Building the Future

Since the turn of the century, one of the most intriguing positions in LSU football has been quarterback.

In 2001, Rohan Davey – a Jamaican-born 6-foot-2, 245-pound gunslinger – gave Tiger fans the most memorable aerial performance in LSU history.

A backup to Herb Tyler, Craig Nall and Josh Booty during his first three seasons in Baton Rouge, Davey was handed the reigns during his senior campaign. 3,347 yards later, Davey stood alone as the most prolific passer in LSU history.

In 1997, Matt Mauck committed to Michigan State head coach Nick Saban. The Jasper, Ind. native opted instead to sign with the Chicago Cubs – where he spent three seasons. When 2000 rolled around, Mauck caught back up with Saban, who was now the headman at LSU.

After he redshirted during the 2000 season, Mauck saw limited snaps behind Davey in 2001. His first significant action came in the Southeastern Conference Championship game, where Mauck came off the bench to replace an injured Davey. The redshirt freshman ran for two touchdowns en route to a come-from-behind 31-20 victory over No. 2 Tennessee.

After leading the Tigers to a 5-1 start in 2002, Mauck suffered a broken foot. With Mauck missing, the Tigers won just three of their final eight games.

In 2003, Mauck returned to lead LSU to their best finish in 45 seasons. After they posted an 11-1 regular season record, LSU topped Georgia in the SEC title game and Oklahoma in the BCS Championship game. For the first time since 1958 and just the second time in school history, LSU was National Champions.

The following season, Saban’s final year at LSU, senior Marcus Randall took over the starting role. Yet, the real focus was on an up-and-coming redshirt freshman: JaMarcus Russell.

Russell shared time with Randall throughout the season, where the Tigers finished at 9-3 after a heartbreaking, last-second loss to Iowa in the Citrus Bowl. Saban headed to Miami to take over the Dolphins and the Tigers brought in Les Miles from Oklahoma State.

Miles inherited Russell, who would become one of the nation’s most efficient passers over the next two seasons. During his junior campaign, Russell became the only player in LSU history outside of Davey to rack up over 3,000 yards through the air (3,129).

By the time Russell left, Matt Flynn – the nearest thing to a Matt Mauck clone as they come – was ready to take over. The senior hit on 202-of-359 passes for 2,407 yards and 21 touchdowns en route to a BCS National Championship – the Tigers second in three seasons.

Five-star Ryan Perrilloux, a sophomore in 2007, held a clipboard behind Flynn. The LaPlace-native made two starts, both when Flynn was injured, and completed a combined 40-of-55 passing for 541 yards and four touchdowns. The future was bright...very bright.

From Davey to Mauck to Russell to Flynn, the Tigers had been on a quarterback roll. The dice were hot, but they were about to come up snake eyes.

When Perrilloux was dismissed from the team on May 2, 2008, the fate of the Tiger program took a turn in the wrong direction. The heir-apparent at quarterback was now the signal caller at Jacksonville State. In the cupboard was a pair of freshmen, neither of which had ever taken a live snap. For the first time in years, the Tigers were forced to start an underclassman.

The story is well documented by now, and most fans would rather forget how things transpired. Lee was picked off 16 times. When it came to throwing the football, LSU had become wildly inconsistent – and the team spun out of control because of it.

True freshman Jordan Jefferson attempted to save the day, but there was little to salvage by the time the Destrehan standout was handed the ball. While the Tigers split Jefferson’s starts, one thing was promising: the freshman had not turned the ball over.

The cuts that needed stitching after the fall-out were evident. The entire defensive staff was replaced, and Lee was moved behind Jefferson in the race for the start in 2009. Both sophomores, the Tigers will have Lee and Jefferson for at least two more seasons. The biggest question for Miles and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton then becomes what to do once the tandem is gone.

The answer came by way of a 6-foot-4, 235-pound native of Tupelo, Miss. Chris Garrett, a three-star and the nation’s No. 28 quarterback prospect, graduated high school last December. By January, he was enrolled in LSU and learning the playbook.

When the spring rolled around, Garrett was already turning heads. His size – a bigger version of Jefferson – was the first thing that onlookers noticed. When the freshman showed off his arm, most were enamored enough that they could not turn away.

While fellow freshman Russell Shepard – a five-star prospect - was also working out at quarterback, Garrett tossed the pigskin as if he had no competition. When it became apparent that Shepard would indeed be used at multiple positions, the future of LSU’s pro-style quarterback approach rested in the hands of Garrett.

Though the staff locked up three-star Zack Lee for the 2010 class, rumors are that the Lone Star State standout may opt to head to the MLB. If that happens it would leave Garrett alone and in position to become the next Tiger quarterback to leave his storyline but that question won't be answered until next summer. The link in the quarterback chain had been broken by Perrilloux, but Garrett knows that he can help right the ship.

“Coach Crowton has always told me how excited he was about me, and he lets me know that he is ready to start putting years between Jordan and myself,” Garrett said. “Even though it means taking a redshirt, it is really exciting to hear. I just have to be patient, because I know my time will come.”

His successful run, Garrett said, has been thanks in large part to his under-the-radar approach.

“I think that the coaches and I were expecting big things, but no one else around here really thought I would come out and be in such a good position right away,” he said. “There is no pressure on me, and that allows me to just go out and play.”

With the idea of holding a clipboard for the next season or two on his mind, Garrett said that the ceiling for potential is limitless.

“My goal is to be ready to play whenever coach decides to put me in, whether that is this year or down the road,” he said. “I know that the more time I have, the better I am becoming. I am getting more comfortable with the playbook, and it is all starting to become a lot easier when I know exactly where each receiver will be.”

The ultimate goal, shared by many of the Tiger quarterbacks of the 21st century, is to become the team’s best leader.

“I think I am achieving that goal each day,” Garrett said. “The other players are starting to look to me because I know the plays. That is where it begins. If you don’t know the plays, you could never become a leader. Now, people trust me and look up to me because they know that I can get them the ball.”

That sort of confidence is just what the doctor – or in this case, Miles – ordered. With Garrett, the Tigers are back to grooming their future rather than living off the flavor of the week. And the future, from where things stand now, is certainly promising.

“The sky is the limit,” Garrett said. “There are so many great running backs and receivers on this team that once we have great quarterback play, we can take it as far as we want.”

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