DENHAM SPRINGS, La. — No matter how unlikely the odds, Ed Orgeron had to give it a try. The man never stops recruiting.
“Let’s do this again next year,” he whispered to Christian LaCouture’s grandfather in front of more than 85,000 witnesses at Tiger Stadium.
At the time, that idea seemed to be a fantasy. This was senior day, after all. A player is only supposed to have one of those.
“I found it very humorous,” said LaCouture’s father, Dave. “Because in my mind, Christian was leaving.”
More importantly, there was no guarantee that Orgeron himself would be around for a next year.
Four hours after his initial sales pitch to bring LaCouture back to campus for a fifth year, Orgeron’s future at LSU looked to be doomed. The Tigers had just dropped a maddening 16-10 decision to Florida that woke up the echoes of Les Miles’ firing.
But when LSU opens its season against BYU on Saturday, it will be Orgeron leading the Tigers out of the tunnel at Houston’s NRG Stadium.
Not far behind him, donning No. 18, LaCouture will follow.
For LaCouture, those steps will mark a triumphant return from the lowest point of his life.
At the foot of the staircase in his family home, LaCouture hit rock bottom. This was unquestionably the worst week of his life.
It started badly enough on the second Sunday of LSU’s 2016 training camp.
“Leonard [Fournette] was running the other way,” LaCouture said. “I went to peek. Locked on the guard. My leg hyperextended, and my knee caved in. It felt like somebody donkey-kicked me on the side.”
An MRI confirmed LaCouture tore the ACL in his right knee. His senior season at LSU was over before he had the chance to play a down.
“I believe it was the worst day of my life,” LaCouture said.
But not for long.
“And then four days later, it happened again,” he said.
“It” was a cataclysmic meteorological event estimated to hit once every 1,000 years. The rains and ensuing flood that drenched the Baton Rouge area in mid-August 2016 produced the most costly American natural disaster in four years. The LaCoutures were among those who had their lives devastated by the rising waters.
The nearby Amite River made its way into their home, rising nearly 3 feet above the now-warped floorboards. Christian’s car was ruined. So was his mother’s. And so was every piece of furniture on the first floor.
Fortunately, the LaCouture home has a second floor. Unlike many flood victims, the family was able to stay in their house as they rebuilt their lives.
The only problem?
After undergoing surgery, Christian’s knee was locked in a brace. He had no way of making it up the 17 stairs to the bedroom he was now sharing with his mom, dad and sister — and at times a bulldog, English Mastiff and a cat.
So Dave LaCouture gave his all-SEC defensive lineman son a piggyback ride.
“I had to put him on my back. My wife [Ann] stabilized him,” Dave said. “And we carried 300 pounds up the stairs. There was no other way.”
The agony of helplessness
The frustration Christian felt as he was carried up the stairs only increased in the weeks and months that followed.
The LaCoutures were often on the move as he grew up, having lived in Massachusetts, Maine, Texas and Nebraska before settling in Denham Springs after Christian’s freshman year at LSU. And whenever they moved, Dave and Christian did the heavy lifting.
Now, in his family’s greatest time of need, Christian was unable to do anything. He had to rest as his knee recuperated from surgery.
“My mom and dad and sister had to carry wet mattresses. Usually when we do the heavy work, it’s me and my dad,” Christian said. “I couldn’t do anything. It was very hard to see, watching them have to carry everything out.
“People ask the hardest thing about the rehab process. It wasn’t about my knee. It was watching my parents have to do that and not being able to do anything about it.”
Though he was unable to play, football played a role in LaCouture’s ability to get back to a place of mental well-being. When Orgeron was promoted to replace the fired Miles four weeks into the season, he asked LaCouture to help newly hired Pete Jenkins with the defensive line.
“I want to be a coach, so Coach O gave me an opportunity to kind of be an assistant line coach,” LaCouture said. “I couldn’t do everything, because I still had rehab. But I tried to be in as many meetings as I could and understand the game plan for the week.”
More than anything, it was the thought of playing again that pushed LaCouture through the pain and frustration.
“After all the stuff that happened, playing the game really drove me during the rehab process,” he said. “It was rough, make no mistake. But in the back of my head, it was, ‘I love this sport, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.’”
As he envisioned stepping back out onto the field again, it didn’t occur to him that he would be doing so in an LSU uniform.
The re-recruitment of Christian LaCouture
On Thanksgiving night, it was all over.
LaCouture was watching the LSU-Texas A&M game with his family in Massachusetts. During the broadcast, it was reported LSU intended to hire Houston coach Tom Herman. Orgeron’s bid to become the Tigers’ full-time coach appeared to fall short of the finish line.
“When they were showing [LSU athletic director Joe] Alleva in that dark press box and announcing that Herman was the next coach, he said ‘Dad, Coach O got jobbed,’” Dave LaCouture recalled.
Until he didn’t get jobbed.
Herman instead took the Texas job, and two days later Orgeron was named LSU’s coach. One of his top priorities was making sure LaCouture would be with him in Year 1.
“It wasn’t too long after that, that Coach O was in our living room for a couple hours,” Dave said.
The pitch? That the Tigers needed LaCouture, as they were poised to lose five of their defensive front seven — Davon Godchaux, Lewis Neal, Tashawn Bower, Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley — to the NFL. And, of course, that playing another year in college would ultimately improve LaCouture’s stock over entering the draft with an untested knee.
Going to the NFL could have helped his family financially at a difficult time. Like many residents of Denham Springs, they didn’t have flood insurance because their home wasn’t considered to be in a flood zone. The LaCoutures had already drained their savings of $140,000 to restore their home.
But after listening to the pitch from Orgeron, Jenkins and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, LaCouture knew there was only one choice that felt right.
“I didn’t want to end last year like that,” he said. “I’ve had such a good run here. The experiences I’ve went through are astronomical. I didn’t want a knee injury to affect what I went through for those four years. Why not go just one more year?”
The money would have been helpful, but his parents supported his choice.
As his mother, Amy, told him, “Do you want to live life with no regrets? You don’t know where you’ll go in the draft. … If you come back, at least you can say ‘I’ve put everything fully into it.'”
The embodiment of LSU football
It’s unusual to see a defensive end in a No. 18 jersey. But at LSU, it’s the highest individual honor awarded to a football player, and there is good reason LaCouture was picked to wear it.
“It was very important to have him back,” said sophomore defensive end Rashard Lawrence. “The things he does not only on the field, but off the field. Mentoring the younger guys, showing us the right way.
“How we carry ourself in the classroom. Being early to meetings. Always being on time. Not being one of the last people straggling in. Just trying to lead the way.”
Aranda is the coach who made the final pitch to Christian in the LaCoutures’ now-rebuilt living room. And perhaps it is Aranda who sums LaCouture’s value to the Tigers the best.
“He comes in, it’s all business,” Aranda said. “Our guys respect him. They watch him work.
“He’s all in for us.”
The post Through hell and high water, Christian LaCouture is LSU’s comeback kid appeared first on SEC Country.
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