TOP10 TIGERS OF 2019/20 (#6 KEEPING K'LAVON: HOW TRAGEDY & TEXAS COULDN'T HOLD THIS TIGER (Freeview)
We've taken you down a road of #10 Michael Divinity's trials and tribulations on the sidelines, his leadership to get back out on the field, lead a defense, and define everything there is about the 2019 LSU Tigers;
We've shown you the path #9 Patrick Queen took to geaux from unknown to probable NFL 1st Round pick & Defensive MVP of the National Championship Game,
We've rode the rocky waves of #8 Thaddeus Moss's step outside of his father's infinite shadow and into the spotlight as an elite all-around tight end...
We've shown you why #7 Grant Delpit was 2019 LSU's most wrongfully criticized Tiger....and now.....we reveal....
(DE/LB / Red Shirt Sophomore)
60 tackles (34 solo)
13.5 Tackles For Loss
-1 Forced fumble
-21 QB Hits
-33 QB Hurries
-9 Forced Incompletions
-57 Pocket Disruptions
-5 Stops on 3rd
-4 Missed Tackles
-27 Stop of 3 Yards or less
-5 holding penalties forced
BEST PERFORMANCE: Alabama & Oklahoma
As far as sophomores geaux, the absolute pandemonium and must-see histrionics of K'Lavon Chaisson coming into the 2018 season was at an all time high.
"We think K'Lavon will be a 12-15 sack guy for us," Orgeron predicted for the North Shore High product during the summer of 2018.
Linebacker Devin White admitted he believed the dynamo would "set the LSU single-season sack record" before his time at LSU was up....maybe even as a sophomore.
But that all flew out the window when the Houston stud's season was ruined in one split second during a dominant Week 1 outing vs Miami.
In the 4th quarter vs the #8 Hurricanes, Chaisson tore his ACL, horrifically ending his 2018 run just as it had begun, live on ABC for all to see.
Chaisson's next LSU appearance wouldn't be for 11 months and 28 more days...
There wasn't a single Tiger player, coach or fan who didn't fall down on one knee while Chaisson lay helpless on the turf of Cowboys Stadium...a field with its own nefarious history of causing debilitating injuries.
Everyone on the 2018 team knew their defense would be radically changed by the loss of the sophomore 5-star....in fact, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda had assembled so much of the defensive identity around Chaisson's various pass-rushing talents that he was forced to move safety Grant Delpit further to the line.
Thankfully, K'Lavon was granted a red shirt, a chance to restart his sophomore campaign over again in 2019; yet when the DE/LB hybrid underwent surgery, many expected the fiendish defensive end would need a year of recovery & getting his feet wet before returning to his peak, just in time for his junior year.
How would his explosion be affected?
Would he be able to produce the lower-leg leverage needed to fight off the active hands of right or left tackles'?
Though we were robbed of an entire season watching Chaisson, the devastating ACL tear had positives:
Orgeron stopped the suffocating physicality of his practices, coordinating alongside Strength & Conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt to scale down the violent Tiger on Tiger contact, practices which had become a carry-over hallmark of the Les Miles era.
While his horrific knee issues curtailed his sophomore 2018 campaign, Chaisson became empowered during his time away from the field.
Obsessed with his recovery, K'Lavon was coming into the facilities for treatment every morning 3x a day...7 days a week, to the extent Dr. Bankston's staff had to keep him out long enough so they could get a break themselves.
On November 8th 2018, a mere two months after his surgery and on the 4th anniversary of his father's passing, a video showing Chaisson flying through speed drills, as well as cutting and twisting, made the rounds on social media.
To the shock and awe of many, Chaisson stared down the abject horror of his injury and said "No...you cannot stop me..." taking Adrian Peterson's cue and saying "hell no" to the suggestions of him being out for more than a year.
After all, he'd lost more than football long before his arrival in Baton Rouge:
At the age of 14, K'Lavon's 33 year old father Kelvin, a former linebacker at Baylor (1999-2001) was shot and killed...a tragedy's trauma which shaped and informed the young man more than he may be aware of.
Not only was Chaisson's father a standout at Smiley High School in Houston, Kelvin Chaisson also earned three-time all-district player, posting a rampant senior season that included 106 tackles, three interceptions and six fumble recoveries.
Much like his son, Kelvin may have been a football prodigy, too:
Despite failing to appear in the first five games of his freshman season at Baylor, Kelvin Chaisson finished with 49 tackles and grabbed a career-high 11 tackles against Oklahoma State on Nov. 20, 1999, proving the apple never falls far from the tree.
