Q: Take us back to your tight end days in high school. Was it just a way to get you on the field as an extra offensive lineman?
A: Originally, I was tall and lanky playing tight end and was more of an athletic guy. I played tight end my freshman year and did real well, so when I came up they just left me at tight end because the senior tight end from the year before had left. There was an open spot when I was a sophomore, so I started there right away.
Q: When your name started surfacing as a recruit, the sentence always ended with "a tight end who will be an offensive lineman in college." When did you realize that your future would be as a lineman?
A: Me and some of the coaches here used to joke around when I (visited) here because I used to think I would play tight end and they knew I'd play tackle. I eventually knew I'd play tackle in college because I knew I could put on size. I knew I could put a lot of weight on my body and play tackle.
Q: What were your expectations as a true freshman? You were highly touted but there were some very experienced players ahead of you.
A: My expectations were to come in and compete to be a backup – not necessarily to make the depth chart but to maybe get in the game. If something happened, I could be in there.
My true freshman year, I don't feel like it was a good year for me. I don't feel like I progressed that much. I don't know what it was. I don't think my attitude coming in was that good. I think I was a little worried about not being able to compete, even though I could. It was kind of a thing with myself; I don't think I competed that well as a freshman.
In the spring, I woke up and realized I could do this – stuff like that. I think a lot of freshmen question themselves when they first get here. Coming from West Monroe, I never pass blocked in my life. That's 75 percent of college football – knowing how to pass block. That was a big thing to learn and get confident with. It took a while to learn that and get my freshman year under my belt. I really enjoyed the fact that I had a redshirt year.
Q: Coach Saban says pretty much the same thing – the best thing that could have happened for you was a redshirt year, allowing you to learn without the pressure of playing.
A: That's pretty much how the year went. I traveled (with the team) but I pretty much knew I was going to redshirt unless something crazy happened. It was a good chance for me to learn stuff that goes on – traveling, getting in the game routine, meetings. It was a great learning experience for me.
Q: After your good spring, there was a good chance for you to challenge for a starting spot – at the least see significant playing time. But then Kade Comeaux gets ill and Brad Smalling decides to quit. Where you caught off guard when you realized you'd be the starter?
A: I'd say caught off guard would describe the things that happened to them. I was more caught off guard that I'd plan on coming in for a three-man competition at the position. Then it was like, wow, you're thrown in there. It was kind of a shocker.
I completely wish those guys would be here because I think having more guys there who are at your talent level…having more experienced guys there, pushes you further. Not having them really hurts us.
Q: What was the thing you remember most when you learned that without those guys, you'd be the starter come Sept. 1?
A: The first thought was "wow." It wasn't about who's going to mess up more (in a three-man competition). It was that I can't mess up. I'm the man right now playing. Maybe a freshman would come in and compete for the role, but pretty much it was all on me. Before it was a position for an upperclassman to take, and now it was mine to take and hold on to. I guess the feeling was good, excitement, a lit bit nervous you could say.
Q: Did it get worse as the Virginia Tech game got closer?
A: It got worse. But I was just more excited to get on the field because it had been so long since I had played. In high school, with (West Monroe) being so successful, I played 60 games - which is probably 20 more than your average high school player plays. …I was just excited to play in a game again.
Q: You were one of the few bright spots for LSU against Virginia Tech. Was being so excited a big part of that?
A: I don't know if that was a part of it or that I played a good game as a part of being scared not to play a good game. I'm not sure which is which. The four guys I play beside helped me out and pointed the way for me. They helped out by being veterans and knowing the game. It's pretty easy for me to go in there and do what they do, just follow their lead.
Q: You hear about quarterbacks, pitchers and basketball players getting in "the zone." Does a zone exist for offensive linemen?
A: As an offensive lineman, I really think you do have to be in the zone because your attention and focus usually needs to be more than at most other positions. You're thinking: "I have this person if this happens, but if this happens…" You have a lot of thought processes you have to go through on the line. I think on the offensive line you have to have focus - or intensity as we call it – a total focus and concentration on the task at hand.
Q: How much help was offensive line coach George Yarno in helping you turn on the light in your first year here?
A: I'd say he's been unbelievable in helping me learn the game. He's an awesome coach. He teaches you every aspect of the game and is very inspiring. He's great at getting us pumped up for the games and getting us ready to play – letting us know all the little things…not just learning what to do but why to do it.
Q: Your old high school teammate Rodney Reed played your position last year and is now on the other side of the line. How much help do you get from him?
A: He helped out a lot. We roomed together last year and we played alongside each other in high school, so we've always been real close. We're from the same neighborhood and have always been together.
…He pretty much did most of his helping with me last year. With me on the sidelines telling him little things I saw him doing, he told me why he did that. Playing beside (Stephen) Peterman, who's a great guy and a great football player, really helps out.