With the physicality of football come injuries.
No matter conditioning or preparation, the bite often happens without notice; where a bad cut or routine tackle can end an outing or even a season.
LSU knows this all too well.
On the second day of spring practice, sophomore running back Stevan Ridley, an emerging favorite with the Tiger coaching staff and a player expected to get serious consideration for the start in the fall, went down with a torn ACL.
The same fate followed walk on fullback Richard Dugas, who was an early frontrunner to fill the void left by senior Quinn Johnson.
T-Bob Hebert, who has since started all nine games at center, was in a green non-contact jersey throughout the spring session, leaving him short on reps and behind with progress. It was not until preseason workouts that Hebert, who was battling a knee injury suffered in 2008, bumped P.J. Lonergan for reps on a consistent basis.
Wide receiver Tim Molton, tabbed as one of the more impressive performers in spring practice, suffered a similar knee injury in summer workouts.
With senior Brandon LaFell and junior Terrance Toliver the lone two receivers who had recorded double-digit catches the year prior, Les Miles and his staff were anxious to see what the blossoming Molton could do in the fall.
When the Destrehan High graduate transferred to Louisiana Tech in September, in part because of the setback he suffered to injury, the coaches never got that chance.
Fall camp brought more of the same.
Craig Loston, ranked as the nation’s top safety prospect, was hit or miss with his appearances at practice. By the time he was cleared, the questions of a lingering hand issue were in full force. After appearing in two games, Miles came clean with Loston’s status, saying that the freshman would need surgery. He has since picked up a redshirt.
Starting defensive end Pep Levingston missed over a week of practice with a broken hand.
Linebacker Jacob Cutrera, who battled both injuries and illness, missed more practices than he made.
Akiem Hicks, the JUCO defensive tackle from California, suffered a knee injury that has kept him in a redshirt for the entire 2009 campaign.
Heck, while at it, the entire defensive line missed time - from Rahim Alem to Lavar Edwards to Chancey Aghayere.
All that, and LSU had not even played a game.
By the time the season rolled in, Tiger fans were left playing the numbers game with how positions would fill out.
In the opener in Seattle against Washington, Levingston, despite wearing a cast over his broken right hand, got the start. In the final two minutes of action, he went down to a knee injury, which kept him out of action for two weeks.
Back in Baton Rouge against Vanderbilt the following Saturday, the bug moved back to the offensive side.
Junior running back Richard Murphy had his season cut short to a knee injury suffered after a 4-yard reception. The blow required surgery, which was a success. Miles said that Murphy is now back on track and prepared to rejoin the team in the spring.
Without Murphy or a completely recovered Ridley, LSU was down to two tailbacks: Charles Scott and Keiland Williams.
After getting consecutive starts against Vanderbilt, ULL and Mississippi State, Aghayere, slowed by a lingering leg injury, was sidelined against both Georgia and Auburn.
Freshman defensive lineman Josh Downs, who the staff praised as a potential candidate to fill depth issues at tackle, was injured against the Ragin’ Cajuns after seeing action in the first three games of his career. His status remained uncertain for Georgia, and his action was limited to a few snaps over the next couple of weeks.
Then came Alabama, the Tigers’ most recent outing and arguably their most costly.
In a game that held both SEC Title and National Championship implications, LSU lost both their starting quarterback and running back to injury. By game’s end, at least eight Tiger players were helped off the field at various times.
Jordan Jefferson was knocked out of the game after taking a hit from an Alabama linebacker as he tried to throw the ball away. LSU was hit with an intentional grounding. One worse, they were hit with the loss of their quarterback. His status for Louisiana Tech remains day-to-day.
On LSU’s next possession, running back Charles Scott dashed up the middle for 34 yards, his longest run of the season.
It would also be his last. Scott, who suffered a broken clavicle, is expected to miss the remainder of his senior season.
Patrick Peterson, the star cornerback of the SEC, battled cramps from start to finish. When Alabama scored the winning touchdown on a 73-yard Julio Jones screen pass, Peterson was on the sidelines. He had just returned from getting fluids in the locker room, but was waved off when he attempted to re-enter the game before the decisive play.
It was a tough trip from top to bottom.
Left tackle Ciron Black, linebacker Perry Riley, defensive tackle Al Woods, Hebert and Levingston would all need on-field attention from the medical staff at some point in the afternoon.
Starting tight end Richard Dickson, who started against Tulane the week prior but was benched soon after the game began, traveled but did not play against the Tide. His status remains unknown.
Still, with three regular season games left, the Tigers sport a 7-2 record and a No. 9 national ranking. Their lone losses: No. 1 Florida and No. 3 Alabama.
More importantly, in a season plagued by injuries, a deeper-than-anticipated LSU side has stuck together and moved the Tigers deep into the season with hopes still alive for a “substantial bowl,” according to Miles.
From where this team finished a season ago, most consider that a job well done.