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Early success has helped LSU's Jamal Adams grab starting spot

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Most big-time recruits don’t have a voice of reason to keep them in check like LSU’s Jamal Adams had last season.

It’s only natural for a heavily recruited player like Adams -- he was ESPN’s No. 18 overall prospect in 2014 and the No. 2 safety -- to grow frustrated while standing on the sideline early in his career. But Adams’ dad George was in his ear, reminding him how a young Tiger could earn his stripes.

George had learned that lesson in his own playing career, first as a star at Kentucky and later as a first-round NFL draft pick who played with the New York Giants and New England Patriots.

“Every freshman that’s in college football needs to come in and play special teams,” Jamal Adams said. “At first, I didn’t really understand it, but having a father figure like my dad who’s played the game, he’s taught me that you have to play special teams as a freshman in college, and it’s going to get you on the field.

“You know, it helped me. It taught me to take the game seriously. Don’t take it for granted and be on special teams because special teams is a big key to the games.”

Midway through his freshman season, that’s how Adams was best known among casual LSU fans. Veterans Ronald Martin and Jalen Mills handled the lion’s share of the scrimmage downs at safety, but Adams found a niche as a special-teams playmaker.

He also became something of an Internet sensation with soccer-style flops after plays against Florida and Ole Miss that drew amusing -- to LSU fans, anyway -- 15-yard penalties against the Tigers’ opponents.

To gridiron purists who say there’s no flopping in football, the high-energy Adams begs to differ.

“A lot of people say, 'Why did I do it?' But if you don’t know me, you wouldn’t understand,” Adams said. “So it’s just something that it just came to mind. I’ll do whatever I have to do to help my team win.”

By the time he suckered Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace into committing the 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Adams had already played himself into a regular role on LSU’s defense. He would start for the first time in the Tigers’ next game against Alabama and wound up finishing sixth on the team with 66 tackles and leading LSU’s defensive backs with five tackles for loss.

After the season, Adams was an easy choice as an SEC All-Freshman defensive back, and it seems like just as easy a decision for secondary coach Corey Raymond to name him a starter once the season begins in September.

He worked with the first-team defense during the Tigers’ first week of spring practice, and Adams has every intention of remaining with the starters.

“Just taking on that role and maturing, that’s the key to success, really,” Adams said. “As a college football player, you have to mature. You have to be in the classroom, doing your off-the-field, take care of that. Do your film study, all those things carry onto the field and that’s what makes you a starter.”

He also seems to have made an impression in the locker room. Multiple players with more on-field experience said last season that Adams had already started becoming a team leader. He possesses a combination of playing ability and a willingness to speak up that players gravitate toward, they said.

And then there’s that insane energy level that most of us witnessed for the first time as he was flailing backward to draw those infamous penalties.

“He’s just a [wired] guy, always all over the place,” senior safety Mills chuckled. “[Defensive coordinator Kevin] Steele kind of gets on him because he has a little technique he uses always jumping around everywhere, so it’s funny to watch on film. But Jamal, he can cover, he can come down and hit you. I mean, he can do it all.”

That’s why many believe that Adams could become LSU’s next great defensive back -- as long as he remains on the upward trajectory that started when he worked his way onto the field on scrimmage downs as a freshman.

“I’ll put it like this, not winning the championship is definitely a fail,” Adams said when asked to assess his first season. “But just getting better, growing up as a person and maturing and taking on a big role as I am now, it definitely taught me a lot. It’s taught me to just grind in the film room and just get better each and every day forward.”