Prude settling in as starting CB

LSU senior defensive back Ronnie Prude missed a crucial practice on August 11 during which his teammates worked out in full pads for the first time in fall camp.

And LSU head coach Les Miles couldn't have been happier.

 

Prude, along with fellow seniors Kevin Steltz, fullback, and Shyrone Carey, tailback, participated in graduation ceremonies that day and were allowed to spend some time away from the football field with family and friends and reflect upon their victories in the classroom.

 

"Frankly, the mission statement of the program is to graduate every member we have in the program," Miles said. "Those guys taking part in those services is the right message and the right thing and I'm very proud of them."

 

Prude's eyes beamed and his smile widened as reporters asked him how he felt about receiving his degree in communications and what he plans to do with the knowledge and experience gained in his four years in the classroom.

 

He also reflected on how remarkable it was to even get this point in his academic career, with a degree in hand and moving on to graduate school in the fall, especially considering he entered LSU in 2001 as a partial qualifier and had to sit out the season while trying to improve his grades.

 

Then, he changed the subject back to football, recalling that the classroom isn't the only place where he's faced spots of adversity and been forced to overcome.

 

"When you're playing defensive back and you're out there on the island by yourself, everybody sees it," Prude said. "Everybody sees when you mess up."

 

Ironically, the play that made Prude feel the most isolated last season was one nobody really saw.

 

Prude played extensively on special teams for the 2004 Tigers, as well as playing both cornerback and safety at times, and was one of the most aggressive and fastest players on kickoff and punt coverage.

 

He was lined up behind the defensive front on point-after coverage with 1:14 remaining in the game last year at Auburn after Auburn had scored the tying touchdown on a 16-yard pass. Prude was awaiting the opportunity to try to block an extra point that would give the hometown Tigers their first lead of the game, and more than likely, the win.

 

The PAT attempt from John Vaughn sailed wide left and LSU fans breathed an exaggerated sigh of relief as the score remained tied 9-9. But, a conspicuous yellow rag lay on the field and the referee stepped forward and, in one of the most controversial penalty calls of the 2004 season, blamed Prude for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for leverage, saying he used one of his teammates to boost himself over the line to try and block the kick.

 

Television replays showed over and over that Prude had simply landed on one of his teammates and had done nothing malicious enough to warrant the penalty. But, the call had been made and Auburn received another opportunity to take the lead, which it did successfully. LSU lost the game 10-9 and Prude and his teammates walked off the field bitter and disconsolate.

 

"I was pretty much very angry when that play happened," he said. "But you can't keep that kind of stuff inside if you want to be a good player. You got to let it go and move on."

 

Prude said his way of moving on last year was to play hard at any position the team needed. After coming to LSU in 2001 as a highly-touted receiver out of Shreveport's Fair Park High School, he was moved to defensive back in 2002, like a host of Tigers who were asked by former LSU coach Nick Saban to play different roles than they played in high school.

 

In 2004, he filled in as the starting cornerback for an injured Corey Webster against both Florida and Troy and started as the nickel back in LSU's five defensive back scheme against Auburn. He finished the season with 28 total tackles and one interception.

 

Last year's fill-in role is this year's full-time position for Prude as he's been at the top of the depth chart at left cornerback since spring practice after being granted a fifth year of eligibility from the NCAA to compensate for the games he missed as a freshman. The fifth season wouldn't have been an option had Prude failed to graduate on time.

 

Prude said he understands how difficult many believe it will be for him to fill the void left by the departure of an All-American like Webster. The Tigers must also replace right cornerback Travis Daniels, who, like Webster, finished his eligibility last season and moved on to the NFL.

 

"I really don't see too many differences in talent between last year's defense and this year's defense," Prude said. "We had great cornerbacks last year and we have great cornerbacks now. The guys on the other side are young but they're very talented and this is giving them a chance to step up."

 

Prude said he has embraced the opportunity as the "old guy" in the backfield to lead and teach the younger players. Sophomore Chevis Jackson and senior Mario Stevenson, who has been with the Tigers for just two seasons after transferring from Northeast Mississippi Junior College, are the two most likely candidates to play opposite Prude when the season starts.

 

"A lot of the young guys look up to me and I'm proud of that," he said. "This is my fifth year and I should be expected to be a leader. I wouldn't trade where I am right now. I'm glad I moved from receiver to defensive back. It's going to be a challenge this year because teams are going to go after us because they believe we will be weaker than we were last year. I'm looking forward to that challenge."

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