Freshman get first taste of Ponderosa

Media members who attended LSU's first spring practice session April 2 saw a chipper head coach in Nick Saban, who looked thrilled to be teaching the game again after a layoff of more than three months.

Media members who attended Saban's press conference following Tuesday's first practice session this fall, a gathering of 29 newcomers to his football program, heard him reveal his feelings on hitting the Ponderosa after another long layoff.

"Practice is my favorite thing," he said after the first practice. "I love the teaching aspect of coaching. We try to expose them to as many things as we can from a teaching standpoint. I enjoy it very much."

As lightning mixed with dark clouds began to fill the Baton Rouge skies shortly before 1 p.m., Saban took the Tigers' first fall practice of 2001 to the LSU indoor practice facility — which was sort of unfortunate, given the new setting on Skip Bertman Drive. A new fence now surrounds the outdoor practice fields (save for the east side, which still awaits a wooden wall), and the grass outside was in top condition. 

Inside, the LSU rookies finished off a two-hour workout that laid the foundation for their future routine.

"We had a good work day," Saban said. "It was disappointing that we had to come inside. … These kids, they have a lot of anxiety. It's important for them to get into a comfort level as for as where they practice, where they go, what they do."

Saban said he was happy with the offensive and linemen in camp, which should help with LSU's depth along the trenches. Offensively, the Tigers basically got by with eight men available in the trenches.

From a raw, physical standpoint, offensive linemen Ben Wilkerson and Andrew Whitworth were perhaps the most striking figures. Wilkerson, a center by pedigree, was listed at 275 pounds on Signing Day, but was generally estimated closer to 260 by most recruiting services. The time he spent working out in Baton Rouge during the summer has helped Wilkerson fill out his frame to the aforementioned 275. Whitworth, who is tentatively listed as a tackle, checked in at 315 pounds with very little visible body fat.

Defensively, Marquise Hill impressed onlookers with his physical condition. LSU lists him at 290 pounds, which is a bit lighter than his playing weight last fall at De La Salle.

"I was especially pleased with the quality of big people," Saban said. "Last year we severely lacked quality big people in our recruiting class. It's good to have those kind of athletes around to work with and develop."

Together, the new group of Tigers — consisting of 21 scholarship freshmen, six invited walk-ons and two junior college signees — went through team and individual drills, with managers and coaches filling in as position players when necessary.

Compared to full-squad practices, the LSU coaching staff has tried to slow the pace for the four newcomers-only drills.

"I know everyone is swimming around a bit mentally out there," Saban said. "Every drill is a new drill for them. Every call they get is a new call and every key they get is a new key. They're really just overwhelmed between the anxiety and all the new things that are happening to them. That's the toughest thing about being a freshmen."

Along drills, plays and everything else the coaches have begun to instill, the freshmen and two juniors also learned something else Tuesday.

"We learned the (LSU) fight song today," Saban said. "It's our tradition to sing the fight song after every win and teach it to the incoming freshmen after the first practice of the year. I hope we'll be singing it a lot this year."

The 29 beginners were scheduled to a second practice at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, which was closed to the media. Two more sessions will follow Wednesday before the varsity players report Thursday.

Full-squad practices begin with two sessions Saturday.

Tiger Blitz Top Stories