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THE RISE OF DBU'S 2023 TIGER-KING: MICHAEL DAUGHERTY'S LSU ODYSSEY

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By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

@LonnPhillips


"He’s funny. He is so laid back, but on the field, he is different..."
"I don't know if you know about astrology, but he is a full-blown Libra. 10th grandchild born October 10th at 5:32 pm. (I) said that to say…the emotion you will see from him will be on the field. He has no middle..."
-Phoenix Daugherty

There was just something about those Tigers....clad in purple & gold.....full of eternal swagger, displaying righteous dominance, helming defiant victories, rewriting record books as well as breaking or transcending sporting / societal norms....there was just something about those Louisiana State Fighting Tigers, a sacred alchemy that continues to capture the imagination and aspirations of many young football players across the country....but for 2023 freshman safety Michael Daugherty, there was something even more definitive that made the young defensive back understand exactly "what it is" about those Tigers:

After almost 5 years of recruiting under two different head coaches and a trio of position assistants, even during a major program transition, the Grayson High standout unequivocally knew Baton Rouge was where his future lied.

Although Daugherty grew up in Georgia, LSU heroes such as Tyrann Mathieu, plus a lengthy list of Georgia-born Tigers, made Mikey forget all about staying home to play for Kirby Smart's Bulldogs.

One experience solidified his commitment to LSU years ahead of schedule:

As a young 7th grader, Michael witnessed the Tigers' 63-28 annihilation of Oklahoma during the 2019 Peach Bowl.


Invited to the FCA breakfast, Daugherty was able to get a firsthand perspective of LSU's championship pedigree:

"(In Michael's) 7th grade year, LSU came down to Atlanta to play the (CFP semifinals)," Michael's mother Phoenix Daugherty recalled, "...(the) city was on fire. Mike went to have breakfast with the team, took pictures with the tour bus, and was immersed in LSU..."
Much like every recruit in America, watching Joe Burrow's rampaging Tigers in all their transcendental, vengeful glory had a major effect on Daugherty.
For an out of state LSU fan like Mikey, that Peach Bowl experience wasn't just an affirmation of his future collegiate destination.......he felt like a kid in a candy shop being surrounded by all things LSU.

"We used to look for him in the house and he would be in his room looking at old LSU games," Phoenix Daugherty recalled about her son's love for the Tigers.

Kyle Daugherty, Michael's father, also noticed his son's love for LSU at an early stage alongside his nonstop footballing curiosity:

"The love he has for LSU stems back to him first falling in love with the game. When it came to his youth games, he would actually go on YouTube to study the upcoming opponent, on his own, mind you, as part of his preparation. So he has always been a student of the game....if you couple that with all the DB greats that have come through LSU, if you love football, it's impossible not to love LSU...."

That next month, fresh off 2019's epic National Championship victory, then-Head Coach Ed Orgeron began to recruit the young Georgia DB...though Daugherty's visits added an extra dimension when Brian Kelly took over the program in late 2021:

"....We always knew Mikey loved LSU, so when he got the offer under Coach O….We came down. (Michael) enjoyed the camp. (Coach O) came out of nowhere and said, 'Where is Michael?' He watched him for 15 minutes and came and told us how much he wanted him there....but under Kelly, the visits didn’t feel like visits....(LSU) felt like we were home. The campus, culture, academics, and camaraderie let us know it was home..."

By his freshman season of high school, Daugherty was already a highly recruited 4 star-rated safety out of one of the most football rich states in America....but his story didn't always glitter gold or forecast a commanding future...

Years earlier, when Phoenix was pregnant with Michael, doctors "recommended that she abort" her pregnancy, believing he would be "mentally challenged" based on little evidence. Undeterred and set on giving life to their boy, Phoenix and Kyle welcomed their fourth child and second son into the world....in fine health....defying the abortion suggestions of Phoenix's doctors.

When Mikey was age 5, his mother started calling him "King". As his mother explained, "It means that you are in control of what’s said about you, what’s attached to you, and in control of your destiny..."
Michael (center), father Kyle (left), mother Phoenix (right) during an Orgeron era LSU visit

This assertive, positive outlook on life shaped LSU's freshman safety, giving him the extra fuel & motivation for an electric high school career & beyond:

At Grayson High, Daugherty went from strength to strength each high school season, producing versatile, powerful, punishing performances over the next 3 years:

Across 44 total appearances, Mikey racked up 184 tackles, 18.5 TFLs, 11 pass break ups, 4 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries (including one returned for a touchdown), a single forced fumble, another blocked field goal, and an interception, highlighted by his ferocious 91 tackle junior campaign.

