TOP10 TIGERS OF 2019/20 (#7: GD7: THE GRANT DELPIT STORY)
WHO WILL #7 BE???
We started with #10
Then we went to #9
Gave it to ya with #8
(S / Junior)
-65 tackles (38 Solo)
-2 Sacks (1 in both SEC & CFP title game)
-1 FF (vs Clemson)
-1 FR (vs GASOUTH)
-34 Total Tackles On Gains of 3 Yards Or Less
-17 Stops On 3rd Down
(Through Tackles, PD, TFL, etc)
-4 Directly Prevented TDs'
-4 Dropped INTs' (Clemson, Ole Miss, Florida)
-13 QB Hurries
-15 QB Hits
-6 Catches Dislodged From WR's Possession
-7 Passes Deflected
BEST PERFORMANCE: vs Clemson
Many were astounded when LSU safety Grant Delpit returned for his junior year at LSU...he would've been a lock as a Top 10 NFL Draft pick following stunning freshman and sophomore campaigns of 134 combined tackles, 5 sacks and 6 INTs (5 in 2018 alone).
Why would Delpit, only the 8th Tiger to be voted an All-American unanimously, a young man with such priceless NFL talents, ignore piles of cash during the most economically uncertain era since the Depression?
Why the hell would Delpit return for a junior year alongside an "unknown" quarterback, without Devin White, amid near constant rumors of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's exit?
Because Delpit, like many Tigers acting years beyond their age, could visualize the big picture:
Much like Jamal Adams before him, #7 could've left for the NFL Draft as yet another phenomenal Tigers safety...
Instead, GD7 wanted to be an LSU legend....
...thanks to his 2019 sacrifices, heroically underrated performances throughout the 2019 season, and his championship-delivering moments during the biggest of games, he most certainly will have his name and jersey in the trophy cases at LSU HQ.
Many fans, pundits, freaks, goblins and ghouls have criticized Delpit's 2019 season, maintaining that he had a down year in comparison to 2018, and received plenty of masking help from the dual speed of Patrick Queen and Jacoby Stevens...and I may have wondered what was going on once or twice myself during the Ole Miss game.
But if you simply roll the tape and watch, you'll see Delpit doing a lot of the same things he did in 2017-2018, albeit from a deeper position and while going through a variety of bodily punishment...and while he became slower due to a broken ankle, Grant crazily finished the season missing only a single game, while nearly eclipsing his own tackling statistics from previous years....all while playing through a severe injury which at any moment could've jeopardized his near-guaranteed future NFL career...
He put his body on the line the entire season...on every play...and while many would wisely determine that "every football player puts their body on the line on every single play...it's football", I suggest you try tackling a 240+ lb running back charging through you at a speed of 10+ mph on a bad ankle...how Delpit routinely dug deep through the final 8 games, against 4 top 10 opponents, and in 3 SEC West rivalry bloodbaths, we'll never know...
While many LSU fans feel Grant didn't play up to standards, I implore you to rethink that ill-placed mantra:
With his eye black emblazoned with the writing "Tony Montana" (the main character portrayed by Al Pacino in Scarface), the plays Delpit made on the field for LSU were straight up heroic, risking his body and mind for a championship instead of taking off for the NFL....but long before Delpit ever wore purple and gold, everything he held dear was at far-greater risk:
Much like many LSU players, fans, and the citizens of the great state of Louisiana (and neighboring Gulf states), when Hurricane Katrina's evil swept the Gulf Coast in 2005, 6 year old Grant Delpit's family were displaced.
Born and raised in New Orleans, his family were taking a family vacation to Memphis right before the hurricane struck, and with fears of the oncoming hurricane in the back of his parents and grandmother's minds, they still packed normally thinking the hurricane would last a weekend, with little to no damage...even going so far as to convince grandma to leave the family photos.
But Grandma Delpit had a feeling, "Put them above the cabinet!" She harshly told her son, Grant's father.
"It's fine the water wouldn't even reach that high," he justified before getting a stare from grandma.
His father moved the photos in grandma's infinite wisdom...
“I remember a lot about it actually,” Grant says. “We thought it would blow over in a weekend or so.”
While on vacation in Memphis, when 6 year old Grant was thinking about returning home to his friends, the family looked on in horror when, on national television, the Delpit Family saw the roof of their home keeping its head above the suffocating water....the only family mementos which survived were the photos atop the cabinet....
After a year, the family were finally able to settle in Houston, though they continued to visit New Orleans, taking Grant to Saints games.
As an LSU Tigers / New Orleans Saints obsessive, Grant told anyone who'd listen how he was "gonna be a safety for LSU and the Saints like Tyrann Mathieu or Kenny Vaccaro", often as he ran up and down the Superdome aisles, incapable of harnessing his madcap levels of energy.
