LSU Preview 2001: TEs

These days, it seems there are as many college football pundits as there are theories on the assassination of JFK. Separately boiled down, they both usually lead to the same conclusion. Such is the case with these pre-season gridiron experts and LSU tight end Robert Royal — they're already saying this year is Royal's "money season."

After all, the fifth-year senior enjoyed a highlight-filled performance in 2000, and he has stayed in Baton Rouge to work out and brush up on his game for most of the summer rather than going home to relax in New Orleans.

You might expect that Royal is doing all this to improve his chances for professional football. Although that's a factor, you might be surprised to learn that he'd rather see his team have a successful season than achieve more personal accolades.

"Whatever it takes for me to help my team win, I'll do it," he said. "It doesn't matter if Eric (Edwards), or Joe Domingeaux, or Marcus Spears or any of the incoming freshmen get in the game. I'll still cheer them on.

"It really doesn't matter who's in the game. I'll just be happy if we win it."

In between a scintillating fall and this summer, Royal joined the John Brady's basketball team shortly after LSU two-guard Lamont Roland tore his ACL on Jan. 6. He played in a total of five games, averaging two points and 1.2 rebounds in 7.4 minutes off the bench. Royal missed two games in between because of the ankle injury, which he sustained in the Tigers' Peach Bowl victory over Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Royal left the team in January to recover from an ankle injury he aggravated during the basketball season, spend more time on football practice this April and ensure that he would get his degree on time. He's a positive result of Prop 48, which allows partial qualifiers to play a fifth year in college if they earn their undergraduate degrees in four years. Royal did just that.

Royal, quarterback Rohan Davey and middle linebacker Treverance Faulk were named team captains for the 2001 season.

Behind Royal at tight end is Edwards, who is now a sophomore. Plenty have predicted stardom for Edwards since he arrived on campus in '99. It's easy to see why. Given a few opportunities last fall, Edwards displayed sure hands and, from time to time, an uncommon way of carrying tacklers on his way to long gains (his rumbling 32-yard score against Ole Miss being one example).

Edwards entered spring practice looking to improve on his redshirt freshman season, when he caught five passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns.

Instead, patella tendonitis shortened his work in spring drills. Though he did practice occasionally in a t-shirt and shorts, Edwards was largely held out as a precautionary measure. He should return to action in the fall, when he and Royal might make for the best tandem of pass-catching tight ends in the Southeastern Conference.

Domingeaux, a tight end known more for his blocking skills than his pass receiving, lined up as a fullback on several occasions during the 2000 season. Many thought Saban might move him to the position in the spring, but he stayed at his old position.

The Tigers are deep at tight end, but don't underestimate Domingeaux's lunch-pail role on offense or special teams, or his part as a five-year veteran of the program.

Selfless and self-disciplined, Domingeaux is the perfect complement to Royal, the fellow senior with whom he shares a hotel rooms during the Tigers' road ventures.

"The attitude has been great. Everybody's been working toward (this) season," Royal says.

"We always try to have a winning season, first of all. After that, eight wins are not enough. We're going out there, trying to work hard. That way, we can try to reach that goal and go higher than eight wins. And even though the Peach Bowl was a great bowl, we would like to go to a bigger one. We're just out there working our tails off, and hopefully something will work out good for us this season."

IN 2000: Royal, Edwards and Domingeaux combined to catch 28 passes for 478 yards and eight touchdowns. Five of the eight scores were by Royal, setting a new record for touchdowns by an LSU tight end.

IN 2001: Once again, the Tigers can stake claim to the best group of tight ends in the Southeastern Conference. That's not counting the three they signed in February: David Jones, Kory Hebert and Marcus Spears.

ON THE SPOT: Edwards. He sat out most of spring practice because of his injury, so he needs to prove he is all the way back and that the coaching staff merely held him out for precautionary reasons.

THE X-FACTOR: The freshmen. Are any of LSU's three rookies so good that it warrants them playing right away? Or will they all take redshirts for the sake of the future, as Edwards did in 1999?

LITTLE-KNOWN FACT: Saying he "is an all-around athlete who might have to add some weight," The Sporting News has already proclaimed Royal as the best tight-end prospect for the 2002 NFL Draft.

PRE-SEASON GRADE: A.

QUOTABLE: "In '97, we would get rings for whichever bowl you went to. Now we strictly get rings for championships. That's just due to the different coaching styles." — Robert Royal


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