"Yeah...he was pretty good," K'Lavon said of his father in his typically understated demeanor, gazing into the space beyond with a small grin.
Chaisson continued to pay tribute to his father, wearing Kelvin's Baylor gloves as a constantly recruited high schooler at North Shore in Texas...after every sack, every tackle, to this day the father taken too soon comes to his mind when he demonstrates the echoes of his own heritage on the football field...
"Sometimes you have to have things taken away to realize how much they mean to you," Chaisson said in 2019, "football was like that for me. I've traveled harder roads than football being taken away..."
At one point in Chaisson's intriguing trajectory, the pass rusher seemed to dismiss football altogether, skipping his sophomore year at North Shore to focus on basketball. When he learned there weren't too many options for a "6'4 power forward" as Chaisson dubbed himself, he went back to football.
"When he walked into the weight room, we all went 'Hell Yeah!'" His future LSU and North Shore teammate Eric Monroe described his return to the team.
Shortly after, at an LSU hosted camp in July 2015...K'Lavon's journey as an LSU Legend began.
Chaisson, having gone without playing football for a year, arrived at the camp alongside Monroe, mostly to "hang out" North Shore Head Coach John Kay explained. "We just said 'get out there and show 'em what you got'...we really didn't know how good K'Lavon was...but we felt it..."
Without playing a down of varsity football, K'Lavon Chaisson impressed everyone there on that fateful day, and much to the surprise of his grandma Mirrian Glover, he was given a scholarship offer by LSU...especially once scouts bore witness to the future #18's 6'4 235 pounds, his Mutumbo-esque wingspan, and his natural abilities.
Once he learned how much fun he had playing football, specifically considering the mental aspects, Chaisson never looked back.
He became a football fiend, watching film while his high school teammates partied, running drills when others were out on the town.
"Football isn't checkers," K'Lavon once said, "it's chess."
Chaisson went on a wild streak though, even getting defiant to the point Head Coach John Kay and position coach (LSU legend) Shaun Wynn kicked him out of the weight room after a fracas one day;
Kay and Wynn sat down with Chaisson's grandparents Gary and Mirrian Glover and told them he'd "considered kicking K'Lavon off the team".
"Until the LSU offer, we didn't even realize who we had...we didn't realize the battle raging in his head. He had choices to make...was he a basketball star? Was it football? Was he an astronaut? I'm not kidding...the kid could've done anything."
After taking team discipline on the chin, as well as being removed from the starting lineup, it only took one multi-sack performance (from the bench) for Chaisson to win back the trust of his coaches and teammates.
"After that, he started every game..." LSU DB Eric Monroe revealed,
Later on during his junior year, upon the same field in which he made his LSU debut, the DE became a Houston legend when sealing the 2015 Texas 6-A State Championship for North Shore in primal Chaisson fashion.
It was 4th & goal in overtime, the score at 21-14 and Austin Westlake were down to their final chance to force 2nd overtime; they called a jet sweep-pass but there was K'Lavon, geauxing RoboCop on the quarterback and destroying the play.
This virtuoso performance capped his junior year as the title game's defensive MVP with 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and a forced fumble...all on a broken collarbone he suffered four weeks earlier.
“He played lights-out,” said former LSU defensive tackle Shaun Wynn, Chaisson’s defensive line coach at North Shore. “When I went back and graded the film, I looked at his production and it was off the charts. He was everywhere.”
By the time he graduated from North Shore with a 3.3 GPA, 20 offers had already been tabled for the linebacker/lineman hybrid (LSU's of course being the first) following a face-altering high school career in which he wrapped up 94 tackles, 24 sacks, forced 6 fumbles, scooped 7 fumble recoveries, caught 2 interceptions, and hurried quarterbacks into a dizzying psychological maze on 56 occasions...but Texas were in pole position...and LSU were stuck waiting in the wings.
Despite all the hard work by Austin Thomas and D-line coach Dennis Johnson to connect with K'Lavon, his recruitment turned into a back and forth struggle between Chaisson's desire to remain in Texas and become a Longhorn or go to Baton Rouge.
He told Grandma Glover he was "taking his talents to Austin"...then he flipped back, he wanted to go to LSU...he flip flopped all the time, back and forth...
