HOOVER, Alabama — Ed Orgeron took the podium at Southeastern Conference Media Days and launched into a story from 1971.
Ten-year-old Orgeron at the time was nothing more than an LSU fan watching a ranked game against Notre Dame. LSU won the game 28-3; the headlines on the next day’s newspaper solidified his desire to be an LSU Tiger.
Now that he’s the head coach of those Tigers, he knows what the fan base he once was a part of expects. He has the task of satisfying them with a cast of new characters.
When LSU opens conference play against Mississippi State on Sept. 16 at Davis Wade Stadium, it will do so without its top five tacklers from a year ago. Orgeron knows the growing pains are coming, but he also knows who he trusts to lead the unit through them: defensive lineman Christian LaCouture.
LaCouture already has experience in leading the unit after doing it in an unofficial capacity last season: LaCouture redshirted in 2016 after suffering a season-ending knee injury in preseason camp.
“You see a whole different ball game: how you approach players, how you help a teammate, whatever it might be,” he said. “I think that really helped me.”
With the extra year came a heightened status in the program, as LaCouture was selected in the spring to wear No. 18.
The number become one of lore in the LSU program when quarterback Matt Mauck wore it in LSU’s national championship season in 2003 and handed it down to Jacob Hester, who wore it when LSU won the 2007 national championship. Since then, defensive standouts such as lineman Bennie Logan, linebacker Lamin Barrow and cornerback Tre’Davious White have worn the number.
“Growing up watching LSU play, you always saw 7, you always saw 18,” LaCouture said while referencing wide receiver D.J. Chark, who will wear No. 7. “It’s something we want to keep the tradition going. Those numbers mean so much in LSU history that we want to keep the positive impact that comes with it.”
LaCouture will be surrounded by young but heralded defensive linemen, among them Rashard Lawrence. Lawrence — considered the best Louisiana prospect in his recruiting class — played sparingly in his freshman season, but Orgeron said he has since earned a starting spot.
For the other inexperienced players trying to solidify their stake to increased playing time, LaCouture knows exactly what he will tell them.
“You have to practice the way you play,” he said. “The freshmen, whoever it might be, you have to show these coaches during the practice what you can do. Their resume is on the tape.”
LaCouture, like Orgeron, also knows the growing pains will come. They came for him, too.
“Everybody’s gone through it, I’ve gone through it,” he said. “Everybody goes through it, but you have to understand what you have to do at that point: are you going to say you’re not ready for it, or are you going to attack him back and get that rep back.”
LaCouture’s offensive foil, Chark, could have as sizable an on-field role as LaCouture’s role off it. Of LSU’s six top receivers from last season in receiving yards, Chark is the only one returning.
“You’ll see him run the fly sweeps,” Orgeron said. “He is a great young man from Alexandria, Louisiana. He’s thinking about going out early his junior year, I asked him to come back. He came back. We brought him to SEC Media Days today. It’s a tremendous opportunity for him and for us.”
Chark is not alone in that identity on the offense. Derrius Guice is the lone proven commodity in LSU’s running back corps after leading last year’s team with 183 carries, 1,428 yards and 15 touchdowns. Orgeron said he has a group to choose from to complete the rotation, including a slimmed down Darrel Williams, Nick Brossette, Lanard Fournette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson