By RON HIGGINS, Journal Sports
BATON ROUGE — Every year in the brutal heat of August college football pre-season camp – please don’t call it “fall” camp because there’s no autumn with a 115-degree heat index – possible new stars emerge.
In Brian Kelly’s first preseason camp a year ago as LSU’s head coach, it was a 3-star (according to 247Sports) rated tight end from the Miami-area named Mason Taylor who simply caught every pass that came his way.
He was a big and robust dude who got downfield quickly and snagged any throw whether he was wide open or had defenders in his grill.
As it turned out, Taylor won Freshman All-America honors as he has the second-highest-ever single-season reception total (38) by an LSU tight end. And oh yes, he’ll forever live in Tigers’ football lore for his game-winning two-point conversion catch in overtime to beat Alabama.
This year after almost 10 preseason practices with LSU’s Sept. 3 season opener vs. Florida State in Orlando getting closer, here are three newbies so far who’ve stood above the rest.
Duce Chestnut, CB, Jr., 5-11, 205, Syracuse: He’s a four-star recruit who quickly became one of the better cover cornerbacks in the Atlantic Coast Conference before transferring to LSU in January.
The two-time All-ACC honoree started all 24 games in his two seasons with the Orangemen and had 83 tackles, four interceptions, three tackles for loss and 13 pass breakups.
Last season, he allowed just four touchdowns in 356 snaps in pass coverage and was penalized only once in coverage.
Chestnut missed LSU’s spring practice after undergoing surgery with an undisclosed injury. His absence just made LSU head coach Brian Kelly more eager to get him on the field.
“Duce has played a lot of winning football,” Kelly said. “The things that really stood out for us in our evaluation was that he’s a smart savvy player, a sure tackler who’s always around the ball. That’s starting to kind of show itself here in camp. He’s making progress.” Chestnut has broken up passes in 7 on 7 and 11-on-11 drills in just about every LSU practice so far. He has tremendous acceleration breaking to balls on underneath routes.
“He broke up five passes in one practice,” LSU safety Sage Ryan said. “That’s crazy. He’s got ball skills off the chart.”
Aaron Anderson, WR/RS, Fr., 5-8, 180, Alabama: The former 5-star recruit from Edna Karr High in New Orleans was rated by 247Sports as the No. 1 player in Louisiana in the Class of 2022. As a high school senior, he had 74 receptions for 926 yards and 14 TDs and also returned five kickoffs for TDs.
Alabama coach Nick Saban stole Anderson out of LSU’s backyard. And after Anderson’s injury-plagued freshman season with the Crimson Tide a year ago in which he played just one game, Kelly pilfered him back for the Tigers as soon as Anderson put his name in the transfer portal.
LSU’s kick return teams – both kickoff and punts – were a disaster last season. The Tigers fumbled so many punts and kickoffs early in the year that cleanly fielded fair catches were considered rousing successes.
Anderson had more than 20 TD returns in his high school career, and he has looked extremely comfortable fielding punts and kickoffs in Tigers’ preseason practices.
But any LSU DB who’s tried to cover Anderson can attest – he absolutely left Ryan eating dust on a double-move on 70-yard plus TD pass he caught in a drill – he’s ridiculously hard to stop if a defender doesn’t immediately lock him up at the line of scrimmage.
“Anderson is explosive fast,” Ryan said. “He’s a little short guy, so it’s hard to get hands on him. He’s probably the hardest guy (on LSU’s team) to cover. He’s twitchy. He’s going to be an amazing piece for us.”
Tigers’ offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said his boss Kelly wants to move Anderson to different spots in the offense.
“He’s a guy that has to touch the football,” Denbrock said of Anderson. “Me and the rest of the offensive coaches have to make sure we’re creative enough to use the skills that he brings to the table, like in our screen game and running jet sweeps.
“Aaron is unbelievably blessed with football skills. He can break people down in space, so we’ve got to get him in those scenarios as much as possible.”
Ashton Stamps, CB, Fr., 6-0, 188, Archbishop Rummel: One of the least heralded signees in the Tigers’ recruiting Class of 2023 – he’s rated just a 3-star recruit – Stamps has been turning heads daily in the preseason.
He might have been underrated because he was targeted just 10 times last year as a high school senior, so his stats (65 tackles, 9 pass breakups) weren’t overwhelming.
But his passion and grit finally convinced the LSU staff to sign him.
“The guy came to camp three times to LSU to get a scholarship offer,” Tigers’ defensive coordinator Matt House. “I think that’s all you need to know about Ashton Stamps. He wants to be here, he wants to be great, and he’s not scared of competition. He’s a dude that embraces competition every day.”
Stamps has impressed teammates from both sides of the ball.
“We watched film from our practice in which he (Stamps) was in Cover 2,” LSU wide receiver Chris Hilton Jr. said. “He-routed the receiver, dropped back and made the pick (interception). You don’t see that every day.”
Tigers’ safety Greg Brooks Jr., a former West Jefferson star who transferred to LSU last season from Arkansas, trained with Stamps in the off-season two summers ago.
“It’s not a surprise how he’s playing,” Brooks said. “I know how hard he’s worked. I can’t wait to see him ball out this year. You’re going to see him every game.”
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