CLAUDE WROTEN: TOP 10 MOST UNDERRATED TIGERS OF ALL TIME #10
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by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
A truly unsung Tiger, Claude Wroten achieved one of the greatest two season stints at LSU, his resume standing among the most talented all time purple & gold defensive linemen..........though like many former Tigers, Wroten's story has always been a case of what could've been...
Well......we're here to rewrite that story.
Raised as the "son of a preacher man" out of Bastrop, Wroten arrived on the scene ready to deliver prime punishment, redefining the possibilities for defensive tackles everywhere.
When Claude went to high school from 1998-2001, Bastrop High's defense were considered the #1 unit in Louisiana, littered with talent all over their illustrious squad:
From All-State LB Marcus Yanez (who would later play for both LSU & Grambling State University) or future Northwestern State LB Carlos Stephens, Bastrop were loaded with awesome defensive talent, yet even as a sophomore, Claude Wroten's interior havoc remained Bastrop's central fulcrum.
Originally signing with Northwestern State, the Louisiana standout headed for community college first; following an impressive two year run at Mississippi Delta Community College, Wroten transferred to LSU after compiling 53 tackles, 15 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries, lettering in each season and being rated within the top 10 overall JUCO talents nationwide.
It was at this time, when former LSU Head Coach Nick Saban's recruiting powerhouse found the diamond defensive tackle among the JUCO ranks, attempting to reload after the Tigers 2003 National Championship-winning campaign.
The move hit pay dirt for LSU's "team in transition" from August 2004 to January 2006: through 25 appearances (24 starts), Claude produced 88 tackles, 22.5 TFL, 12 sacks, 2 PDs, 2 FF, as well as posting a ridiculous 26 pressures throughout his final season alone.
For his efforts as a debutant junior, Wroten received Second Team All-SEC honors, becoming one of the most entertaining and explosive defensive linemen throughout his first season on the major college football stage.
Even starting a game at defensive end during his inaugural year, #98 came on strong for LSU, recording consecutive games with multiple sacks, beginning vs Vanderbilt (2 sacks) and encored with a straight up heroic performance vs Alabama:
Against the Tide, the junior DT pulled out 6 tackles, 4 TFLs and 2 sacks; Outrageously, to end his first year as a Tiger, the Bastrop-native grabbed all 6 of his junior year sacks from his final 5 games!
Starting all 12 games in which he appeared, Wroten destroyed the SEC in only his first campaign in-conference...and Spencer Pennington's face hasn't looked the same since...
Still, it will always be Claude's senior year, 2005, which Tiger fans remember most vividly.....a year where he lined up next to Kyle Williams and became a first round draft talent.
Wroten and Williams' "highlight reel brutality" comprised one of the best parts of LSU's two loss 2005 campaign, the Tigers finishing 11-2 and heading to the SEC title game due in no small part to the interior pair's combined 15.5 sacks, 20 TFLs and 5 PDs.
Amassing 10 sacks and 2 TFLs (both for 14 yard losses) vs Miss State or posting 8 tackles, 2 more TFLs and another sack in a critical 20-17 victory over Auburn, Claude went from strength to strength, showcasing his elite pass-rushing abilities by registering a season-high 6 QB hurries vs Vanderbilt. As a result, Wroten was twice named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week.
But my favorite play?
The set up:
It's opening weekend.....#5 LSU is on the road vs #11 Arizona State....and at the start of the 4th quarter, the Tigers are staring down a 10 point deficit to the Sun Devils....but it was nearly much worse: ASU were about to go up 13.
As Sun Devils' kicker Jesse Ainsworth lined up a 55 yard field goal to take a two score lead, Claude Wroten busted off the line with such reckless fever-dream abandon that neither center nor guard had time to even wake up; as Ainsworth's head looked down as he launched his leg into the kick, he must've sensed a large mass of white, purple & gold smother the entire vicinity:
Just like that, Wroten barreled in on Ainsworth, his tree trunk arms batting the ball high into the air; seconds later, the ball came crashing straight into Mario Stephenson's waiting arms. Uncontested, no one in sight, Stephenson ran in stride to the end zone, instantly turning a potential 13 point deficit into a tiny 3 point ASU lead through just one play....propelling the Tigers toward a 35-31 win.
This magnificent moment outlined everything magical and beastly about his influential powers, that single play alone....it had everything....
Wroten's Wrath was a game-changer.
However, in the 2005 SEC Championship Game, Georgia's offensive line gave UGA QB D.J Shockley just enough time to hit two crucial touchdown passes to Sean Bailey and Bryan McClendon, sinking LSU's National Championship hopes. Although it was really a pair of blocked punts which aided the Bulldogs most, the defeat stung Wroten hard.