"One day, I will play on that field, Dad," he told his father over and over again....and by the time he was reaching adolescence, they started believing him.
He was always a live wire, but throughout his early seasons in football, stationed at running back, he couldn't quite get in front of the adults' worries over his small 5'6, 130 lb frame...that was until he followed his father's footsteps and switched to defensive back.
Like his father, who played cornerback at Brother Martin High in New Orleans, Grant always played against the older kids at every youth level, and found himself a home in the secondary at St. Thomas high school.
Rich McGuire, Grant's defensive coordinator at St. Thomas said in 2018:
"If he was tackling you, you were getting all 130 lbs...he was never holding anything back...he knew his ability. That's why he was so aggressive." (To Brooks Kubena, 2018)
Amidst East Texas's football battleground, Delpit raised the bar while attending Lamar High, but once Grant's empirical brilliance took flight, he eventually moved to Bradenton, Florida's prestigious, 5-star recruit factory IMG Academy...a place where adversity would mould him just as much as a 6 inch / 70 lb growth spurt would shape the wiry safety.
During a 50-49 shootout win over California's Centennial High in his first year, Delpit was repeatedly beaten on routes, mistimed tackles or blown assignments, and watched himself on ESPN2 in abject horror.
Meanwhile, one of the greatest unsung cornerbacks in modern NFL history would become Grant's defensive coordinator at IMG, then his mentor, before finally GD7's #1 fan: one of my favorite players from childhood, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers' DB Donnie Abraham.
On a team possessed by defensive Pullitzers everywhere, from John Lynch, Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber, Shelton Quarles, Derrick Brooks...everyone forgets Donnie Abraham, a corner who posted 38 interceptions over a 9 year NFL career (returning 5 for TD, including one from the third play from scrimmage off Jeff George & the Vikings on Monday Night Football), he posted 4+ picks during 6 different seasons, and incredibly caught an INT in all 9 NFL years....yet he was released to save the team $500,000 in cap space the summer before Tampa Bay finally won its Super Bowl...
If there was anyone more prepared to help a young Grant Delpit through harsh trials, hellish tribulations, or heavy tragedies, it was Donnie.
"He may kill me for this, but adversity made him a better player," Donnie pointed out. "It took him weeks to get over the humiliation against Centennial High, but it made him respond. Great players respond..."
At IMG, the competition within the squad was feverish:
A powerhouse school dedicated to churning out Division I talent, the Florida academy grew to prominence as the stable of Heisman-winner / National Champion Chris Weinke's youth, though it's hosted such names as Florida State's Deondre Francois, former Cowboy Julius Jones, St. Louis Rams 6th overall pick Grant Wistrom, A&M enemy Kellen Mond, current LSU corner Elias Ricks (#1 CB in the 2020 class), as well as future Alabama nemesis Bo Scarbrough & Dylan Moses...to give you a peek inside the school's recent imperial status.
Under the brilliant defensive mind of Donnie Abraham, it was against this intense inner-squad competition of IMG mercenaries when Grant Delpit became GD7, growing as a player due to his fiendish film study.
"I don't know if he was a film guy before he came to IMG but he was when he left," Abraham laughed.
Coupled alongside Grant's nonstop engine, his unbelievable passion, paranormal instincts on the ball, as well as the reckless abandon he displayed vs opponents, the film obsession made Delpit into a legend.
Now he didn't just have the spirit, drive and quickness to make any play on the field, he developed the football body to put himself in three places at once, the football mind to consider three simultaneously different scenarios, or the uncanny instincts to sniff out the truth...before the ball had even been snapped.
Grabbing 6 interceptions and smashing 47 tackles throughout his lone season at IMG, Grant impressed everyone from Texas, Auburn, Alabama, and Florida...offers came out of his ears and piled higher than Nicolas Cage's gambling debts....yet when LSU came calling, Grant stopped in his tracks.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and safeties coach Bill Busch were adamant:
The IMG safety's talents weren't his most impressive asset, it was the on-field IQ which pushed those outrageous talents to new highs on every play:
"He immediately reminded us all of Jamaal Adams and Dwayne Thomas,
but with command in all areas on the field," Aranda told 247 Sports in 2019.
Once LSU came calling, Grant was never going anywhere...the allure of returning home and coming full circle with his past was too tempting.
After signing in 2017, Grant rode the pressure, kept his head down, and throttled folks in the Spring game, even surprising defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and his position coach Bill Busch by tallying more tackles than "The Tackle Doctor" Devin White.
It wasn't long before GD9 took his spot at free safety, operating in much the same manner as Tyrann Mathieu, Dwayne Thomas or Jamaal Adams before him, hanging out somewhere between quarter and nickel: he spied the backfield, sensed the danger, then flooded the threat in ultra-violence.
