By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
It’s a quiet August evening at an understated local dive bar when suddenly a herd of massive human beings begin to stream through the door.
Somebody should warn the kitchen: LSU’s complete host of offensive linemen have arrived for 50 Cent Wing Night and it’s time to kick production into overdrive.
Starters and walk-ons alike refueled on sizeable wings served in increments of five after a long ‘Turnover Wednesday’ practice of diving on top of loose footballs.
Walk-on Turner Simmers continued to catch grief for his epic fail in the fumble drill that afternoon. Video of him trying to corral the proverbial greased pig set to sad music by former Tiger turned radio host T-Bob Hebert went viral overnight.
Some of the players got up and played some pool. Others stayed firmly planted, forming a protective pocket around their poultry.
“Most guys are just focused on the wings when we go,” said center Will Clapp, who claimed his record on the felt is well north of .500. “There’s not many that are willing to leave the table.”
Those who were there say not a scrap of meat was left on the bone. No official body count was taken, but Justin Mikush, another walk on, led the group at 30 wings.
No wonder they call him ‘Tow Truck Driver.’
“Big Tow murders it,” center Will Clapp laughed. “He probably puts down at least 20 of them on a light night.”
“That was pretty serious,” right tackle Toby Weathersby added. “A 30-piece and fries.”
It’s all part of building chemistry and cohesion for the position group that places the greatest emphasis on both. Football doctrine says that five solid linemen working as one in perfect harmony will outperform a more talented unit that doesn’t understand how to work in lockstep.
From the outside, one would assume LSU must be behind in this pivotal process. Starting right guard Maea Teuhema abruptly transferred at the start of training camp and three starters — Clapp, Weathersby and K.J. Malone — missed practice time while battling injuries.
Those on the inside insist LSU’s communication is right where it needs to be despite all the shuffling early in camp.
“We’re coming together and getting more chemistry,” right guard Lloyd Cushenberry said. “It’s just about being around each other every day. The more practice, the more comfortable we feel around each other.”
Offensive lines are always among the tightest units on a team, and this LSU group is no different.
Veterans Malone, Clapp, Weathersby and Garrett Brumfield have played a lot of football together in three years as teammates.
They say underclassmen like Cushenberry, Ed Ingram, Austin Deculus and Saahdiq Charles have fit right into the group by working hard and asking lots of questions.
Walk-on linemen at LSU have long received various nicknames that are generally related to vehicles. What’s different this camp is that injuries to some of the 11 scholarship players meant the likes of ‘Tow Truck Driver’ and ‘Bus Driver’ (real name: Michael Smith) took reps with the second-team line.
“We’re real close,” Weathersby said. “We’ve got to be.”
Cheap wings aren’t the only thing that brings the linemen together away from the football field. They’ve become inseparable, often convening and one of their apartments after practice.
The bonds have grown stronger since the group took a trip to Clapp’s family lake house in False River back in July.
What’s become an annual summer event began with Clapp inviting the other linemen to a family party during his freshman year.
This year he decided to shake things up and invite the entire offense from starters to specialists out on the lake for a day of fun in the sun.
“Just a fun day to bond with everybody and have a good time,” Clapp said. “It’s about the comradery and being able to mess with everybody. It’s all just fun stuff like that. Making memories and everybody feeling closer.”
Those who stayed in town for the summer showed up eat, ride jet skis and tube on the lake. Mikush, the wing king, tried a backflip off the dock that turned into a back flop. Malone videoed the crash landing of a dive and shared it with the world via twitter.
Many of the 300-plus pounders deemed it best to keep both feet firmly on dry land and concentrate on what really matters.
“I stayed on the docks because I can’t swim, so I just let them have all the fun and ate the food,” Weathersby smiled.
Not every team building exercise requires exercise.