After LSU destroyed Miami in the Peach Bowl, #98 remained at the peak of his powers: not only was he mentoring a young Glenn Dorsey, Wroten led by example when he buried Hurricanes QB Kyle Wright for a sack and added another TFL:
Claude was now at prime first round draft stock................that was until January 4th, 2006, when he was pulled over by a police officer in Sterlington, Louisiana:
Asked to step out of the vehicle when the officer asserted he "detected the smell of marijuana", Wroten was arrested after police found 24.5 grams of weed and $3,241 in fifties, twenties and one dollar bills in a shoe....enough weed and cash to bring up charges of possession with intent to distribute.....a felony....
The officer at the scene said Wroten hung his head, "I'm sorry. Man, I done messed up..."
He'd been smoking weed to "calm his nerves down" according to half-brother Jarvis Edmonds, understanding where Claude was coming from. At first, the All-American experimented with the plant, like most human beings in their 20s, but by the time he arrived on LSU's campus, the defensive tackle started smoking daily.
Though the district attorney declined to pursue the case, dropping felony charges against the promising former Tiger, Wroten's draft stock fell from a bona fide first rounder to a questionable third round pick. His Senior Bowl invitation was rescinded, with the organizers claiming it would "hurt the image of the game". At the time, Louisiana sports impresario Mike Detillier told LSU Reveille that he believed Claude "lost $3.9 million" because of the arrest.
Luckily, his talent was too attractive for franchises to pass up:
Even after St. Louis drafted Claude with the 68th overall pick, many believed the franchise were taking a gamble on the former Tiger.
Regardless, Head Coach Scott Linehan selected him and he began a promising, though short-lived, NFL career:
Wroten appeared in 15 games as a rookie, signing a four year, $2.4 million contract; throughout his first NFL season, he received little time on the field, cobbling together 13 tackles and a forced fumble.
By his second year in 2007, Claude found himself on the outskirts after missing four games due to another drug policy violation and subsequent suspension;
After a long saga of absences, reappearances, moments where he flashed potential, canceled out by another violation and suspension, the Rams waived Wroten in 2010. His two season run ended with 24 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 3 substance abuse policy violations & suspensions.
To rub salt in the wound, the St. Louis Rams demanded Claude repay $201,250 of his $805,000 signing bonus, even going so far as to file a grievance against him. They wanted a return on their lost investment.
Amid the aftermath of his NFL collapse, Wroten was in and out of rehab facilities, signing on with 7 different Canadian & Arena league / semi-pro teams in 6 years...playing for 4 different franchises throughout 2013 alone.
At some point, his drive for a return to the football field was replaced by a pure will to stay clean:
Shying away from the pressure of the big stage's blinding lights, specifically as he ascended during his time at LSU, Wroten had been fighting his addictions in the dark for years; Now armed with the serenity prayer tattooed on his forearm, stretching across his large 21 inch biceps, the former Bastrop High devastator is free from the daily anxiety and intense pressures he once faced as a high octane athlete.
As recently as 2013, Claude opened up and attacked his addiction:
"I was sitting by heroin addicts, crack addicts....to call them 'my peers' at the time, I did realize, 'Wow, I'm at rock bottom.' I found it as something that was real controllable, but the actions I was taking at the time showed it wasn't controllable."
LSU ODYSSEY has tried to find Claude Wroten, but it's been hard to track down the man who time seemed to skip......
After all he achieved over 2 seasons at LSU, imagine what he would've accomplished in 3 or 4 years?
He would at least have a National Championship....his numbers would perhaps triple, and he would've been recognized for significant awards.
But just as quickly as Wroten took center stage as a Tiger, he was hurled into the NFL limelight...without a parachute. Even during his time at LSU, smoking weed every day just to face the grind of being a Tiger rock star, it was this increasing attention, pressure and stardom which he wasn't prepared to handle.
Mike Detillier was right:
Whether you're pro legalization or not, Claude Wroten lost millions of dollars overnight because of marijuana....and just like many facets of his story, had the Louisiana native been born in 1995, where would his career be right now?
"I don't look back at my life and say 'shoulda, woulda, coulda,'" Wroten told the Orlando Sentinel in 2013. "I don't live with regrets. My goal is to become a renaissance story and come back to the NFL. That's my driving force."
Regardless of the money lost or the alternate paths taken, Claude was at peace at that time, beaming excitement from each curled, grinning cheekbone as he declared, "I'm in the best shape of my life, mentally, physically and spiritually."
Despite never returning to the football field, Claude's unbelievable reign of terror against SEC defenses will live long in the memories of real Tiger fans the world over.....why?
Glenn Dorsey's greatest teacher....
You can give Claude Wroten credit as the prototype for Maason, Jaquelin, Big T or even the legendary Glenn Dorsey...........or, if you're trippy like me, you'll witness an echo of his interior gap-busting, pass-rushing savagery reverberate every time an LSU defensive tackle knocks the hell out of an Alabama player...
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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