But his signature was finally captured following a lung bursting filibuster by Coach Orgeron at 4am on the morning of January 27th, 2017:
"We were about to get on a plane and fly to Florida for an official visit, and my mind was set on Texas...but Coach O wasn't having that. He came banging on the door at 4 in the morning while everyone's asleep, and I'm telling him 'Coach, we gotta get to the airport, we don't have time for a visit'. But he hung out while we packed, then followed me through the airport, telling me 'I know exactly how to use you, we'd be a dynamic duo' all the way through the TSA and all that...I felt like if they want me that bad... for a coach to do all that, then this wasn't just a job, this was personal for him..."
As a testament to Orgeron's greatness, K'Lavon signed for LSU 4 days later on February 1st...after being woken up at 4am on the morning before a 6am flight.
His arrival in Baton Rouge was met with much anticipation; the towering colossus would soon pay huge dividends in the trenches for Aranda's 3-4 formation, but as a freshman he saw limited, though effective time.
Just like Grant Delpit, Patrick Queen, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and others among LSU's historic 2017 class, Chaisson made his LSU debut in Houston vs The BYU Cougars, stepping foot upon the same field in which he delivered a state title, and contributing to the historic 27-0 shutout with 3 solo tackles...all caught by ESPN cameras.
Then, as we came into the 2018 campaign, with all the expectations heaped upon the stunning specimen, "Miami happened" and Chaisson was back to square one...torn knee and all. The experience was just like the LSU camp in 2015: it would be another test of K'Lavon's iron will to come back from yet another year out of action.
Let's hear it from the late, great ESPN reporter Ed Aschoff:
"He was going in at 6:45 AM, noon, and 7pm every day for rehab to get back after his ACL tear vs Miami. Chaisson was already sprinting and cutting after 2 months out, but the entire time he was on the sidelines, he was dissecting offenses & offensive coordinators in his room, he felt like he was on the team getting ready to play every week."
Echoing Aschoff's brilliant in-depth reporting, Chaisson approached his recovery in the same manner he mourned for his father:
He paid consistent tribute in every mile he ran, every burst, and when he felt like quitting, he remembered his father and his grandparents' words of wisdom, and pressed forward into the abyss...but as he felt his knee growing stronger in the wake of each passing step, K'Lavon spotted the blinding light at the end of the tunnel.
As the defensive end maintained a high visibility on the sidelines throughout 2018, selflessly cheering and driving his teammates on while wearing a boot from the sidelines, his quiet leadership began to unfold.
Who knew K'Lavon's display would supply the DE/LB with the highest award which can be given to a current LSU player:
As 2019 dawned and the fever of expectation heightened, the #18 jersey now belonged to Chaisson.
For refusing to go MIA or AWOL...for his purple and gold heart in 2018, the North Shore Death Star received the LSU "Medal of Honor".
“It’s special. The number 18 is a very special number but at the same time, it’s just me,” Chaisson said. “I didn’t really do anything to become No. 18, I didn’t do any special things to get this number, I was just being myself. I’m glad that it was recognized but at the same time, whether I have the number or not, I gotta do what needs to be done on and off the field. That’s just how I was raised.”
On September 2nd, 2019 within the visceral confines of Death Valley, Chaisson roared back to the field, consuming Georgia Southern's offensive line, running "attack" and quarterback, knocking out their starting running back with a titanic hit, forcing a fumble recovery by Grant Delpit...but it wasn't how Chaisson felt after producing the turnover, it was the sound the hit made which shook us up:
A thunderclap filtering around the championship bio-dome of Death Valley could be heard for miles, shattering the ears of spectators, frightening Georgia Southern fans into hysteria, and letting all LSU fans know:
Your Boy Is Back In Town.
Against Texas, Chaisson turned in an astounding performance, posting 5 tackles (4 as a solo artist), 1 sack, 1 TFL, 7 pocket disruptions, 4 QB hits, 5 hurries, and was crucial on both 4th and goal stops in the 1st quarter, all whilst suffering a knock to his ankle.
Yet again, sadly for K'Lavon, the team, and us as fans, we missed his presence as a pass-rushing force over the next games, Orgeron wisely choosing to sit him out for the Vanderbilt bloodbath (a game in which 7 different Tigers were badly injured) and blow-out of in-state "rivals" Northwestern State.
Against Utah State he returned, recording a single solo tackle in a game which saw #18 heavily rotated in the lineup by Dave Aranda, our former defensive coordinator gradually working Chaisson back to football fitness...and the Florida game.
"I don't care whether it's some high school game, a local pick-up game, I don't care...I wanna play ball..." Chaisson replied to reports the DE/LB hybrid was being rested for Florida.
