Coaching khakis, white hat and all, Josh Dworaczyk emerged from the Tiger Stadium tunnel and plodded toward the 50-yard line.
His name bellowed from the loudspeakers via the familiar voice of public address announcer Dan Borne. His head coach, Les Miles, handed him a football. He drowned in hugs and kisses from his extended family. He stood in line.
It was a line formed by a group of young men who had helped rattle off 11 straight wins and collectively stared down the barrell of the first 12-0 regular season in program history.
Senior Day is a day for players who have poured nearly a quarter of their young lives into the gumbo of LSU football.
Few have sacrificed more for the program than Dworaczyk.
After five long, largely successful seasons, the imposing 6-foot-6 Dworaczyk seemed as small as ever gazing at the sea of purple and gold surrounding him for perhaps the final time.
“I didn’t know if I was going to get another chance,” Dworaczyk said. “I was running out there last year I promise you, not knowing if I was going to get another opportunity.”
But in January, the NCAA came calling and ruled Dworaczyk could return for a rare sixth year in the collegiate ranks.
Fully recovered from a brutal knee injury, Dworaczyk rejoined his teammates as the elder statesman in and aching locker room. He also returned as a two-year starter suddenly battling for a position.
On an offensive line stocked with four returning starters, Dworaczyk found himself dueling with a former five-star prospect in La’El Collins for the left guard spot, a position he anchored 26 consecutive times from 2009-10.
Older, wiser but fighting an uphill battle against one of the most heralded recruits in recent memory, Dworaczyk handled the situation with class and polish. The veteran shepherded his protégé daily. In the film room, on the practice field, Dworaczyk was a constant aide to Collins, a high school tackle learning the guard position.
Collins won the job.
“It says a lot about his character,” Collins said. “When I got the starting job, he was never like a guy who wanted me to fail so he could get in. He always had a strong mindset, always said, ‘’El, keep getting better.’”
Collins did, blossoming into one of the premier guards in college football’s most physical league.
In the process, junior left tackle Chris Faulk suffered a season-ending injury.
Having never played a snap at tackle, Dworaczyk got the call. Instead of watching, he was now flanking Collins.
“The chemistry with me and Josh, ever since I got here, we just clicked,” Collins said. “Being able to have a guy like that on your side is amazing. We never leave each other out to dry.”
Times were tough as Idaho and Auburn constantly harassed quarterback Zach Mettenberger, often times at Dworaczyk’s expense. But never did that stop him from conducting post-practice interviews or accepting responsibility for his play.
Alex Hurst, a two-year starter at right tackle, took over for Dworaczyk who once again found himself on the sidelines where he watched the entire 2011 season. For a guy who fought back from two season-ending injuries and a position battle lost, another setback was just a blip on the radar.
Miles and offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa continued to coach Dworaczyk who was responsible for knowing every position on the offensive line.
“He’s just a very bright guy, knows the offense inside and out,” Miles said. “And he’s talented. He’s been a left side guard his entire career, and it’s kind of easy for him to move out to that left side tackle.”
After Hurst abruptly left the team prior to the South Carolina game, Dworaczyk was once again thrust into action, this time against college football’s most feared pass rusher, Jadaveon Clowney.
It sure looked like it. Dworaczyk and his unit allowed just a single sack in the game, a game LSU won 23-21 to keep all of its lofty goals squarely in focus.
After the game, Dworaczyk spoke glowingly about the Tiger front and the inprovement spurred on by adversity.
“We usually go see a movie, and we didn’t go see a movie (Friday) night,” Dworaczyk said. “We stayed in and watched some extra film, and I think you see that kind of dedication, everyone feeds off that.”
Since then, the Tiger offense has taken flight, opening up an aereal attack so glaringly missing from the team for half a decade.
Though the newfound consistency arrived a bit too late for Dworaczyk’s career to come full circle with another BCS National Championship, it has come in time for Senior Day, his second.
But this one will carry more weight.
Dworaczyk will once again trot from the bowels of Tiger Stadium onto a sundrenched field, but this time he’ll have on shoulder pads and gloves. His snow white jersey will soon accumulate stains-- green, purple and gold.
When he leaves the field after the game and what he hopes will be another chorus of the alma mater, he won’t return again as a player.
“The hardest part is going to be trying to find a way to match that rush and feeling of running out in that stadium,” Dworaczyk said. “The feeling of scoring a touchdown and everybody screaming. Just the emotion of getting a win in that stadium and how much it means to everybody.”
This one will mean more.
It will mean more because Dworaczyk didn’t know if he’d get anther chance to compete. Now he does. One more.
“The bottom line is to make one more memory in Tiger Stadium and hopefully it ends in a victory.”