GUILBEAU: D.J. Chark busts out at Senior Bowl “like a Jack in the Box” with MVP performance

MOBILE, Alabama – Surrounded by lights, cameras and reporters after one of the greatest moments of his college career at the NFL weigh station known as the Senior Bowl, LSU wide receiver D.J. Chark remembered the darkest hours.

“I’m not even supposed to be here,” he said below Ladd-Peebles Stadium after winning a share of the MVP award of THE college All-star game with five catches for a career-high 160 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown, a 63-yard grab, a 9-yard reverse and a kickoff tackle in the South’s 45-16 win.

LSU’s other three late additions to the Senior Bowl also performed well. Tailback Darrel Williams gained 20 yards on five carries. And defensive end Christian LaCouture and defensive tackle Greg Gilmore made five and four tackles, respectively, and combined on a sack.

Not all knew what Chark was talking about.

It took Darrell Chark Jr. 15 games at LSU over three seasons to catch the number of passes he did Saturday afternoon. He logged six games in 2014 as a true freshman and five more in 2015 without a reception before he finally got his chance in 2016. Chark signed with LSU in 2014 out of Alexandria Senior High as a three-star prospect – the No. 76 wide receiver in the nation and the No. 22 prospect in the state.

There was not much discussion of him on signing day as the Tigers had signed a pair of national top 10 wide receivers – No. 2 Malachi Dupre of John Curtis in the New Orleans area and No. 10 Trey Quinn of Barbe High in Lake Charles. Already on the LSU team going into 2014 were sophomore Travin Dural and 2013 signee John Diarse, who was the No. 31 receiver in the nation and the No. 10 prospect in Louisiana out of Neville High in Monroe.

LSU signed four more wide receivers in 2015, including the state’s No. 1 prospect in Tyron Johnson – the No. 11 receiver in the nation out of Warren Easton High in New Orleans.

After Chark’s second straight zero-reception season in ’15, LSU signed another three wide receivers in 2016, and all were four stars – No. 19 Drake Davis of The Dunham School in Baton Rouge and the prestigious IMG Academy in Bradenton Florida, No. 33 Dee Anderson DeSoto, Texas, and No. 42 Stephen Sullivan of Donaldsonville.

But Chark waited. And Chark stuck.

After the 2015 season, Quinn transferred to SMU, and Diarse transferred to TCU. Johnson decided to also transfer as the 2016 season approached and left for Oklahoma State. Two other receivers from LSU’s 2015 class – Brandon Martin and Jazz Ferguson – also transferred.

Chark caught 26 passes for 466 yards and three touchdowns in 2016. In 2017, he went to Southeastern Conference Media Days as LSU’s top returning receiver. Dupre had led LSU in receiving in 2016 as a junior, but he mistakenly entered the NFL Draft a year early amid low projections. And he was not selected until the seventh round by Green Bay. He was then cut before catching on with Buffalo.

Chark caught 38 passes for 874 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Tigers in receiving in 2017. He also became the first LSU player to return two punts for touchdowns in the same season since now-NFL star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in 2012. Chark caught a career-high five passes for a career-high 150 yards in the win over Auburn and returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown.

He became LSU’s lone original invite to the prestigious and 69th annual Senior Bowl.

Chark could go as high as the second round of the NFL Draft in April.

“He’s a solid second round pick projection,” NFL Draft expert Mike Detillier of WWL Radio in New Orleans said. “He’s a big man receiver (6-foot-2.5) with agility and run away skills. He had a strong week in Mobile. He’s improved greatly as a route runner. He’s feast or famine on punt returns, so he has to improve in that area.”

The last LSU receiver to go as high as the second round was Jarvis Landry as the No. 63 pick in 2014 to Miami.

Had Quinn, Diarse or Johnson stayed at LSU, or had Dupre stayed another year, Chark may never have played that much in ’16 or ’17 and may never have made it to Mobile. He would not have become the first Alexandria native from LSU to reach the Senior Bowl. The only previous two LSU players from his immediate area to do so were defensive end Kenny Mixon of Pineville in 1998 and cornerback Chris Williams of Tioga in 1981.

“I had a pretty difficult journey to get here,” Chark said. “If you know my story, it took a while for me to get a chance to make some plays. But everything is happening now. This is definitely up there with the top that I ever played. And I’m really just soaking it all in right now.”

Chark even let himself dance in the end zone after that 75-yard touchdown catch.

“I’ve been wanting to do that dance for four years,” he said. “Can’t celebrate in college, so the first time I got a touchdown here I could celebrate. So I had to pull it out. It’s my little cat dance, man. I’m mimicking a cat. Man, somebody showed me that in high school. Hey, I thought it was the silliest thing I ever saw. So I was like, ‘One day, I’m going to do this in front of a camera.’ So I was able to get the opportunity to do it.”

Senior Bowl director Phil Savage said to dance on.

“I’m real excited for D.J.,” he said. “He’s like a Jack in the Box. He’s been just waiting to spring to life as a receiver for years. He waited for two years before caught a pass at LSU. He has great straight line speed, and he was able to show that on two long plays. This will give him the confidence to keep on going.”

Chark will not have to wait long for his next opportunity. He has been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in late February.

“The biggest thing is I just feel like I showed that I’m willing to compete anywhere on the field,” Chark said. “I feel like I have a good chance of making plays anywhere. I feel like an NFL team is going to get a guy that’s going to compete and be a playmaker no matter where I’m at on the field – special teams, offense, kickoff, punt, punt return, anywhere. I’ll go in and do my best.”

Chark is serious about special teams coverage, by the way.

Despite the five catches, including the 75- and 63-yarders and the reverse run, he was most proud of his special teams tackle – the first of his career.

“I said I really wanted to make plays on special teams,” he said, but most thought he was talking about returns. “I finally got my first tackle. And that’s the highlight of my day right there. I told everybody on kickoff, ‘If I get one kickoff, I was going to make the tackle.’ And I was able to do it.”

Suddenly, Chark has gone from nowhere to everywhere.

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Glenn Guilbeau

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