With this surreal criticism towards Chaisson "saving himself", K'Lavon erupted in an animalistic display vs #9 Florida, setting Death Valley aflame when he sealed the game by body-slamming Kyle Trask at our own 5 yard line, adding to his 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 8 tackles (5 solo, all stops of 3 yard gains or less), and arresting playmaking throughout.
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask enjoyed success against LSU's secondary in the first half, hitting three completions on Derek Stingley Jr, including a touchdown.
But once Aranda began mixing up the variety of Chaisson's point of attack, as well as dropping #18 into coverage (which created multiple incompletions), LSU turned the game around defensively and shut Florida down in the second half....Chaisson and Derek Stingley Jr being the chief orchestrators.
If Florida showed everything Chaisson could do as a pass-rusher and disrupter, his high octane brutality vs Alabama led the defensive charge in the second biggest game of the year.
Chaisson smashed Tua viciously on 2 occasions, destroyed Alabama's skill players for 3.5 TFL and 10 total tackles (his season high, including 5 stops of 3 or less yards); in addition to this havoc, #18 disrupted the Crimson Tide pocket on 9 occasions: this never-ending rampant pursuit of Tua Tagovaiola helped LSU win that game.
#18's vengeful speed, complete disregard for humanity in the hit, and his continuous pressure wore Tua's injured ankle down over the course of the afternoon in Tuscaloosa...
Though Tagovaiola bombed 400+ yards on LSU, K'Lavon heavily shackled the Alabama quarterback while contributing directly to 4 of Tua's 19 incompletions on the day.
While Chaisson's team-leading 6.5 sacks may feel below the numbers we expected from the young hellion, due to Aranda's subtle defensive system utilizing K'Lavon's pursuit, speed and aggression to contain and disrupt the pocket itself (rather than constantly seek to penetrate), his statistics were never geauxing to be voluminous, neither were they paramount:
In fact, watch the games and just count how many plays Chaisson's intensity disrupts: his relentless pressure heavily contributed to LSU's #1 opposition completion percentage ranking....simply put, if #18 were unable to sack the quarterback, his hell bent for leather pass rushes still wasted enough of the offensive line and quarterback's energy, making an easy completion mostly impossible against the Tigers.
In a lean year for LSU on the sacks front (38 total), if K'Lavon happened to be in the lineup (90% of the time) we didn't waste a rush.
Chaisson couldn't be reckoned with, and even when offensive tackles won individual battles vs K'Lavon, he still dominated in a way which contributed to their late-game exhaustion.
Over the course of the Tigers' 2019 quest, you can see Orgeron's staff trying to protect Chaisson from his own pedal to the metal style of play, hoping he wouldn't suffer an injury relapse after jumping into the action too quickly.
Luckily, Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase, Jordan Jefferson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Terrace Marshall put up such an atrocity of points, they supplied the Tigers defense significant rest late in games.
As the season wore on, there was a Catch-22 from this quick-draw Burrow-led pummeling:
The defense became gassed from repeated trips to the field, one 2 minute touchdown drive after another, and much like everyone else, Chaisson may have been exhausted, but he never stopped...and this was a guy Aranda didn't just send on the outside, the current Baylor coach frequently stashed K'Lavon in the bowels of the line as an interior defensive tackle, a role the "slimmer" National Champion excelled at...regardless of weight.
From only a half season sample (including all 7 Top 10 Teams), Chaisson completed 59 pocket disruptions, issued 21 QB hits on the best in the game, Tua, Trevor, Hurts, Sam Ehlinger, Jake Fromm all falling before him;
Chaisson's terrifying pressure directly forced these vaunted QBs into 9 incompletions....quickly chucking the ball away as if they'd been spooked by John Malkovich's future ghost (Fromm's 1st interception to Derek Stingley profited completely from a rampant K'Lavon pressure).
The young man's length constantly forced tackles to extend their arms just to get a hand on him...and at that point, he had 'em:
As far as pure talent, K'Lavon is the most elite pass-rusher in LSU history, leaving behind unfinished business in Baton Rouge...though he may complete that legacy with every down he plays at the next level.
He was one of those special players...a metamorphosis of Arden Key's edge-rushing attributes, Glenn Dorsey's tenacity, @aperkin2113's elite football IQ, and flashes of Simeon Rice's versatility and expert hands.
When Chaisson tells Mike Florio at the NFL Combine that "he can do it all", that he can "speak 4 different football languages": Believe him.
Bull rush, speed rush, counters, spins or stabs to get home, dropping in coverage to deceive with height and swiveling hips....
