By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Frank Herron is poised to go where no member of his family has gone before: graduation.
The fifth-year senior defensive end will officially graduate from LSU at a ceremony Friday morning after finishing the requisite coursework to receive a degree in interdisciplinary studies over the summer.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron announced the news in a congratulatory tweet days ago, accompanied by a picture of Herron holding up his No. 97 jersey adorned with an “SEC Graduate” patch.
“It was amazing,” Herron said. “Being the first one in my family is a tremendous blessing. It’s like I set the foundation for everyone in my whole family because I’m the first one to graduate college. I’m the first one to go to college.”
It’s not a moment that the Memphis native was ever sure would happen.
By his own admission, Herron had a lot of maturing to do from the time he stepped on campus in 2013 through the moment he walks across that stage Friday.
He was suspended from the 2016 season opener against Wisconsin for a violation of team rules. The reserve defensive end then missed LSU’s trip to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl due to an academic issue, according to Orgeron.
That could’ve been the end of his LSU career, but Herron returned in the spring ready to work and got his grades in order.
Now, no matter what happens this season, he’ll be a college graduate forever.
“Everyone on the team and coaching staff congratulated me,” Herron said Wednesday. “It felt like a relief, like you finally get that piece of paper that nobody can take away from you. Also you can just worry about football.”
His outlook on the field is looking brighter, too.
Orgeron raved about Herron during the spring and singled him out Monday as one of LSU’s standouts from the first practice of training camp.
“I thought Frank Herron came in in tremendous shape,” the coach said. “It’s probably in the best shape he’s been in. He had a tremendous day today.”
Though he won’t be a starter — those titles belong to fellow graduate Christian LaCouture and ascending sophomore Rashard Lawrence — Herron figures to be the first man off the bench in a rotation that figures to be much deeper up front than it was last season.
Coach Pete Jenkins has been utilizing a three-man rotation across the line, Herron said, and the veteran has been taking reps at both defensive end spots. Freshmen Glen Logan, Neil Farrell and Justin Thomas are in that mix, too.
“Wherever they need me at,” Herron said. “We’re deep, and we’ve got a rotation. Last year we weren’t that deep. It was me, Lewis (Neal), (Davon) Godchaux and Greg (Gilmore). Rashard would rotate in, and that was about it.”
Herron will take a brief recess from the grind Friday morning to celebrate one of life’s milestone accomplishments. He said his mother, Wanlisha Hawkins, will be there with her entire side of the family, plus some relatives from his dad’s side as well.
“I’m very excited,” Herron smiled from ear to ear. “A lot of people are coming. And the coaching staff, if they’ve got time, they’re going to come. A lot of LSU people will be there. Coach O? He’ll probably sneak in there too.”
Expect a lot of smiles in that room when Herron gets his piece of paper.
Those close to him know full well how far he’s had to come to get it.