by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
SONI FONUA- DE/DT
Adding the second most pressures with 5 from the defensive end position (sliding in for the banged-up Ali Gaye), my Utah brother Soni Fonua absolutely wreaked havoc throughout the Spring Game, maintaining a beastly impact on proceedings from his first rep to last.
Soni stamped his authority with a forced fumble (punching the ball out from offensive MVP Jontre Kirklin's hands) & grabbing 3 tackles & a tackle for loss to go alongside his collection of offensive line dismemberment.
The former East High graduate's ascendancy is even more impressive due to the bizarre positional transformation he's experienced:
Fonua has gone through a number of position changes, from linebacker to defensive tackle last year, and most recently finding a home at defensive end, competing alongside Ali Gaye for LSU's weak side rusher gig.
Nobody expected Fonua to push for the DE job, not over such a wide range of edge-rushing talent, yet here he is.
While freshmen DEs Saivion Jones & Bryce Langston arrive next month, as Landon Jackson looks to return to full practice, Soni's Spring rise was always going to be exactly what #53 needed in order to keep his chances above water.
In fact, you get the sense Coach Orgeron values Fonua's aggression & work ethic, admiring the Polynesian ambassador's steady climb and rewarding his intense commitment by starting him at DE opposite B.J Ojulari.....in return, Fonua responded by performing at his highest ever level as a Tiger.
So....regardless of LSU's incoming 2021 defensive end talent, I don't expect Coach O to forget how Soni performed throughout Spring football.
JARED SMALL- LINEBACKER
Producing 14 tackles (I feel it's actually 15), an interception, 1 pass broken up, 1.5 tackles for loss and a litany of hard-charging hits, Jared Small destroyed a number of skill position Tigers out there during the Spring game, completing an amalgamation of every great play I'd seen of his throughout Spring (minus the INT); on that Saturday afternoon within Death Valley, Small assembled the complete package at the perfect time.
Though he'd been mostly an assisted-tackle guy over the course of Spring, he saw increased action in LSU's last 3 practices and began delivering supersonic hits...where was this coming from???
Daronte Jones saying "do everything as violent as possible"???
Strength & Conditioning Coach Tommy Moffitt's intensive work alongside Small, building up his muscle mass, has paid valuable dividends...just look at the comparison: 2019 Jared Small and 2021 Jared Small...
Despite the fact LSU's Spring game isn't a contest our coaches would traditionally put much stock into analyzing, Small's performance was so breathtaking and awe-inspiring they'll remember his performance most. Of course, close friend and former high school / LSU teammate Clyde Edwards-Helaire tweeted his excitement and love for #58.
It goes without saying....the entire LSU family is rooting for Jared to succeed this season, as he has waited years for an opportunity, capitalizing on his chances over the past month.
On the periphery, Jared watched the 2019 team win the title, recording a single solo tackle over 5 games.
Appearing in two more outings across 2020, Small wasn't discussed by any major LSU media site until deep into Spring, usually as a guy listed on a list of linebackers.
This very site talked about Jared Small knocking people around during our Spring ball coverage, taking note of his intriguing development and overwhelming desire for success.....at the same time, we weren't professing that he'd grab 14 tackles in a single game for LSU, exhibition or not.
These weren't just numbers racked up, either...Jared was cancelling receivers at the point of the catch or preventing one altogether, allowing very few yards after any reception.
Not only is Jared's current rise becoming a major boost for the overall strength of Blake Baker's LB room, as well as his second & final senior shot at LSU, Small may have thought the door on an NFL chance was shutting on him fast:
Not anymore.... he just shoved a big foot in the way to prop the door wide open.