BATON ROUGE, La. -- To put it in baseball terms, Josh Boutte got Wally Pipped last season. However, the senior offensive lineman still has an opportunity to make his mark at LSU after losing his starting position to Maea Teuhema just two quarters into the 2015 season.
Boutte drew widespread praise during spring practice -- offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said he “may be the most improved guy out here” after LSU’s spring game -- and wrapped up the 15 practices as the Tigers’ starting right guard.
“Every year, it’s always something you’re going to learn -- one big thing,” Boutte said toward the end of spring practice. “I guess it took me four years to get them all together and finally mold it into what I would say is a masterpiece, hopefully.”
If Boutte remains in the starting lineup once the season arrives, that will represent a second chance that Pipp never received.
According to baseball legend, Pipp took a day off during the New York Yankees’ 1925 season and a young upstart named Lou Gehrig took his place as the starting first baseman. Gehrig went on to start the next 2,129 consecutive games, then a record, and Pipp became a footnote in history.
Nothing that extreme happened along LSU’s offensive line last season, but shortly after Boutte drew a holding penalty that wiped out Travin Dural’s 37-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter against Mississippi State, Teuhema replaced Boutte at guard. Teuhema, a highly regarded freshman, went on to start the remaining 11 games while Boutte was relegated to spot duty, never playing more than 17 snaps in any game the rest of the way.
“I cost my team, pretty much everybody, a big penalty, a big touchdown play with Travin Dural -- a holding penalty, just a stupid decision, something that could have been avoided,” Boutte said. “It kind of set me back, but I just never gave up and kept pushing. You never knew when they were going to need you. Unfortunately it wasn’t until guys left, but I’m looking forward to showing the coaches and everybody what I can do.”
The guys who left, last season’s starting tackles Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins, were two of Boutte’s most trusted confidants once he lost the starting job. Boutte admits he was discouraged after working so hard to claim a spot in offensive line coach Jeff Grimes’ lineup, but his teammates’ encouragement helped him tough it out.
“I really needed that,” Boutte said. “Guys like Vadal, Hawk, guys in the past that have given good advice, I went to them and they told me some good things and I kept pushing.”
Once spring practice arrived, Boutte pushed his way back into Grimes’ top five again. The Tigers entered spring practice with three starting spots essentially locked down -- those belonging to Ethan Pocic, Will Clapp and Teuhema -- and two up for grabs. Toby Weathersby is among the leading contenders to fill Alexander’s slot at right tackle. Meanwhile, Teuhema is attempting to take over for Hawkins at left tackle, vacating the guard spot that Boutte hopes to claim.
“The light has come on,” Cameron said. “It’s not an if. We knew it wasn’t an if, it was a matter of when. The light is on bright and we’re excited about the future with Josh.”
Tigers coach Les Miles singled out Boutte several times this spring in post-practice interview sessions and added one more compliment for the 6-foot-5, 342-pound senior after the spring game.
“He’s been one of the more physical guards that we’ve had in our time here -- just a big, strong man,” Miles said. “I still think he’s a work in progress, but he’s at a level now where his play is an advantage for us.”
It’s common to hear a player say the game slows down once he finally begins to settle into his role. Boutte said during the spring that it’s finally happening for him, providing the chance for a sunnier result than his disappointing first effort as a starter.
Boutte might have been Wally Pipped last year, but he realizes now that he does not have to play the Pipp role forever.
“Josh has had some opportunities and he just needed to relax and play,” Cameron said. “There’s that maturity thing again: Here’s a guy who’s still growing, he’s maturing, he’s playing with more confidence. He’s obviously a great physical specimen, but now as a young man he’s really growing mentally and I think he’s poised to have a great year for us.”