NEW ORLEANS — Darrel Williams was a junior at John Ehret High School in Marrero, La., when the football team went winless in 2012. Thoughts of a state title game appearance in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was all but a pipe dream.
Dreams of playing in his hometown stadium had nearly dissipated over the past four years. Often, Williams reflected on the chance to play in the Dome as any high school football player in Louisiana does. He had nearly found closure that it was never going to happen.
Hurricane Harvey’s devastation of south Texas not only forced a venue change for LSU’s season opener against BYU, but it also provided Williams with the chance to live out one of his teenage dreams.
On Saturday night, LSU blanked BYU 27-0 in the Tigers’ season opener in New Orleans. Williams rushed for 92 yards on 15 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to square away the lopsided victory. Williams never thought he’d have the chance to ever play a football game in the dome in his hometown, let alone score a touchdown.
That dream became a reality on Williams’ last first game of the season as a Tiger.
“For four years in high school, all I wanted to play was play in the dome, but I never got the opportunity,” Williams said after the game. “It’s a great feeling to play in front of your city. It’s just an opportunity that I always wanted, but never got the chance. For young kids in high school, do the best you can to get here [to the dome] because it’s a great feeling to play here.”
It’s funny that Williams mentioned high school.
As a 4-star athlete coming out of Ehret, Williams measured up at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds. On Saturday night, Williams estimated he was at 223 pounds.
An eight-pound difference doesn’t do Williams’ weight loss story justice.
Williams bulked up to 230 pounds during his freshman season at LSU. He was up to 242 pounds between his sophomore and junior years. That’s when “Fat Darrel” became a popular nickname.
Williams worked furiously to cut his weight down to 223 for his final season, which has coincided with an increased role in Matt Canada’s new-look offense. He lined up at receiver, running back and shifted in motion all over the formation for 48 minutes on Saturday.
“All the weight I lost, I felt quicker, faster, and the coaches even said that I looked a little faster out there,” he smiled.
Williams — who, four years later, nearly mirrors his build as a senior at Ehret — played in front of his hometown crowd and then some. About 20 of the tailback’s friends and family purchased tickets for the game right away after the Superdome was selected as the venue for LSU’s opener, once it had to be moved from Houston.
Those 20 pairs of eyes were glued to the field in the fourth quarter when Williams’ 11-yard scamper into the end zone was called back after replay showed that his knee touched the turf at the 1-yard line. Not to be discouraged, Williams’ next carry resulted in that much-anticipated moment, scoring a touchdown in the dome.
After the game, Williams’ phone was flooded with text messages and Snapchats of the score. His first touchdown of the season and the first of his senior year came in the most rewarding fashion not only because of where it occurred, but because it also helped fulfill a recruiting pitch that Frank Wilson made four years earlier.
“Coach Frank always said to seize the moment and I think that I finally did,” Williams said. “I never thought I’d get this opportunity, so I just made the most of it.”
Rashard Lawrence’s return to New Orleans marks his first start for LSU
Rashard Lawrence isn’t from New Orleans, but his three trips to the Crescent City are more than most for someone from Monroe, La.
Lawrence was a key cog on three Neville High School football teams that advanced to state championship games. Twice his Tigers returned to North Louisiana with trophies in hand.
LSU’s sophomore defensive end returned to New Orleans a fourth time on Saturday night, this time in a different Tigers uniform. Lawrence made his first career start in the season opener against BYU and played a key role in the defense’s shutout of the Cougars.
Familiarity with the venue didn’t stop the initial jitters from settling in, but the success he’s had in that particular building certainly helped create a lasting memory at a critical moment in his LSU career.
“It was special, very special,” Lawrence said after the game. “It would’ve been nice to play in Houston, but to play here was special. It helps that it’s somewhere I’m familiar with.”
“To play in New Orleans where I’ve been three years, it’s special. It’s louder than the state championships. Our fans were crazy and it was a lot louder, and there were a lot of things going on, but it’s still football. At the end of the day, it’s just about playing football.”
In regards to football, Lawrence racked up 4 tackles, a half-sack and combined for a tackle for loss. He anchored a defensive line that sacked BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum 3 times, hit him 2 more times, and accounted for 2 tackles for loss. That as well as holding the Cougars’ offense to fewer than 100 yards and minus-5 yards rushing.
Three state title-game appearances and two championships count as special moments, but so does a shutout in the Superdome. If you ask Lawrence, it’s about as perfect a start to the season as you could draw up.
“If you told me that we’d hold these guys to zero points, I’d say, ‘We want to’ and that was a special performance,” he laughed. “We’ve been preparing for these guys for a long time now. As a unit, as a defensive line, with all the freshmen and all the guys, we played together. It’s a big accomplishment. On the sidelines, we knew it. We kept checking the yards and were saying, ‘Hold ’em! Hold ’em!’ “
The post Paths to the dome were completely dissimilar for two major LSU contributors appeared first on SEC Country.
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