Former LSU center on football, his winding road to Louisiana’s airwaves and the art of communication
Editor’s note: This is the cover story from the latest edition of Tiger Rag Extra, currently on newsstands across Baton Rouge. Find a copy by clicking here
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Most college football players hate doing interviews with the local media. The sessions are at night, typically after a game-week practice, and sometimes it’s just easier to sneak out any of the Football Ops Building’s many exits than to put off dinner in order to field questions you really don’t want to answer.
That’s never how T-Bob Hebert saw it. From the start of his LSU career on, the son of Bobby always relished the opportunity to speak with local reporters. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as any surprise that life after football has led him to not just join the ranks of the media, but thrive within it. The co-host of Double Coverage on WWL in New Orleans sat down with Tiger Rag to talk football, life and how he got there.
James Moran: So let’s start from the beginning. What was it like to grow up in Louisiana as the son of a New Orleans legend like Bobby Hebert?
T-Bob Hebert: What’s kind of interesting about that is I was born here, I lived on the Northshore in Mandeville for four years, but then he went to the Atlanta Falcons in ’93. So I was four years old when I moved to Atlanta, and that’s actually where I stayed for the rest of my childhood until returning to LSU for college. So there was name cache in Atlanta because he played for the Falcons, but nothing like Louisiana, so it wasn’t until I moved back for college I realized that people constantly and to this day would come up and tell me “I loved your dad” or “I loved that about him.” I absolutely love it man. He’s as Louisiana as it comes and it gives me no end of joy that a lot of people seem to really support him.
JM: Was it his influence that attracted you back to LSU?
TBH: My purple-and-gold brainwashing relies solely with my grandfather. He raised me die-hard LSU. He went to LSU in the ‘50s, stayed in the dorm rooms in the stadium. He was there when they won the first national championship and he’s since been to every national championship game. He just loved LSU. He took my dad to games growing up. My dad ended up going to Northwestern State because he wanted to play quarterback, so when I came of age, my grandfather would take me to LSU games. We’d go to Cutoff every year for Thanksgiving, so going to the stadium for those Thanksgiving games was always something I looked forward to. Then, when Nick Saban got there, LSU played in SEC Championship Games and we’d go to the games in Atlanta. I was at the Matt Mauck game when he came in for Rohan Davey in 2001. That game knocked Tennessee out of the Rose Bowl and I just remember my grandpa, in his Cajun accent, yelling at Tennessee fans. It was incredible. So there was only ever one offer I was waiting on and there was only one place I was going to go, and that was LSU because of my grandpa.
JM: Obviously your dad played quarterback. Did you grow up wanting to play quarterback? How quickly did you decide that the line was your home?
TBH: I have a theory about that. I don’t have many vivid childhood memories, but I have a vivid memory of being nine years old the night before my first football practice and having visions of throwing touchdowns and running in touchdowns, and then on the first day immediately getting put on the offensive line. But for whatever reason, I fell in love with the O-line. I loved everything about it. I loved hitting. I loved the role that you played within the team. I played center from nine years old on. It had this direct appeal to me, so I never had the desire to play quarterback. I was always very offensive line centric. It was my first passion. People always ask if there was any pressure from my dad to play quarterback, but he was never anything but positive on my life and in my career. If I played quarterback, maybe that pressure would have been there. Also the incredible advantages and insight that you get from someone who played in the NFL for that long. As I got older, he even introduced me to some of his old O-line buddies that I could work with and learn from. Very lucky and very blessed to be born of his seed.
JM: So you arrive at LSU during the height of one of the most successful periods in the program’s history. Tell me what that was like.
TBH: I tend to think of it as a Golden Era. You can probably find five-year stretches that were better elsewhere, but to win a national championship your freshman year as a redshirt, the guys you learn from, the experience you gain, and the lessons that you take going forward — you see the leadership and the work ethic that it takes to have success — it’s invaluable. Seeing that really set the tone for all five years. But on the other hand, my second year, my redshirt-freshman season, was a year of adversity. I ended up tearing my ACL after finally getting to play a little bit. As a team, 8-5, 3-5 in the SEC. Pick-sixes. People freaking out. An uncomfortable campus. So you got both extremes, the ultimate peak and then the worst season. It kind of instilled this desire and hammered it home that you want to be on the positive side. Everything is better when you won. The people are nicer. The questions are easier. It’s just a more positive life you lead. So coming right in, seeing that winning and then trying to strive back where we were. We won in ’07, were down in ’08 and then we were like this steady machine making improvement from year to year. The more distance I get from it, the more fondly I remember it. What an incredible adventure. What an incredible time it was. And sometimes adventures end in bitter disappointment, and sometimes stories are in a weird way more interesting for it.