With these attributes fully on display, K'Lavon announced himself to the world as "our defensive Joe Burrow" during the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, sacking Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts on the first play from scrimmage and setting a massive tone for what would become the biggest beatdown in modern college football history...
LSU were kind to score 63...it should've been in the 90s...if Burrow hadn't left the field, it woulda been.......the world thought of Joe Burrow as "college football's first serial killer"...
...And Chaisson's pressures, highlighted by his stamina when he "chaisson'd" the Heisman candidate and former Alabama quarterback, smashing Hurts into a galaxy far far away (alongside Glen Logan) late in the game, complimented Burrow's G.O.A.T show.
This irresponsibly good pass-rushing led to 2 sacks and the Defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl, an award he was too meek to even accept, much to Joe Burrow's amusement.
After all, the quiet, reserved Chaisson who always "lets his game do the talking", finally spoke up on the sidelines vs Oklahoma, chewing out Jacoby Stevens, as well as the entire defense, telling them to watch themselves during the rest of the game, imploring his teammates to avoid the skirmishes and stupid fights...Chaisson, ever the mental warrior, was thinking ahead: suspensions were a neaux geaux for this team heading into New Orleans...and there was the leader, #18...rising to the moment.
In the biggest game of his life, the 2020 National Championship Game vs Clemson, Chaisson pinned his ears back and edge rushed Trevor Lawrence for most of the game, creating unceasingly effective pressure which made Sunshine fork up 17 incompletions (as well as a crowd-pleasing moment where Chaisson and LB Damone Clark sandwiched Lawrence to the ground).
Many of Sunshine's errant throws stemmed from the intensity of K'Lavon Chaisson and Michael Divinity on the edges: 3 of these QB hurries were on 3rd downs, while another late pressure forced Lawrence to escape the pocket desperately...straight into the waiting body of Grant Delpit, the safety forcing the fumble which sealed the game.
Chaisson's impact on the biggest games vs the best opponents cannot be overstated: #18's totals are massive against the 7 Top 10 teams we faced, thrashing 5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, including the aforementioned monstrous 3.5 vs Alabama and 3 vs Florida, 5 individual stops on 3rd down, and 27 stops on gains of 3 yards or less.
While many agree K'Lavon is a bona fide 1st round NFL Draft pick, there's factions who feel his LSU career was left unfinished.
K'Lavon is taking his talents to the NFL after 3 years at LSU, only 2 1/4 on the field:
First, a strong promising freshman season with a 2 sack performance vs Chattanooga and promising displays vs Alabama and Notre Dame;
Then a lost "sophomore" campaign where he found himself, became one of the leaders of the team, was then given the #18 jersey and proceeded to perform at the highest level, against the best opponents, while in the less-favorable scheme he was working with under Dave Aranda;
Finally, it was his 3rd Sophomore season where he destroyed the best players in college football, taking no prisoners and helped deliver a national championship; we feel he not only lived up to the billing and then some,
but Chaisson is perhaps the 1st or 2nd most critical defensive player for that 2019 LSU team.
But I can only feel he should've stayed....had Chaisson returned to LSU this season (in a hypothetical world where football continues on schedule) he would've been playing in a system that valued his skill sets most, a 4-3 formation which would've featured those indefensible attributes of his as the focal point even more than Aranda's 3-4 hybridized system.
Under Bo Pelini, K'Lavon Chaisson would've become the all time LSU Sack King, overtaking Arden Key's numbers with ease had he returned for his Red Shirt Junior season....as he said at the Combine to Mike Florio:
"It was a surreal moment for sure, winning the national championship, but even then I felt like on defense we could've played better, that we left a lot out there on the field, like we weren't even close to hitting our apex yet...."
With Patrick Queen, Grant Delpit, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and K'Lavon Chaisson all leaving a year or two of eligibility at LSU as they pursue the ultimate goal of the NFL...
We agree, K'Lavon...you guys went 15-0, became the Greatest College Fooball Team of All Time as well as one of the greatest modern sports stories in recent history, and you and I both know you guys weren't finished...not even close...but you came in together, it's only damn right you went out stride for stride.
#5, 4, 3 COMING UP!
I would love to thank friends @adperkins2113 Haaaaarold, MaryRose Welch, @ClayBrewsBeer, Eric Armstrong, Anthony, @LSUDan, Dirty South Tiger, Fred From Plano, Kyle J. "Putt Putt Putt Em Up / It's All In The Hips" Albright, Chase Hoyt, Susan Brignac, and Mr. Tony Woodward Two Bets
Be Safe Out There Friends, This'll Be Over Soon.
LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2020 Uninterrupted Writings