Shortly after spring practice concluded for the LSU football team four months ago, Tiger Rag gave a brief rundown on selected players and how they performed during the month of April.
One of the players we profiled was Elice Parker, a Zachary native who spent time in the Marine Corps before he came back to Louisiana a few years ago. We noted that Parker may take on more responsibilities this fall, as he moved to fullback in the spring and continued with his reliable work on special teams.
"If nothing else, it's fun to watch Parker, an ex-Marine, knowing he puts forth so much effort without reaping much recognition," our story stated.
Soon after the story ran, executive editor Greg LaRose received a letter from Oceanside, Calif., hand-written by Cpl. James Meredith, a devoted LSU fan and a nephew of the late Gov. John J. McKeithen.
A loyal subscriber (Meredith even took his latest issue with him as he stood guard on the U.S.S. Cole just days after it was bombed), Meredith was thrilled to learn that he and Parker had a common bond. But Meredith also felt it was his duty to politely inform us about a small error in our summary.
"Once a Marine, always a Marine," he noted. "I have made the same mistake same mistake several times and … I have been corrected by some of the most intimidating people I have ever seen. Even more intimidating than Shaq."
So we stand corrected.
Since Meredith's letter arrived, Parker and the rest of the Tiger running backs have been beefing up in the weight room, presumably looking forward to the thought of intimidating linebackers throughout the Southeastern Conference.
If you stretch your imagination just a little, you can surmise that the entire group of LSU running backs has the same militaristic attitude: Establishing the ground attack and helping the LSU Tigers win football games this season.
They begin with sophomore tailback with LaBrandon Toefield. Two years removed from competitive football, he had a brilliant camp last August and ended up as the Tigers' No. 1 tailback by the fist game of the season. His personal highlights included gaining 119 yards against Mississippi State, including the game-winning 13-yard touchdown on a toss sweep in overtime.
"I'm not one of those shake-and-bake type of guys," Toefield said. "I'm more of just a power back, just straight up and down."
Toefield left the field against Mississippi after he suffered a sprained left MCL in the first quarter and couldn't return. That's when Domanick Davis, LSU's second tailback, proved what most fans already knew: That he's an SEC-caliber runner. In a cold, ugly setting, Davis ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns in addition to his role as the Tigers' kick-return specialist.
Regularly spelling Toefield for the entire year, Davis tallied 445 yards on 123 carries. He will also play in the defensive secondary this season in a further display of his versatility.
"He may not be playing all the time on either side of the ball, so it would be a little easier to manage him into the game," Saban said. "He's made a significant amount of progress as a DB, and I think he can contribute in both areas to our team."
In addition to Davis, sophomore speedburner Devery Henderson also expects to see plenty of action on the field this season — either out of the backfield or as a receiver. Henderson, who also runs 100- and 200-meter races for the LSU men's track team, worked extensively with the Tiger wideouts during the spring. As he continues to learn, expect him to come in motion out of the backfield and also work in the slot.
"Devery's going to be the kind of guy where we give him the 2-yard dump pass and he takes it 98 yards," said quarterback Rohan Davey. "That's the type of speed he has."
When he was able to put that speed to use last season, Henderson ran 23 times for 131 yards, including a 32-yard blast in the season opener against Western Carolina.
"He just bursts," Davey said. "He can hit his top speed so quick. Devery's just going to give us another dimension in the fall as a deep-ball, go-getter type of guy."
But LSU's depth at tailback doesn't stop there.
Derron Parquet came to TigerTown from Archbishop Rummel last season after setting the all-time rushing record for the New Orleans Catholic League. According to SuperPrep, we was the No. 2 running back prospect in the entire South.
With all the publicity he'd received, Parquet, like many newcomers, was disheartened when he realized he wouldn't become a superstar right away. That wasn't lost on Saban.
"It was sort of sad, really," Saban said of Parquet's first year. "He was really hard on himself. He believed that nothing was good enough until he was the starting tailback at LSU."
Three more tailbacks — Shyrone Carey, Joseph Addai and Ryan Gilbert — signed with LSU in February.
Carey's grades, of course, will keep him from being eligible this season.
Addai and Gilbert will more than likely receive redshirts, barring mishaps or injuries to the others. (In the SEC, that's never out of the question. Arkansas went through Cedric Cobbs, Fred Talley Alvin Ray and Brandon Holmes because of injuries.)
At fullback, the graduations of Tommy Banks and Michael Lillie left a void. Former H-back Solomon Lee, former linebacker Ryan O'Neal and former tailback Parker filled that vacancy in the spring my making their respective switches.
The 228-pound Parker was the most impressive of the three. Also playing at tailback, he finished up another solid April when he led the White team with 35 yards rushing in the Spring Game.
"Elice's got really good running skills, but he's a little bit undersized to play the position and be the jackhammer type of guy that Tommy Banks was," Saban said. "He brings a lot of running ability, a lot of speed and quickness, and he has made a lot of improvement."
That's been a nice surprise for Parker, who couldn't realistically expect to play much when he walked on to the team in 1999. But by all accounts, he never gave much thought to walking away from the LSU football program. It's just not in his pedigree.
Once a Tiger, always a Tiger.
IN 2000: Three returning tailbacks — Toefield, Davis and Henderson — combined for 1,243 yards rushing. Altogether, the Tigers ran for 1,442 total yards and averaged 131.1 per contest, which was ninth-best in the SEC. Only Kentucky and Vanderbilt, with nine and eight rushing touchdowns, respectively, scored fewer times on the ground than LSU, which scored 13.
IN 2001: This season's numbers will probably include Parquet, who made 11 carries before taking a redshirt last season. Parquet had a solid spring and can be relied upon for spot duty. According to The Sporting News, LSU's group of backs is the third-best in the SEC heading into the fall.