During that penultimate high school season, Michael wasn't playing for himself, he wasn't playing for pride, recruiting stars or even his own personal ambitions....he was playing for an even higher purpose:

As he led Grayson to a state title in 2020 and a semifinal finish in 2021, Daugherty played every snap carrying the raw emotions of a young man who experienced the deaths of far too many friends at an alarmingly rapid rate:

"Mike has lost over 20 friends to gun violence and I stopped counting his sophomore year...Yeah," Phoenix told us, "For a while every week we were at a vigil or lighting candles for someone. When it hit home in Loganville, he threw everything into football his junior year, and I watched him settle into really having those 2 emotions. Look at his game against Parkview his junior year. (He) had just lost a close friend and was unstoppable..."


That night, October 15th, 2021, wearing the emotion of his close friend's tragic murder, Daugherty performed with untamable emotion, tapping into something unexplainable....a newfound power to shed his personal pain with each hit or big play, completely wrecking Parkview for 9 tackles (6 as a solo artist), 4 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in a 28-21 victory.

"In today’s society raising children is tough let alone a black male," Michael's father described to this author. "With our son trying to cope with the loss of so many of his talented friends, and in the manner it happened, (the tragedies) temporarily diverted his focus and understandably."

Following a disappointing semifinal exit, unable to defend their state championship crown, the next few months were tough for Grayson's football team, still stung after losing in the final four, while the Loganville community continued to reel & unify in the wake of the senseless killings; Regardless, the future appeared bright for 2022....Michael's senior year.

Unthinkably, that fall would become a curtailed final season for Grayson High's nationally admired safety:

Michael's senior season ended due to a subluxated shoulder injury, cutting short his final year after just 5 games, 24 tackles, 1 blocked field goal, 1 fumble recovery, and 2 tackles for loss.

"He was focused on committing and getting to school, so the injury was best for him. I was scared for anyone he lined up against," Phoenix told LSUOdyssey. "He needed to sit still. Remember, God doesn’t make mistakes."

Despite his frustrating injury layoff, Michael's stock was never higher, with the Grayson safety receiving intense last second competition from a litany of top programs.

Overall, Mikey had 43 total offers, headlined by Florida, Auburn, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Miami, and his home state Georgia Bulldogs.


Despite the immense outside pressure heaped upon him down the stretch, Daugherty never flinched....he didn't blink...he would decide his own destiny:

On April 14th, 2022, Daugherty made it official, becoming the first commitment of Brian Kelly's 2023 class.

Finally, after all the adversity & triumph, Daugherty was a Tiger.

While LSU's coaching staff & fanbase were excited, the Godfather of DBU gave Mikey his own rare endorsement:


When answering why Brian Kelly & Kerry Cooks represented her son's best interests, Phoenix Daugherty took it one step further:

"Cooks and Kelly have been recruiting Mike since Notre Dame, so we were familiar with them, but it was Dr. Arnold….(Dr. D.F Arnold, LSU personnel development coach). He is a game changer for me. He is relatable, down to earth, and I can count on him to meet the players where they are without judgment. (After the multiple shooting deaths of friends), I knew he would need a sounding board at one point. Plus, my mom is aging, so I knew he would need him."

Given their extensive history dating back to Kelly & Cooks' shared time at Notre Dame, the strong bonds forged between the young DB and the Tigers' athletic staff, alongside the addition of many close friends among his class, the choice was easy.

Now, as Daugherty embarks upon his first season at LSU, he's ready to learn from the past as he moves forward into a promising DBU career.

And as the parents of four children, all of whom earned college scholarships, Kyle & Phoenix Daugherty are at peace with their son's collegiate move.

"...we know this is where he is supposed to be..."

Before arriving at LSU earlier this month, Michael didn't simply wave bon voyage on his way out of Loganville....he passed the torch.

Daugherty visited with local youth and "spoke to them about the legacy of a King"....passing out crowns to youth of all ages.

Being a "king" is about self love....owning one's future potential....knowing the full scope of your capabilities and taking full advantage of your opportunities in life....

Being a "king" is about becoming a man who's word, actions and character do the talking.....

Being a "king" is about restoring & reshaping the community around you for the better....

Being a "king" is about knowing the ultimate responsibility you keep, the true power you hold to create positive change.....

In the image of freshman safety Michael Daugherty, DBU have themselves a true Tiger King.


By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

@LonnPhillips

©️ 2023 Uninterrupted Writings Inc

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