Early in the "Nick" of time

Few receivers in college football history have carried the same credentials to LSU as freshman wideout Early Doucet.

Number one receiver in the nation. Number one athlete in Louisiana. Parade magazine All-American. Top-five prospect by ever major recruiting publication.

A resume like that would automatically make you ‘the man' in your new home, right?

In the words of ESPN analyst Lee Corso – and Doucet himself – "Not so fast, my friend."

"Being a freshman, I'm coming in to learn, I don't expect too much," said Doucet. "These older guys have experience. I need to work on getting off in man coverage, because most college teams play man coverage, and I need to improve my routes and be more consistent.

"I don't want to redshirt, I want to contribute any way I can."

While Doucet may doubt his ability to step up and start right away for the defending National Champions, others within the program have no doubt the preseason hype surrounding the former St. Martinville High School standout, along with fellow newcomers Xavier Carter and Lavelle Hawkins, is every bit warranted.

"The freshman receivers are really starting to make an impact," said head coach Nick Saban. "We've only had them for seven practices, and I can't predict the future, but all three receivers have done an outstanding job and look like they could contribute right away."

Helping Doucet settle in to life under glare of the Tiger Stadium spotlight is sophomore wideout Dwayne Bowe, a fellow receiver who still remembers all too clearly what it feels like to the wide-eyed ‘new kid on the block'. Bowe, the beneficiary of a season spent under the expert tutelage of current Tampa Bay Buccaneer Michael Clayton, has taken it unto himself to pass along the lessons taught to him by the NFL first-round draft pick.

"Michael taught me a lot of things about reading defenses," Bowe said. "The big thing was he taught me to be more physical with my blocks, because if you're physical there then the DB's will respect you a lot more in the passing game."

Being physical is not likely to be a problem for the 6-0, 211-pound Doucet, as the Louisiana native garnered a reputation in high school for being a physicall explosive receiver who could change the complexion of a game with each touch of the football – a trait he fully expects to carry with him into Death Valley when the season opens.

"I like football because it's a physical game," said Doucet. "If they want me blocking that's fine, it's about the total package.

"I'll have to block a lot on the outside, we're got great running backs like Justin Vincent and if I can make my blocks on the outside, it will let those guys do what they're got to do."

The arrival of a team-oriented player like Doucet could not have come at a better time for LSU, as the Tigers will open the 2004 season on September 4 without the services of receiving stalwarts Clayton and Devery Henderson, both now in the NFL with the Buccaneers and the Saints respectively.

Clayton was known for being a fearless route runner who was not afraid of getting physical with defensive backs, while Henderson was a blazing speedster who left defenders in his wake all too often – all traits Doucet possesses, and has used to his full advantage during fall practice where he has joined with Carter and Hawkins to impress the coaches with their ability to haul in any pass that has been thrown their way.

"We've been pleased, they are making progress," said offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher. Some of those freshmen guys are all learning and the last couple of days it's starting to come back to them.

"The competition has been good and that's what's great. They are wanting spots, they want to get out on the field, and the competition is pushing each guy's level of play up every day. I think they are making a lot of progress."

No more Clayton, who accounted for 1,079 yards and ten touchdowns in 2003.

No more Henderson, who hauled in 11 scores, including the ‘Bluegrass Miracle', as the Tigers went 13-1 and lifted the BCS National Championship in 2003.

Enter Doucet, who racked up 7,104 all-purpose yards and 79 touchdowns during his high school career.

Early could not have arrived at a better time.

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