LSU fourth-year junior defensive lineman Tyler Shelvin is used to taking up space and lots of it.
The 346-pound nose tackle was at his unselfish best during last season’s 15-0 run to a national championship, making a living in the defense occupying as many offensive linemen as possible and freeing up the Tigers’ linebackers to make plays.
These days, though, during the coronavirus pandemic where LSU’s campus has essentially become a ghost town and students have either moved off campus or back home, Shelvin finds himself quarantined in an off-campus apartment. He’s taking his classes online, studying video clips of the team’s new defense and remaining as active as possible within his tight new confines.
“I’m just taking it day by day,” Shelvin said. “I just hope everything goes back to normal. It’s starting to get kind of boring. Hopefully, we can get back together as a unit together. We’re mostly split up.”
LSU completed its magical season of perfection with a 42-25 College Football Playoff national championship game victory over Clemson in Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, the Tigers were feted at the White House by President Donald Trump. Then came a hero’s welcome with an on-campus parade and filled-to-the-brim celebration for the team in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“It almost brought tears to my eyes,” Shelvin said of his emotions at the realization of winning a national championship, which his first team title at any level of competition. “We all talked about it and that was the next step. We just have to get another one; the put the other one behind us. It was fun but we have more work to do. We have something to prove.”
Returning players such as Shelvin, who decided to return for his junior season, began transitioning to the 2020 season that included the arduous Fourth Quarter Program with the January and February conditioning work and weightlifting expected to lay the foundation for the start of spring training.
That’s the juncture where Shelvin began to mentally shift gears to the season ahead, choosing only to use last season’s title as a catalyst rather than to continue savoring in the moment.
“I moved on from soaking in the championship,” he said. “Hopefully we can do it again. Get a repeat.”
Three practices into the start of spring drills the coronavirus health scare forced LSU to move rapidly, cancelling the remaining 12 practices and spring game. Because of the on-campus facilities were also shut down, players didn’t have access to lifting weights or conditioning.
Non-international students were ordered to vacate their on-campus housing and asked to either move into off-campus accommodations or back home and conclude the academic semester taking classes online.
“I’m self-quarantined, not going out too much,” Shelvin said. “I’m doing work and staying inside. It’s kind of weird with everything (academically) online, but they still make sure we do everything from class work to tutors and tests. It’s all working out.”
Shelvin said there’s still a level of accountability amongst players to try and remain in as good a shape possible, a combination of being active and eating healthy, to going over practice video from the spring.
LSU’s coaching staff submits clips from spring practice for players to watch. For Shelvin, if there’s something that needs to be tweaked in his technique, he can have someone video him working on those corrections to send back to either head coach Ed Orgeron or position coach Bill Johnson.
The Tigers are also transitioning to a new 4-3 defense under first-year defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, taking the place of the 3-4 utilized under former coordinator Dave Aranda, now the head coach at Baylor.
“You have to stay on task doing something,” he said. “We can video chat with a coach, go over the plays.”
To get a better gauge of Shelvin’s value to last year’s LSU defense, consider these statistics.
Five of the Tigers top six tacklers were linebackers, a direct correlation to Shelvin being able to routinely handle double-team blocks, enabling teammates such as projected first-round NFL draft picks Patrick Queen or K’Lavon Chaisson to pile up tackles.
“I thought I did excellent,” Shelvin said of his sophomore season. “I think I helped out a lot our linebackers. I think I was able to go above and beyond. I don’t look for a lot of credit. I just stay humble and know what I have to do.”
Shelvin, who made four tackles in six games in 2018, started in 13 of 14 games last season with 39 tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage.
During a final stretch of the national championship game when LSU scored the last 17 points, the Tigers’ defense limited Clemson to only eight second-half points, forcing four punts and a fumble on their last five possessions.
“That game was fun,” Shelvin said. “We started off a little slow, but after halftime we all settled down and got into our groove and just went out and dominated.”
Shelvin also took great pride in the defense’s performance during the final stages of the season to reach the national title game.
LSU limited Texas A&M to 169 total yards, including 72 rushing yards on 26 attempts, in a 50-7 runaway in the regular season finale in Tiger Stadium. The Tigers followed that with a stifling performance against Georgia, yielding a mere 61 yards rushing in 25 attempts in a 37-10 SEC championship game victory.
Moreover, LSU’s defense held Oklahoma to its lowest rushing output in three years (97 yards on 28 carries) in a 63-28 CFP semifinal blowout over the Sooners, who finished with 322 yards.
“To me all the big games were great,” Shelvin said. “I stayed true to myself and focused on the task at hand. There were times where I was out there a lot, but I survived. I hit a humble stage and a focus stage. Knowing what I had to do get where I’ve got to get. It was a fun season.”
Shelvin, who was redshirted as a true freshman in 2017, said after the season he discussed his options of whether to return to LSU or bypass his remaining two years of eligibility and enter the NFL draft with Orgeron. They both agreed it was in Shelvin’s best interest to return for his junior season because he’s expected to a leader on the defensive line along with fifth-year senior Glen Logan.
“Last year I wasn’t a leader, but a guy that you could look up to on the field,” Shelvin said. “I just played my role and let the seniors do their thing and I also did mine. This year I’m playing the role that I’m supposed to be playing as a leader and stepping up. Do what I’ve got to do and make sure everybody’s in line.”