Craig Loston leading LSU secondary

Craig Loston leading LSU secondary

July 27th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - College

LSU safety Craig Loston, top, and Brandon Taylor (18) are sent crashing to the ground as Oregon wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei, center, makes a long reception.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

LSU

Camp start: Aug. 5

Opener: TCU in Dallas on Aug. 31 (ESPN at 9 p.m. EDT)

Fun fact: With 85 victories in eight seasons, Les Miles is the second winningest coach in program history. Charlie McClendon won 137 games with the Tigers from 1962 to '79.

SEC Series

Coming Sunday: Ole Miss

LSU senior Craig Loston was once the nation's top safety prospect out of Eisenhower High School near Houston, where he also enjoyed acting.

"Greased Lightning" and "The Wiz" were two plays in which Loston appeared, but a more appropriate production now would be "The Last of the Mohicans." After having a staggering 12 defensive backs in the last seven NFL drafts, the Tigers are turning to Loston to keep them stout in the secondary for respected coordinator Johnny Chavis.

"Being around guys like Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Chad Jones, you get a feeling of how it's supposed to be around here," Loston said at SEC media days. "Those guys showed me the way to do it, and I think it's pretty much my turn now. I'm the only older one back there, so I would say it's up to me.

"I'm going to take pride in trying to keep that tradition going."

The Tigers have produced at least one defensive back in each of the past seven drafts, with LaRon Landry (2007), Peterson ('11), Claiborne ('12) and Eric Reid ('13) selected in the first round. Reid was followed this past April by cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu, who was dismissed by coach Les Miles before last season, and Tharold Simon.

Reid and Simon skipped their senior seasons, leaving the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Loston to head a group whose only other returning starter is sophomore cornerback Jalen Mills. They are expected to be joined in the first-team lineup by junior safety Ronald Martin and sophomore corner Jalen Collins.

"Since I've been here, guys have gone on to the NFL, so this hasn't been anything new," Loston said. "We do a great job of recruiting people to where it's like the people didn't even leave."

LSU has eight starters back offensively from a team that went 10-2 before losing the Chick-fil-A Bowl to Clemson, including quarterback Zach Mettenberger and receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Off-the-field troubles may claim the career of top returning rusher Jeremy Hill, but the Tigers still have Kenny Hilliard, who rushed for 464 yards and 5.7 yards a carry last season, and Alfred Blue, who was averaging 112 yards a game a year ago before suffering a season-ending knee injury in week three.

Only four starters return on defense after six juniors left early, and Loston thought about being the seventh after compiling 91 career tackles and returning an interception 100 yards in last year's 37-17 win over Mississippi State.

"I came close, but there were some things I wanted to do that I had not done yet," he said. "I want to graduate, and I'm a class away from graduating [in theater design]. I want to be an All-American, so this season I'm going to work on that.

"I just wasn't ready. I love LSU, and I love this environment."

Another motivation was how last season ended, as the final three opposing quarterbacks -- Bo Wallace of Ole Miss, Tyler Wilson of Arkansas and Tajh Boyd of Clemson -- each threw for more than 300 yards against LSU.

The Tigers open this season against TCU in Dallas and again face an incredibly taxing schedule within the SEC, having to play Georgia and Florida out of the East Division. For Loston and Miles, it's just more of the same.

"We're looking forward to the challenge, to be honest," Miles said. "Our culture is to bring it on. It's what we do. We look forward to lining up against the best in the East and the best in the West. I like us in any game."

Said Loston: "That's one of the great things about LSU football. You can always expect us to be a great team."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.