His first game for LSU was starting vs BYU in the mouth-watering 27-0 shutout, but the rest of his freshman year would show an emerging Delpit taking control of the secondary:
In 2017, GD9 amassed 60 tackles, 36 solo and an interception during his All-American freshman year, making plays all over the field in tight spots; due to this advanced maturity & desired responsibility, Delpit positioned himself as the best safety at LSU.
But in 2018, he went ham (covering for the havoc usually caused by an injured K'Lavon Chaisson) and became much more of an all-around disrupter, causing nightmares for offensive lines or quarterbacks when he came rushing off the edge, creating bountiful chaos in the backfield, imitating Vlad The Impaler over the middle, all as forcing 7 turnovers & administering 5 sacks.
Amid GD9's unexpected return coming into 2019, the safety was rewarded with the iconic #7 jersey....the highest honor, outside of #18, the team gives to a current player...the transformation was now complete.
Coming into last season, all LSU fans loved their new #7...still, much is expected of those who wear the number...heavy the crown, heavier the jersey.
Throughout the season, when LSU outscored opponents in an offensive track meet, our traditionally stingy defense gave up more yards and points than they had in the last few years combined, while at the same time playing more drives and minutes on the field than ever before. This delirious, pedal to the metal effect thrilled many LSU fans, but left many defense-first Tiger fans defensively despondent, while others felt Delpit wasn't living up to his potential or the #7 jersey.
Fans pointed out his missed tackles vs Ole Miss, supposed "shyness in the face of contact" as the games went on, and the "absence" of his 2017-18 range...
Without understanding why their #7 wasn't constantly flying around or making 20 tackles a game, once he became less mobile vs Alabama & Ole Miss (specifically), LSU fans could finally see just how much ground Delpit made up on every play.
The reality is: Delpit played nearly every minute (from September until January) hampered & frustrated yet was still stunningly effective; however, the problems became far worse after an ankle injury he suffered during the bruising warfare vs Auburn....he also sustained intense cramping injuries vs Texas and Vanderbilt before that.
He also played through a likely concussion, until the LSU training staff benched him later in the Utah State game. After the heavy hit he delivered dazed him and left him lying on the Death Valley grass, Delpit only sat out a single drive in one of his best games of the season vs the Aggies:
"My lip kind of busted open a little bit and I hit my head kind of hard," he said to the Advocate after the game. "I had to make sure I was straight... I'm all good. Came in to get checked and came back out."
Another truth for the GD7 haters out there:
Delpit also switched positions from strong to free safety after Todd Harris tore his ACL, sending him away from his natural spot closer to the line of scrimmage and deeper into the secondary, in the process robbing him of endless stat-stuffing....
Instead, GD7 sacrificed his draft grade (aka millions of dollars) for the team.
To prove this selfless point precisely, the man who took Delpit's usual spot at strong safety, Jacoby Stevens, had a career year of 92 total tackles (53 solo) (increased from 2018's 57 tackles), 39 assisted tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 5 sacks, and 6 passes deflected...
What you now find (when you add nuance, instead of emotion, to Grant's final year at LSU) is a stone cold cat who wasn't merely switching positions for the sake of the team:
GD7 had no problem paving the way for his fellow teammates to rise above and beyond anything they'd ever accomplished previously...he just wanted a championship.
How could he not win the Thorpe Award?
The dude played both free and strong safety at a 5 star level, his totals (whilst out of position & injured) were only marginally below his supernatural 2018...meanwhile his overall influence and impact upon a national title-winning squad is unequivocal.
Still, there were disgraceful acts of criticism coming from the SEC Network's cadre of hootenannys or from Jerk Kirkstreit up in the booth...but the anger from Tiger fans must've hurt Grant.
There is truth to Delpit's 2019 struggles, as he repeatedly overcompensated for his injuries by taking over-aggressive angles, a byproduct of his "ears pinned back" buccaneering style; yet some of these mistakes could've seriously hurt LSU had Delpit failed to correct the errors:
In one of the worst defensive showings by an LSU team since I've been alive, GD7 was chiefly responsible for 4 Ole Miss touchdowns in November, missing 3 crucial tackles and taking 2 horrific open-field angles vs John Rhys Plumlee and Ole Miss, catching air as Finebaum's boy toy dropped 37 points, most in the second half.
All 3 of his missed tackles led directly to long rushing touchdowns....although the situation grew much worse for a physically and now mentally drained Grant Delpit:
Later, in response to quick LSU touchdowns, #7 was beaten by an ugly pass from Plumlee, the ball floating haplessly across the middle under Delpit's lackadaisical coverage.
