice to say, everything’s turned out OK.

Cushenberry is two months removed from helping LSU capture an undefeated national championship. He declared early for the NFL draft and participated in both the Senior Bowl in January and NFL scouting combine in February.

In between, Cushenberry visited the White House where the Tigers were honored for winning the national championship, and later feted at home with a parade and celebration at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Moreover, Cushenberry signed with agent Jim Denton of the Beverly Hills-based Creative Artists Agency. He’s helping the 6-3, 312-pound graduate of Dutchtown High and All-America center put his best foot forward leading to the April 23-25 NFL draft.

“Growing up my mom always saw me with a ball in my hand,” Cushenberry said. “I either had a basketball or football. When I was going into college, she would joke with me that now I had the ball in my hand every snap. It just so happened to work out that way.”

Former LSU assistant coaches Jeff Grimes and Cam Cameron explained to Cushenberry during the recruiting process that he had the makings of an excellent collegiate center with the potential of reaching his dreams and making it to the NFL.

Four years later, that’s the exact track Cushenberry finds himself on as a consensus second-round draft choice and considered among the draft’s top five centers.

“The offseason before I started at LSU, I started to teach myself to snap,” Cushenberry said. “Once I got to LSU and to stay consistent and get in that rhythm, my roommate (former quarterback) Lindsey Scott took a ball from the equipment room and I got snaps from him every night, both in the shotgun and under center. It just kind of became a habit.”

Cushenberry became a two-year starter at LSU, evolving into not only the focal point of last season’s offensive line, but a team leader which was evident when he became the first offensive lineman in the program’s history to wear the coveted No. 18 jersey.

Although he still wore a NCAA-allowable number for an offensive lineman (No. 79), Cushenberry was able to wear a No. 18 patch on his jersey, not only paying homage to characteristics he embodied to earn such a distinction, but the bright future that remained ahead.

Cushenberry played a team-high 1,037 snaps last season and was considered the unquestioned leader of an offensive line selected the winner of the Joe Moore Award – emblematic of the nation’s top offensive line that paved the way for the school’s record-breaking offense.

The Tigers were 25-3 with Cushenberry at center where he was named first team All-SEC and second team All-American (American Football Coaches Association and Football Writers Association of America) last season.

He was also named LSU’s permanent team captain and football MVP.

In the days following LSU’s national championship, Cushenberry announced he would bypass his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft where his stock has risen considerably since signing with the Tigers as a three-star prospect regarded as the nation’s No. 82 guard and No. 1,552nd rated player.

Cushenberry further endeared himself to NFL scouts and general managers during the interview process at both the Senior Bowl in Mobile and the scouting combine in Indianapolis with the fact he graduated in 3 ½ years in Sports Administration.

“That was huge, the game of football’s not guaranteed,” he said. “You have to have something to fall back on. Also being at a school like LSU, and the all the pressure that comes with that, being able to get my degree is big time and teams liked that as well.”

Cushenberry’s star continued to ascend at the scouting combine, which turned out to be his final public audition for teams because of the coronavirus health threat which has cancelled LSU’s Pro Day.

More than his on-field exploits, Cushenberry was equally excited to get in front of teams and convey his knowledge of the position, along with providing them a glimpse into his leadership qualities and personality.

“The week was great,” Cushenberry said of his time at the Senior Bowl. “I practiced well and did some good things on the field. I feel like I excelled off the field because people didn’t expect me to come out and show what type of person I am. They got to see how smart I was as far as football goes, how much I loved the game. It helped me out a lot.”

Before the scouting combine, Cushenberry trained for 4 ½ weeks at EXOS Athletes’ Performance Institute in Pensacola, Fla. where he worked on speed, power and becoming more explosive.

Cushenberry was timed at 5.27 in the 40-yard dash at the combine where he registered 25 reps on the bench press.

Once again, Cushenberry reveled in the fact that he could woo a potential team with his football acumen and leadership qualities.

“I just wanted to be myself which I feel is one of my strengths,” Cushenberry said. “I’m good in the film room. I didn’t try to make it bigger than it is. I wanted to be the person that I’ve always been at LSU. I let them know what I know. Throughout my college years I put in a lot of work in the film room and learned how to watch film. Now I feel like that I can show that off. I know the game of football.”

Cushenberry said he’s waiting for the end to the NFL’s current free agent cycle in order to gain clarity on a potential new home.

“Between the Senior Bowl and combine, I met with every team,” he said. “There may be a few teams looking for a center or guard, so there are a few teams in mind. But you really don’t know until the free agency stuff clears up. That’s when you can kind of see what teams may be in the hunt and how things shake out.”

Cushenberry has also leaned on former LSU centers Ethan Pocic of the Seattle Seahawks and Will Clapp of the New Orleans Saints for advice on his next steps leading up to the draft.

Without a pro day to further solidify his draft stock, Cushenberry has returned home to nearby Carville where he’ll remain and watch the draft which is scheduled in Las Vegas.

Cushenberry has received morning treatment and conducts his rehabilitation at LSU’s Football Operations Center, which has remained opened since the coronavirus pandemic. With the weight room off limits to players, Cushenberry and former teammate Damien Lewis conduct footwork drills and get in some conditioning on the adjacent practice fields.

“I’m trying to do everything I can to stay active,” he said. “All I can do right now is stay positive, stay in shape and everything will work out. Nobody really knows what’s going on. You can’t just sit around the house playing video games. I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to stay ready.”

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