JM: Watching those 2009-11 teams, it always struck me as a testament to the offensive line that LSU was able to move the ball despite all the problems that surrounded the passing game.
TBH: Yeah, and it’s an interesting line because none of us ended up in the NFL besides Joe Barksdale — Joe didn’t get drafted high but has had a very successful NFL career. I think it was one of those situations where we worked well as group. It wasn’t as stagnant at the time, which was a benefit to us. Miles didn’t go super run-heavy until after that ’08 year, so that was relatively new. I think that helped us, but we were also deep. We had nine players who weren’t individually great, but they knew each other and had experience together. They trusted each other. Coach Studrawa did a really good job with having guys ready to go who could play multiple positions. However, if I had to choose another X-factor for the offensive line, I’d have to go to Ben Wilkerson. Also one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever played for. Former LSU center. One of my childhood heroes. And once he got done playing, he shows up back in Baton Rouge and all the sudden he’s our graduate assistant. The technique he was able to teach us, the drills he was able to bring to us, it was invaluable in making the jumps we made as an offensive line from 2009 to 2011. Had Ben Wilkerson not been there, I shutter to think what would’ve happened to my career personally and worry some what would’ve become of our offensive line as a whole. I was sad to see him not get the offensive line coach job even if he was technically underqualified. But he’s with the Chicago Bears now. Ben Wilkerson was a key part of that O-line’s success.
JM: You hear so much on the outside about frustration with the quarterback play. As somebody who was in the locker room on a team with a quarterback controversy, what is it like?
TBH: It’s an interesting question, because maybe I wore rose-colored lenses or something, but on our team, I don’t remember it being an issue. Like there no people arguing in the locker room about who should start. No grumbling when one guy played over the other. That was the great part about some of those teams I was on late in my career. There was unity there where in other years was missing. People seemed to get along and everyone was just committed to winning and winning at all costs. The best way to do that is to do your job. Your individual job. Win your individual battle because that’s all you can control. You can’t control what’s going on at the quarterback position, so to worry about that, to get upset about that, to invest emotionally in it would be a worthless endeavor.
JM: So you never found it to be divisive in the locker room?
TBH: No. And look, this is the thing, I’m sure you’ll find players who disagree. You’re dealing with rosters of over 100 players, so maybe there were some circles of guys talking like that. Maybe some of that did go on. But as far as my experience, what I can speak to, none of that. It just never happened.
JM: Your playing career at LSU ends, and obviously the final game wasn’t anything like you hoped it would be, so what came next?
