Gus Stark feature

Lake Charles’ Gus Stark, a photographer for the LSU athletic department, had a front-row seat in chronicling the Tigers’ national championship season, punctuated by a Heisman Trophy season for quarterback Joe Burrow.

So Gus Stark was waiting with LSU's football team to meet President Trump when a White House staffer sidled up.

"That chair your sitting in," he said. "It's from the 1810s. And it's valued at $3 million."

Well, OK. But a chance to tag along for LSU's national championship?

Priceless.

Stark and his trusty camera just about saw it all while chronicling the Tigers' magical run last season.

The Lake Charles native, who split time between Sam Houston High and St. Louis Catholic before heading to LSU, works for the Tigers' athletic department as the photography coordinator.

He was clicking for all of it — the breakout game at Texas, breaking the Bama domination, the perfect regular season, the thrashing of Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

He was with quarterback Joe Burrow for the whirlwind award season, a three-city, five-day tour by private jet that ended at the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

There he got to New York City and he and the LSU folk went to the Heisman hospitality room at the hotel, where the first people he bumped into were Steve Spurrier talking and laughing with fellow former Heisman winners Tim Tebow and Darren Woodson.

"I definitely felt out of place there," Stark chuckled. "I kept asking myself, like, ‘Did I hit the lottery?'"

He wasn't finished. There were two more games, two more wins, including the national championship against Clemson and, ultimately, a conquering heroes trip to the Oval Office of the White House.

"This has got to be the best time ever to work for LSU," Stark said.

No kidding.

And to think it all started in the mosh pit of a photographers' well at a concert for rapper Mac Miller at the Joy Theatre on Canal Street in New Orleans.

It was his junior year at LSU. Had little to no interest in photography at the time. Didn't even own a camera aside from his smartphone.

But he liked concerts.

"And I noticed that the photographers at concerts got to be in the front row and pretty much got to do whatever they wanted for the whole show," he said.

He bought a camera. Started firing off messages for band's managers, offering to provide free pictures if they'd get him a photo pass. He usually aimed low, seeking help from the warm-up acts. The security never noticed he wasn't really supposed to be sticking around for the main acts, which would eventually include names like G Eazy and A$AP Ferg.

But it built up a portfolio, and next thing he knew, on a tip from a friend, he was working for The Reveille, LSU's student newspaper.

"I didn't realize until then that that was a field (of study), that there were staff photographers for university athletic departments," he said.

That epiphany led him to get one of those jobs at his alma mater, just in time to chronicle LSU's baseball trip to the 2017 College World Series.

In this day and age, his pictures are as much for instant gratification as they are for posterity.

His cameras have Wi-Fi built into them and during a game he's steadily supplying LSU's social media department, which in turn feeds the ravenous appetite of LSU fans.

"We can have a picture on Twitter, Instagram, within 25-30 seconds after I take it," he explained.

That was the case the exact moment he realized LSU football was on to something special last season. He was behind the LSU end zone at Texas for the famous third-and-17 play when Burrow connected with receiver Justin Jefferson.

The picture he got is as notable for the coaches' reactions in the background because it was Jefferson's 61-yard touchdown that sealed the victory.

"That's when I knew our offense was legit," he said. "I knew LSU was going places.

"After that we knew Burrow was special and I focused on him most of the time. That's what our social media wanted."

Along the way, he recalled Mississippi State fans ragging him on the sideline — kind of reminded him of the year before when the Auburn mascot playfully messed with him. There was the bedlam after the win at Alabama when a million photographers were after the same Ed Orgeron-Joe Burrow celebration shots.

Stark said nothing compared to the Heisman trip to New York, which started with a trip to Baltimore for Burrow to pick up the Johnny Unitas Award, then on to Atlanta for ESPN's College Football Awards show the next night.

A Shreveport oil man provided the private jet. On board to Baltimore were Burrow, Stark and three others. Burrow's parents met them in Baltimore for the rest of the trip.

"They were super nice," Stark said of Jimmy and Robin Burrow. "I think they enjoyed the whole weekend more than Joe did."

Joe Burrow wasn't much for small talk. "He can focus," Stark said. "He was mostly on his iPad studying film."

But on the flight to New York, Stark did get a soon-to-be-viral shot of Burrow reading a letter written to him by Bunnie Cannon, daughter of LSU's only other Heisman Trophy winner, Billy Cannon (1959).

Then they got to New York and it really got nuts.

"It was like being with a rock star," Stark said. "It was crazy. I don't know how (Burrow) dealt with it. It was exhausting for me and nobody wanted to talk to me."

Stark missed the ceremony. ESPN runs that show and didn't allow photographers in.

But Stark had a big job to do.

LSU had taken out a billboard in Times Square, but it only showed for certain intervals, and they wanted a shot of Burrow in front of it at just the right time after the show. There were some anxious moments.

"But we coordinated with Heisman security and were able to get Joe in front of it (at the right time)," Stark said. "It worked out."

That's kind of the way the year when for Stark and LSU.

But there is one downside to working most weekends.

Stark can't remember the last time he went to a concert.

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