Updated: Feb 27
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By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
We continue our countdown of LSU Odyssey's Best XI Tigers of 2021, and much like last season's Top 10 Tigers of 2020 list, we were forced to analyze a season which will live on as a volatile, dangerous time for LSU, a scary year full of uncertainty and disappointment....
However, through it all, many Tigers treated fans to individual & collective brilliance at an elite level, showing out for the Tigers Community in our darkest, most desperate hours of need.
Who stepped up when LSU needed them most?
We reveal our Best IX Tigers of 2021.....
We keep the countdown going with.......
JAY WARD (SAFETY)
69 TACKLES (3rd)
2 INTs (1st)
In the second half of 2021's regular season, the Tigers forged a defensive revival led by stone cold veterans, backups turned starters, and young stunners alike, all led by one of the best defensive coordinators to ever be fired in his first year.........however, mentioning any names without paying tribute to Jay Ward would be criminal:
LSU's 2019 National Champion DB consistently supplied hard-nosed leadership, warrior performances and defiant playmaking for an under-manned, injury-riddled DBU:
Over the past two seasons, as nationally recognized DBU alumni became consistently absent through injury, opt out or transfer (Derek Stingley Jr, Eli Ricks, Cordale Flott etc), Ward took full advantage, logging an incredible amount of snaps & playing at or near his ultimate level for 2 consecutive campaigns:
Ripping down 3 interceptions at cornerback during 2020 (including a pick six on Ole Miss QB Matt Corral), Jay provided proof of his all around secondary abilities as a junior: switching to safety for the Tigers & leading the team with 2 more interceptions.
Jay adapted well to his new safety role, showcasing remarkable poise, anticipation, instincts when dissecting the run game or quarterback, Ward can do it all....topping off his impressive resume by issuing devastating hits throughout the season.
Blasting the living hell out of Alabama QB Bryce Young on national television during a show stopping, all world performance vs the highly favored Tide, Ward rampaged his way through the SEC regular season schedule, win or lose...
....over 4 quarters and then some, Tiger fans were guaranteed to witness Jay Ward give everything he had, raising his maximum level before our eyes and growing exponentially as a player across LSU's 13 game schedule.
We're talking about a Tiger who started against Miss State on a torn meniscus in 2020, never using his injury as an excuse during the hellish aftermath....breaking up 3 passes and even pressuring QB KJ Costello into a near fumble with a huge hit following a lengthy pursuit....
We're talking about a Tiger who stood with his LSU brothers as our roster's only defender to start Week 1 vs UCLA and January's Texas Bowl......
Perhaps his most telling influence?
How easily LSU's defense folded against UCLA after Ward exited the game (suffering a nasty concussion), one which kept him out of LSU's early season out of conference contests.
Jay's headstrong, hard nosed mentality is an important feature of any defensive success over the past two years, all while grinding through play after play at 100 mph, enjoying very few breathers thanks to our offensive wastefulness and defensive injury crisis.
Often times we witnessed #5 tracking down lost cause plays and preventing touchdown after touchdown, or much like his forced fumble on Slade Bolden during 2020's horrific blowout vs #1 Alabama, he had no problem getting his hands dirty.
Not on his watch....that was the pervasive feeling I sensed after every punishing hit or opportunistic turnover he created....
Jay has a high championship standard...the same kind he was baptized under as a 2019 freshman at LSU; but unlike others, the frustration of 2020-21 only served to elevate Ward's game:
Adapting two different positions amid the secondary, nearly mastering both after starting just a single season at each spot, the former Colquitt High standout produced 89 total tackles, 5 INTs (1 returned for a score & another debatable asterisk), blocked game-on-the-line field goals vs Arkansas and Auburn in consecutive seasons, forced 2 fumbles, rejected 10 passes....added numerous QB hits & pressures, a few tackles for loss....these kind of stat-lines couldn't be more tantalizing for NFL Draft scouts;
While wreaking havoc against opponents, Ward represented a "last man standing" determination as LSU's defensive roster crumbled around him, singlehandedly keeping DBU's flame burning throughout 2021.
Like a prize fighter, Ward stayed on his feet all 9 rounds, answering every swing which came his way with one knockout punch after another, shining brightly for national audiences to bear witness........and college football audiences haven't seen the last of Ward:
Forgoing what could've been a highly successful NFL Draft this spring, LSU's versatile DBU leader is saddling up for one final ride this next season....& you better have your DVR ready:
Jay Ward will be "must-see-TV" every Saturday this fall, set to start yet again at safety for the Tigers, LSU's senior should be a lock to wear either #18 or #7, among the program's highest on-field honors.
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2022 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
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SHOUTOUTS: Jay Ward.....THANK YOU FOR COMING BACK TO LSU FOR ONE MORE RIDE!! I know you won't regret this decision, in fact, I believe you're about to enjoy your best season in purple & gold!