Chancey Aghayere played it over and over in his head ever since he committed to LSU back on Oct. 13, 2007. He envisioned the crowd going wild and him picking himself up off of an opposing quarterback after he registered his first sack in Tiger Stadium as a starting defensive end.
Part of Aghayere’s dream came true on Saturday against Vanderbilt, but it wasn’t exactly the way he envisioned it.
With Larry Smith flushed from the pocket on a third down and seven and Aghayere in pursuit, the Commodore quarterback elected to go out of bounds with several Tiger defenders standing in the way of a Vanderbilt first down.
“I didn’t know I got credit for the sack until we watched film (Monday morning) and my coach said ‘well you got a gimme sack’,” Aghayere quipped.
It was the first of what Aghayere and LSU coaches hope are many sacks for the Garland, Texas-native, who came to LSU, billed as one of the top defensive ends in the country coming out of high school.
Aghayere was a four-prospect and ranked No. 7 in the country at his position for the Class of 2007 after a decorated career at Garland High School that was filled with awards and honors including being named a U.S. Army All-American.
Aghayere suffered from what he calls an ingrown bone on the front of his knee that severed some of the tissue and plagued him for much of his senior season. Despite those issues, the big Texan still was a menace off the edge as he registered 78 tackles and 12 sacks which were improved numbers from the year before when he recorded 54 stops and five sacks.
The recruiting battle for Aghayere’s signature was fierce as schools from all over the country were in hot pursuit. In the end it came down to Florida and LSU, and Aghayere got one final look at the two teams when he made his official visit to LSU the weekend of October 5-7.
“When I visited the weekend they played Florida it just made me realize that LSU was home,” Aghayere said. “That place was so wild and crazy that weekend, and I realized that my family could be a part of my college life and still watch me play.”
Aghayere informed his recruiting coach – LSU receivers coach D.J. McCarthy – and head coach Les Miles of his intentions one week after they defeated Florida, and just a few hours prior to kickoff of the Tigers road game at Kentucky. LSU went on to lose that game to the Wildcats in triple overtime – the first of only two losses en route to the BCS National Championship – and Aghayere still wonders if maybe he shouldn’t have waited a little bit longer before pulling the trigger.
“Maybe I should have called them after the game,” he said in jest.
Along with winning championships, Aghayere cited the opportunity for early playing time as a reason for choosing LSU. But his plan of playing early got shelved pretty quickly once he arrived in Baton Rouge and saw four players ahead of him on the depth chart that had some pretty impressive credentials.
The Tigers returned both starting defensive ends from their 2007 championship team in seniors Tyson Jackson, who was the No. 3 selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, and Kirston Pittman. They also had another senior in Tremaine Johnson, and junior Rahim Alem, who had waited patiently for his turn and went on to lead the Tigers with eight sacks last season as a pass-rush specialist.
Agahayere ended up spending much of his freshman year working on the scout team as he redshirted. That wasn’t in his plans when he signed with LSU in February of 2008, but it turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to him as he admits that he had a lot to learn.
“Since I came here, I learned to be more team oriented and learned how to sit down and watch more film about my opponents,” he said. “Last year was more of a learning experience, and what I learned last year I need to put into play.”
Among the things that Aghayere learned was that he couldn’t just bull rush offensive tackles like he did in high school because they were just as big and strong as the young man who arrived in Baton Rouge at 270 pounds but has slimmed his 6-foot-4 frame down to 263 pounds.
He also learned that pure athleticism and speed alone wouldn’t get him on the field, so it was time to focus on something he never really had to rely on before – technique.
“It’s tough when you feel like you’re doing it right then you watch yourself on film and you see that you’re messing up on the little things,” Aghayere said. “Usually the game is won by inches so that little thing that you messed up on could win or lose the game for you. Once you do it out in practice and see yourself doing it right then you become more aware of correcting it and you can keep doing it.”
Aghayere put his improved technique to work when the Tigers took the field against Washington to open the 2009 season. He played in a reserve role against the Huskies, and like many of his defensive line counterparts, he struggled and didn’t record a tackle in the contest.
Aghayere wasn’t alone, though, as LSU’s defensive line play was less than sterling as Husky quarterback Jake Locker picked the defense apart and Washington gained 478 total yards on the Tigers. LSU rarely got pressure on Locker and recorded two sacks – Rahim Alem was credited with a sack later to go with Drake Nevis’ sack – with no hurries.
The Tigers headed back to Baton Rouge with an agenda as they prepared for Vanderbilt because that was not the kind of showing LSU’s defense had hoped for.
“If everyone did their job then the next person’s job would be easier,” Aghayere said. “We focused on our own responsibility instead of everyone worrying about what everyone else was supposed to do. We just set out to do our job and knew that we had to play LSU-style defense.”
The Tigers did just that and Aghayere was a big reason for LSU’s improved play on the defensive front. Starting in place of injured defensive end Pep Levingston, Aghayere made five tackles and deflected a pass – in addition to his sack – for a Tiger defense that held Vanderbilt to only 210 total yards.
That was a vast improvement over seven days for Aghayere and the Tigers.
“We came out more excited for that game because it was our first home game, and there was all that hype about Vanderbilt’s offense was going to run over us and we took it to heart,” said Aghayere. “We wanted to establish our dominance, so during the week at practice we wanted to be violent as a defense and have everyone fly to the ball and have 11 guys around the ball.”
Most guys who make their first start on the collegiate level deal with a case of the nerves, but Aghayere said he was more nervous at Washington. He added that the familiarity of playing in front of the home crowd made it comfortable, despite the fact that it was his first time taking the turf of Tiger Stadium outside of the spring game and scrimmages.
Playing in Death Valley, however, didn’t turn out to be everything Aghayere thought it would be when he pictured himself wearing the purple and gold back on his recruiting visit. It was even more than he envisioned.
“I always knew that Tiger Stadium was loud, but it seemed that as the game went along the stadium got even louder,” he said. “It was just amazing how loud the crowd got every time we made a stop or a big play. It just shocked me, and it was so unreal at how loud the stadium actually got.”
And when he levels the opposing quarterback for the first time and logs what he calls a ‘real sack’, Aghayere figures that he’ll get a more favorable response from the crowd than he received for what will go down in the history book as his first quarterback sack as a Tiger.
“I think I’ll get a lot bigger reaction when I actually hit someone,” he laughed.