Scooter Hobbs column: Kelly offers no special privileges
Published 12:00 pm Sunday, August 7, 2022
Kayshon Boutte is LSU’s best football player.
I think we can all agree on that.
If his first season and a half was any indication — before a severe ankle sidelined him last year — by year’s end he could be in the same conversation as Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Odell Beckham, etc., and one of the first few picks in the next NFL draft.
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But the junior from New Iberia might also be the canary in the mine shaft for Brian Kelly’s new regime in Tiger Stadium.
Boutte is that good — he set the SEC single-game receiving record of 308 yards in the final game of his freshman season and was leading the nation with nine touchdown catches when he went down last season in the Tigers’ sixth game.
Elite talent can sometimes be a fickle two-edged sword.
At the moment, a few days into August camp, all seems well with Boutte, who missed spring practice after needing a second surgery. He says he feels great now, can’t wait to pick up where he left off.
Kelly seemed happy as well about Boutte — and his own relationship with his best player.
Whether the two had to bury the hatchet to get to this happy place is open to speculation.
It was probably overblown to begin with. It was mostly social-media driven so you wonder if it’s even worth mentioning.
And there’s been nothing in Boutte’s history to suggest a prima donna in training.
But Boutte did admit in his first public interview this week that he strongly considered hitting the NCAA transfer portal not long after Kelly was hired last December.
“I really did,” he admitted. “There was a lot going on.”
It was the trendy thing to do at the time. LSU players were leaving left and right after the coaching change, especially with fired Ed Orgeron being so popular with the players.
Social media had Boutte a done deal to follow another former Tiger freshman all-American, cornerback Eli Ricks, to dreaded Alabama.
You could call it the first real crisis in Kelly’s LSU regime.
At least that’s the way most fans looked at it.
The rumor amidst a lot of former players was that Kelly needed to realize what kind of talent he should be catering to.
But while they all went into panic mode and grabbed for the smelling salts, Kelly seemed nonplussed by the commotion.
Just another day at the office.
No coach wants to lose his best player, but Kelly certainly didn’t seem in a mood to beg or plead with a 20-year-old, let alone borrow and steal.
It was a lot bigger moment for the newcomer coach than the ill-fated fake Southern accent or the bad-dad dance steps on the recruiting trail.
He was establishing the ground rules for the new sheriff in town. There was a way things would be done in his LSU regime, maybe different from the past, and this was it.
Kelly’s stance during whatever happened seemed to be that whatever was going to happen would happen — but he and his business-like approach would still be in charge.
Whether he was using the opportunity to make the point that no one player was or would ever be more important than any other on the team is anybody’s guess.
Kind of seemed that way, though.
And he never backed away from his stance even after Boutte didn’t take the portal plunged last winter.
An undisclosed — but no doubt lucrative — name, image and likeness deal with a well-known Louisiana attorney no doubt helped Boutte make the decision to stay.
Kelly didn’t change.
Just before spring practice began Kelly noted that, even though Boutte wasn’t able to practice, he should be more engaged in team activities.
It must have hit home as Boutte, even though wearing a walking boot, was all over spring practice.
He even admits now that perhaps the second surgery could have been avoided if he’d rehabbed more diligently.
“I could have done better on my part,” Boutte said.
They talked often during the spring and since.
Boutte was so excited when he said he earned a 3.5 GPA in the spring that he called Kelly with the news the coach would surely hear soon enough.
So when the two finally got to practice together last week, after that first workout Kelly told the media that he had to remind Boutte “how to practice the right way.”
Boutte evidently took it in stride.
Kelly also said “He’s so committed. He’s worked so hard. I’m excited for him. You can see his potential as one of … can he be the best receiver in the country? I think he can be.”
Still there was one more caveat, one more challenge to his star.
“You got to go out and do it,” Kelly said.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at email@example.com