College football is a game built on traditions, but my favorites are the new ones. Old traditions tell you where the sport has been, new ones tell you where it’s going.
One of those new traditions is LSU’s numbers. The Tigers give No. 18 to their best leader and No. 7 to their best player.
The No. 7 tradition appeared to begin with Patrick Peterson, who donned it from 2008-10 before going on to become a first-round pick and an eight-time Pro Bowler for the Arizona Cardinals. Tyrann Mathieu took over No. 7 as a sophomore in 2011, and the power of the number led him to become a Heisman Trophy finalist from his defensive back position, as the Honey Badger forced five fumbles, took two fumbles back for touchdowns, intercepted two passes and returned two punts for touchdowns, in the process leading the Bayou Bengals to an undefeated regular season and an SEC championship.
Mathieu was booted from the team prior to the 2012 campaign, and that appeared to kill the tradition. No one wore No. 7 in 2012 or ’13, but Leonard Fournette was given No. 7 immediately upon his 2014 arrival. He wore the number for all three of his seasons in Baton Rouge, in the process rushing for 3,830 yards and 40 touchdowns, and since then No. 7 has been given to wide receivers D.J. Chark in 2017 and Jonathan Giles in 2018.
Giles was a graduate transfer from Texas Tech and caught only 10 passes for 59 yards in 12 games.
Given that underwhelming performance, No. 7 is going back to where it was born — the defensive backfield.
LSU on Thursday announced junior safety Grant Delpit will wear No. 7 in 2019.
“Grant is an outstanding football player and he represents our program in a first class fashion both on and off the field,” Ed Orgeron said. “Grant has worked extremely hard and has continued to develop and be a leader for our football team. He’s very deserving of becoming the next LSU player to wear No. 7.”
A Nagurski Award finalist in 2018, Delpit led the SEC with five interceptions and finished second in the league with 14 passes defended while also posting 74 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, five sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He won the Jack Tatum Award as the Columbus Quarterback Club’s defensive back of the year while becoming LSU’s ninth unanimous All-American. Oddly enough, Delpit will surrender No. 9 to become the next No. 7.
“I understand what the number represents and how important the number is to the LSU football program,” Delpit said. “This is truly an honor especially when you consider all the great players that have worn the number. I look up to those guys and try to model my game after them – the way they played the game and the way they carried themselves off the field.
“This is a dream come true for me. I’m going to wear the number the right way and do all that I can to be a leader for this team on and off the field.”
Since the number has only gone to skill players as of yet, it would have been an interesting to see what might have happened had Devin White returned for his senior season. Would the reigning Butkus Award winner become the first linebacker to wear No. 7, or perhaps LSU would split the difference and give Delpit No. 7 while White would take No. 18.