In this time of great uncertainty, leadership has never been more valuable. The LSU football team has many leaders on both sides of the ball, but when it comes to defense, senior JaCoby Stevens heads the ship.
The defensive back had a great year for the Tigers in 2019, recording 92 total tackles, five sacks, three interceptions and nine passes defended. LSU will look for another big year out of Stevens, especially since the team will have a new defensive coordinator, Bo Pelini.
Although new to the program, Pelini and Stevens have already garnered a great relationship both on and off the field.
“My relationship with Coach Pelini is pretty cool,” Stevens said. “We can talk about stuff outside of football. It creates a great rapport between us.”
Before the first game on Sept. 26, one big question remains: will college football have a season? The SEC announced earlier in August that a 10-game, conference-only schedule would occur, to which fans and players alike rejoiced. Stevens was one of those players.
“We always felt like we were going to play,” he said. “There was no question of not playing.”
Even though there will be a season, many players around the country are choosing to opt out. So far, three Tigers have made this decision. Star receiver Ja’Marr Chase, defensive end Neil Farrell Jr. and cornerback Kary Vincent Jr. all have decided not to play in the 2020 season.
When Stevens was asked what the team thought of losing key players on the defensive side of the ball, he said head coach Ed Orgeron preaches a “next-man-up mentality,” and the team would do exactly that. He was also asked about Vincent’s replacement, sophomore Cordale Flott.
“Cordale has always been a guy we can depend on,” Stevens said.
As big of a leader as he is on the field, it is just as important that Stevens and other veteran players are leaders off the field.
He and linebacker Andre Anthony helped lead the team in a march on Aug. 28 to protest racial inequality. The team skipped practice, met instead at Tiger Stadium and marched across campus to Interim President Tom Galligan’s office, where the players met with the president, Athletic Director Scott Woodward and Orgeron.
Stevens, who said previous generations of his family have fought for civil rights, was the first to arrive and last to leave.
“I really don’t have a choice because of the color of my skin, but I have so many great people in my family who fought for civil rights,” Stevens said. “I need to take on that burden; I think we really needed this.”
The team’s protest was part of a larger movement of athlete protests following the Aug. 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
In times like this, players must practice safety, even after they leave the football facilities. Stevens stressed the importance of this responsibility and commended the team for their efforts recently after an outbreak within the team earlier this summer.
“The team has been really good about learning from our mistakes,” Stevens said. “We have been really responsible in how we are handling ourselves. We are here to make the peoples’ jobs who put the protocols in place easier. We are all about the team and representing the state of Louisiana on Sept. 26.”
The Tigers will open their season in Tiger Stadium against Mississippi State on Sept. 26.