Last Modified: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 4:38 PM
For all the flash-and-dash talk about which LSU juniors will soon be heading to the NFL, the Tigers’ victory over Texas A&M last week was also living proof that there’s still something to be said for dogged persistence.
There it was, when fullback Connor Neighbors delivered a devastating kick-out block that sprang Terrence Magee for a 65-yard run that set up Magee for the Tigers’ first touchdown.
It was not a scenario many fans — or coaches, for that matter — likely would have imagined in August.
Magee went on to lead the Tigers with 149 yards rushing and was named the Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Neighbors didn’t really have any statistics — he rarely does — but he played most of the game at the thankless fullback position as he continues to see more and more playing time over senior J.C. Copeland.
“I think Connor is basically a lot like Terrence Magee,” LSU head coach Les Miles said. “Basically says, How can I help? What do you want me to do? And then whatever you give him to do, he does it as well as he can.”
That bodes well for next year, when Copeland will be gone. It would also shock most observers if starting running back Jeremy Hill doesn’t leave for the pros, while running mates Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue could also opt out.
Blue is a senior but was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA after missing most of last season with an injury. However, Blue has said he has not yet made up his mind whether he will return.
Neighbors, from Huntsville, Ala., is also a senior, but also was granted an extra year for next season — and he will definitely be back.
It’s hard to tell Neighbors “no.”
His grandfather, father and brother were all big stars at Alabama, but there was no legacy in effect when Connor came along.
LSU didn’t offer a scholarship, either, but he walked on with the Tigers anyway.
He’s not that big for a fullback — 5-foot-11, 236 pounds — but plays far larger when he gets it in his head to clear a wide swath through a defense.
He also won’t win many foot races, but he does have the Tigers’ second-longest reception, 52 yards, among his four catches this season.
“He’s a guy that came on as a non-scholarship player and really just fit in and worked hard and continued to improve,” Miles said. “There was a time where we would say, ‘I don’t know if he’s quite big enough to do that,’ and not he’s not only big enough (he’s) strong enough and fast enough.”
Magee, more touted coming out of high school, is a similar story.
A high school quarterback at Franklinton with no illusions of playing that position in college, he spent his first two years well down two different depth charts.
He saw limited action at running back as a freshman, then looked like the odd man out in the Tigers’ crowded backfield last year.
He was moved to wide receiver, but made only one reception a year ago before moving back to running back this season.
Not that he wasn’t making a contribution, but it appeared he was doomed to be a special-teams lifer.
“Basically,” Miles said, “what you ask Terrence Magee is, ‘Hey, Terrence, I need you to do this.’ He says, ‘Yes, coach,’ and he just does it, and does it with everything that he has with every ability and talent. I think he adds to this team greatly.”
Magee led LSU with 95 yards in the season opener against TCU, which Hill sat out to serve a suspension, but saw fewer and fewer carries after Hill returned.
But Saturday’s re-emergence didn’t surprise Miles, who said he’s always had high expectations for Magee.
“To be honest, I always thought he could run like that,”Miles said. “I’ve always thought he could gain yards.
“Was tough-minded, disciplined and very talented. Really was not a tailback (in high school) but you could watch him run and know he could do that.
“What he’s done on special teams and how he conducts his business and who he is as a person, those kind of guys make this football team special.”