January 7, 2008.
Ask most of the 24 seniors what their best moment in an LSU football uniform was and that’s the answer you will get.
On a Monday night in the heart of New Orleans, the Tigers jumped all over the Ohio State Buckeyes in a 38-24 National Championship game win, the program’s second title in five seasons.
“As soon as the clock struck zero, everyone ran and jumped into the stands,” said senior linebacker Perry Riley. “That was the most fun thing I have ever been a part of.
“You grow up seeing fans rush the field, and we couldn’t do that at LSU. For us to be able to go run into the stands, it is something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
The stories told by each Tiger player could paint a perfect picture of that evening in the Superdome.
“It is something you can’t forget, and that is what this group shares,” said senior linebacker Harry Coleman. “Knowing those seniors were moving on to the NFL and other professions, we had to lay it all out there. We were so emotionally drained afterwards that we wanted to cry.”
Coleman made his safety debut in the title game after starter Craig Steltz was sidelined by an injury, where the Baldwin, La. native recorded two tackles, one quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery.
“It was the best on-field moment I have had during all my time in college,” Coleman said.
For Charles Alexander, a member of Nick Saban’s final recruiting class at LSU, Orlando’s matchup with the Nittany Lions represents the final chapter in a story that has spanned six seasons – none tougher to battle through than 2007, the championship season in which Alexander started the first three games alongside Glenn Dorsey before being sidelined for the year with an injury to his right knee.
“We have that chance to strap on the purple and gold one last time, and we want to give it our best shot,” Alexander said. “I take most to heart the relationships I have made over my time here; the friends that I grew up with.
“Al Woods, Tyson Jackson and Pep Levingston are some of my best friends. I still talk with Glenn and Marlon [Favorite] every now and then. The blood, sweat and tears we shared on that line are something we don’t forget.”
When it comes to approaching the Capital One bowl game with mixed emotions, Alexander is not alone.
“It is bittersweet for all of us,” Riley said. “You are kind of excited to move on, but sad to go.”
Riley, who finished the regular season with 92 tackles, is one of three linebackers (Jacob Cutrera, Harry Coleman) that will be suiting up for their final time with the program.
All three finished among the four leading tacklers on the team.
Alexander, Woods and Rahim Alem will be lost from the line, with Danny McCray and Chris Hawkins gone from the defensive backfield.
On offense, the hits come just as hard.
Running backs Charles Scott, Keiland Williams and Trindon Holliday, wide receivers Brandon LaFell, Chris Mitchell and R.J. Jackson, tight end Richard Dickson and linemen Lyle Hitt and Ciron Black are all seniors.
Scott, who rushed for 542 yards and four touchdowns before he suffered a broken collarbone against Alabama, wrapped up his LSU career with 2,317 yards and 32 touchdowns. Williams, who is also injured, finished his four seasons with 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns.
LaFell, a second-team All-SEC selection behind 10 touchdowns this season, will finish ranked among the top five in school history in receiving yards (2,430), receptions (130) and career touchdowns (24). His mark of career touchdowns is just two scores short of Dwayne Bowe’s all-time school record.
The 6-foot-5, 322-pound Black, who started 52 consecutive games at left tackle, was LSU’s lone first-team All-SEC selection this season.
“It’s tough to see big names like that go, but you have to move on,” Riley said. “Everyone has to go through this time, and LSU will make it.
“Is was fun while it lasted,” added Coleman. “Now we want to go out in style one final time.”