Once he caught the ball, Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore made one "movement", sending Delpit the wrong way as he "took it to the house", juking GD7 out of his socks in the open field...for everyone to see...
Yet again, just like the punches he took at IMG, the safety was caught in the headlights, under the burning microscope of the cutthroat media, the judgmental fans....the ESPN commentator Todd Blackledge saying he "looked like a completely different player".
Without a doubt, GD7's performance vs Ole Miss is the worst showing of his career, the 28 points generated from his mistakes blighting a game in which LSU's Burt Reynolds Offense scored 58 points in 71 plays while Joe Burrow was on the field.
Overall, Grant missed 14 tackles on the season and merely managed 4.5 tackles for loss, a number which is a pittance compared to the 9.5 he'd amassed by November 2018.
The reality was clear: the season still in the balance, our defense needing a boost, and with a lingering, serious injury to one of our core leaders, Orgeron, Aranda, and Busch made the expert decision to bench GD7 for the Arkansas game.
Mo Hampton performed admirably at safety in lieu of Delpit, posting 6 tackles and buying the Thorpe Award-winner much needed rest before the biggest four games of his life.
With his ankle now rested following 13 days out, Delpit returned vs A&M in style, marking his final game in Death Valley by stealing his 2nd interception of the year off Kellen Mond, payback for the uncalled fumble Delpit forced in 2018, vengeance for the 74-72 7OT defeat...the pick was just a warning.
In his final four games as a Tiger, Delpit played as well as any LSU safety under the prime-time lights in our history, grabbing the aforementioned interception vs A&M, posting 15 tackles (10 solo), 5 more assisted tackles, 2.5 Tackles for loss (half of his season's total), 2 sacks, and 3 passes deflected as he led the 2019 Tigers defense to an exquisite finish.
Overall, in the final month of the 2019/2020 campaign, LSU's much-maligned defense became the best D in the country, giving up only 7 TDs in 4 games vs 3 top 10 teams (while starters remained on the field...9 if we count the two Oklahoma scored after Orgeron and Aranda substituted our entire defense).
Starting with the SEC title game, Grant moved closer to the line of scrimmage, stuffing DeAndre Swift in the backfield on four occasions while Joe Burrow played keep away....however, his animalistic public crucifixion of UGA quarterback Jake Fromm must be highlighted.
Underlining everything Grant can produce on the field, his perfectly timed sack on Fromm is to die for, ripping the all-time UGA passing leader down from below, pulling off one of the most athletic sacks you'll ever witness...from the first second, he timed his delayed blitz to perfection, then there's the depraved execution in his approach to sacking Fromm...
Delpit was back...he hopped around, dancing in the air, shaking his finger...he wanted to send a message.
As LSU's offense took over in the CFP Peach Bowl vs Oklahoma, Delpit was a quiet factor, batting away a red zone pass from Hurts, stuffing 3 runs at the line of scrimmage, and hurrying Hurts into 2 incompletions, all while Joe Burrow went full Daniel Day-Lewis on the Sooners and Delpit's former childhood friend Ceedee Lamb.
Now....the dream was alive:
Delpit would be taking the Superdome field to play for a National Championship vs Clemson, a reality so surreal it knocked the safety back a bit.
"It's going to be crazy to step on to that field..I've always dreamed of playing a game there, but playing on the field as a Tiger to play for a National Championship? I've got goosebumps, not lyin', but we'll be all business on Monday," he said before the game.
Returning to the scene of his greatest childhood memories, watching Saints games with his parents, running up and down the Superdome aisles...he was all too familiar and comfortable in these surroundings for the outcome to be anything other than Grant Delpit leading the defensive charge for an LSU victory.
In his best performance of 2019, Grant Delpit posted 6 tackles, 5 by himself, 1 assisted tackle, 2 stops on 3rd down, 1 Tackle for loss, 1 forced fumble, and 1 brilliant sack on Trevor Lawrence at the LSU 30 yard line (stuffing a promising Clemson drive in the 1st quarter, directly subtracting points from the score during a time when Dabo Swinney's men had LSU right where they wanted us).
He was rampant against Clemson, though just like the rest of 2019, Delpit of course suffered another injury, this time to his hamstring when he closed on a deep Trevor Lawrence throw to Tee Higgins, jumping and dropping a sure-fire interception, before sensing discomfort when he landed (the INT wouldn't have counted anyway due to a Fulton penalty).
Once I saw his hands, gripped in closed fists, settle on his hips and his head bowed, and legs stiffened, I knew what had just happened and so did the LSU training staff, rushing to his aid on the sidelines despite Grant's annoyance with their involvement.
Though he didn't let anyone notice, the hamstring injury limited his pursuit speed and his ability to chase deep passes in the air...still, GD7 went all out, shredding his hamstring to pieces for an LSU title.