TBH: That was about as depressing an end that you can have to a college career. Just for me on a personal level, not even getting to play so unexpectedly, like I didn’t even know why — I still don’t to this day why, I have no clue — and then to be constantly accused afterward of lying about not knowing why I didn’t play. Surely I knew the truth and all this stuff. It was so insane at the time and it held me down for a while. I was bitter about it for a while. As I’ve gotten older, you let a lot of that go. The old line about how time heals all wounds, there’s some truth to that. I’ve become less bitter and more appreciative. I just couldn’t carry that anger with me anymore. So I was as down as I could be, but I still loved football and I still wanted to play football, so I tried the NFL route. I signed a free agent deal with St. Louis. An absolute flier. As low as you can get, I got a $500 signing bonus. Cool $308 after taxes. In the end, living in St. Louis for a few months, I think I spent more money trying to make the NFL than I made. But it was an invaluable experience, man. It was amazing. I received an excellent opportunity with the Rams. Ended up making it all the way to final cut day. I got to play a lot of preseason games because of situations with injuries. I was taking reps with the 2’s and the 3’s and getting tons of reps. It was a golden opportunity and I, quite frankly, just choked in the final preseason game. I was 50/50 splitting reps with the guy that they ended up keeping, but I just played a terrible game. It may have been the worst 13 plays of football that I’ve ever played. So that bugged me as well for a while. Here was another disappointing ending to my football career. So I spent days in kind of a post-football haze. Just having to come to terms with never playing the game again, something all athletes go through when they know their time playing that game has come to an end. Then it kind of dawned on me like ‘What are you going to do? You don’t know anything.’ I didn’t handle school correctly. Did general studies. It was easier than my high school. I didn’t learn any particular skill, so I figured I’d give media a shot because I’d always liked doing interviews. Derek Ponamsky, from 104.5 there in Baton Rouge, during college he told me “Look, just letting you know, give me a call when you get out of football if you want to try to get into this radio business.” I did that. Started doing radio Monday and Thursday night for them. Fell in love with it. Tried to sell ads but I’m a terrible salesman. Didn’t put the work ethic in and didn’t know how to do it right. So after a year or two of doing Monday and Thursday night shows, I knew I wanted to go into the radio side full time. Got very lucky to get an opportunity at WWL. Was the beneficiary of nepotism. Beneficiary of a name, which has really paid dividends in my life, so I guess my goal now is recognize I’ve been given a tremendous opportunity that I don’t deserve, and now it’s my responsibility to make the most of it.
JM: Well it goes without saying that you’ve done well for yourself in the radio field. Now you’re on the flagship WWL every week night. Just a name alone doesn’t get you there.
TBH: Thank you man, and that means a lot, but it’s one of those deals where I’ve always been a self-critical person. Throughout football and then I carried that over into my radio life. I’m never quite happy with where I’m at, with where the show is at. I want more, bigger, better. It’s a long road, so we’ll see. We’ll see where this thing eventually ends.
JM: You are of course the co-host of the show with Kristian Garic. What’s he like to work with?
THB: Kristian is the story of a guy just working his way up like a true radio guy. Just grinding away, doing the board operations, producing work in the beginning. He’d get some on-air responsibilities and run with them. Getting the opportunities to report from the sidelines and running with those.
JM: Do you have aspirations beyond radio at this point?
TBH: You know what, I don’t know. I love radio. I know I always want to do radio. A lot of people think radio is like a three-hour job. It’s really not. It’s a full-time job. If you want the show to be right, you have to put a lot of work into it. But, with that being said, I still find myself with time. I still find myself with thoughts. I find myself wanting avenues to explore these thoughts. I’m getting more into writing, or at least I’m trying to. I get on myself or sometimes force myself to write more. I do a couple podcasts now on the NFL and LSU. I’m really enjoying getting to explore more political aspects on air as well on radio. But it’s still all I guess radio related. I don’t really know that I have any TV aspirations. The thing about TV — and I like doing TV because it’s fun and it’s different — but you can’t be as thorough. You can’t be as in-depth. I love conversation and communication. I feel like with language and vocabulary, the deeper you dive the more rewarding it can become and the way that you influence people with inflection and the word choices that you use. I’ve been reading — well, listening, I’m a huge Audible books on tape fan — this book about Julius Caesar and now I’m listening to another on Augustus. The one thing that strikes me throughout all of it is the impact of Roman oratory. The impact of oratory. The ability of words and speech to influence how people think, to influence how people’s actions, it fascinated me. And sort of the reverence they held for the great speech writer like a Cissero. I think it’s incredible. I think it’s really cool. I have aspirations, and not anywhere near that kind of level — I don’t want to be a politician, I don’t have any desires like that — but just the ability to talk to others. I just really cannot get enough of it. Humans, in our DNA, in our core, are social beings. I think we all have — and not everybody, there’s always exceptions — but the vast majority of us have this inherent love of conversation. We like discussing things. We like hearing topics explored. So no matter how things expand digitally, like whatever the future holds, there will always be a venue for that as there always has been. Right? We were just talking about the Romans. Like I said, I just never thought I’d have a job that way. I thought I’d do something for money and I’d be miserable. And I’m still, after a few years of doing it, I’m head over heels in love with this job.