BATON ROUGE, La. -- Derrius Guice respects Bo Jackson's and Herschel Walker’s respective places in SEC history, recognizing that the former Heisman Trophy winners boast résumés that are nearly unmatched.
What causes the LSU running back to bristle is the implication that he seems like the least likely member of the SEC foursome with two career 250-yard rushing games, joining Auburn’s Jackson, Georgia’s Walker and Kentucky’s Moe Williams. Perhaps many folks consider Bo and Herschel the greatest of all time, especially where SEC backs are concerned, but that just means they’re the best to come along so far. Nothing guarantees they’ll hold that distinction forever.
“From what I hear, they’re the GOATs [greatest of all time] at running back, and I’m like, ‘Well, why can’t somebody else surpass them?’” Guice said last week. “So when you say things like, ‘How does it feel to be on a list with those guys?’ Well, it’s not impossible to be on a list with those guys. It’s just all about how you look at things and how you play when your name is called.
“So when I go out there, I don’t think about, ‘Oh, I want to be on a list with Bo and Herschel Walker.’ I’m just being Derrius Guice. I want to run how I run, and when those type of accolades and stuff come, and people ask me how does it feel, I don’t really know how it feels. I’m just doing what I was brought up to do: Run angry, and just do me.”
It remains to be seen whether Guice can compile a legacy that belongs in the same conversation as those of Bo and Herschel, yet the wild, angry running style that helped him rush for 1,387 yards as a part-time starter in 2016 has him listed among the favorites to win a Heisman Trophy of his own.
Now that Tigers star Leonard Fournette has jumped to the NFL, Guice is preparing for a junior season that will be his first as LSU’s featured back. At this point, that’s a notable difference between Guice and most SEC greats, but he has already matched them in some ways.
His career average of 7.8 yards per carry puts him on pace to smash Jackson’s SEC career record (6.62 YPC, with a minimum of 400 rushes). Those two 250-yard outings in which he joined the club with Bo, Moe and Herschel? He needed a span of only 13 days -- between November outings against Arkansas and Texas A&M -- to crack the 250-yard mark twice. Williams was the only SEC player before Guice to do that twice in the same season (1995).
Maybe it isn't such a stretch to believe that Guice might someday deserve some GOAT attention of his own. But is he ready for such scrutiny after only sharing attention with numerous veteran standouts -- Fournette and former LSU teammates Jamal Adams and Tre’Davious White all have a chance to become first-round NFL draft picks next month -- as an underclassman?
LSU coach Ed Orgeron believes so.
“Here is how we handle it here: One team, one heartbeat,” Orgeron said while pointing to a sign in the team meeting room that displays that team motto. “There’s no superstars. There are no MVPs here. Everyone has their role, and everybody’s role is just as important as the other. Obviously, he is one of our better players, along with Arden Key. Derrius Guice has handled everything that has been thrown at him so far. He is doing excellently in the classroom. He has been a leader for us.”
A young Guice seemed like an unlikely candidate for team-leader status. He admittedly struggled to adapt to the culture and structure at his high school, Baton Rouge’s Catholic High, about a 4-mile drive from Tiger Stadium, and was suspended from the team prior to his senior season for failing to follow team guidelines.
He came close to dropping out at Catholic numerous times, but sticking it out ranks among Guice’s proudest accomplishments. It shaped who he is now, turning an immature high schooler with a rough background into a college athlete he hopes his hometown will be proud of as his star continues to rise.
“Even if I didn’t play football, I don’t want to be that guy that’s always in and out of jail, that’s on the news all the time for bad stuff,” Guice said. “And even with my family, I’ve got to represent them 110 percent -- not just because I play football but because I’m Derrius Guice. My name goes with my family name.”
Last season might have accelerated that development. Guice often entered game weeks uncertain of what his role would be while Fournette battled an ankle injury that kept him out of five games. Despite playing so well in Fournette’s absence, Guice maintains a philosophical attitude about where he fits in the equation.
“I knew it was Leonard’s last year, so I thought if push comes to shove, play him. You only do college once, so that’s how I looked at it,” Guice said. “So when we played Florida, and he ended up playing, that was actually senior day for us too, and even though he wasn’t a senior, I still knew that was his last game. Games like Bama, where he’d been a starter the past two years, he deserves to play in that game atmosphere because it was his last year. So that’s just how I looked at everything. I’m the backup for a reason, so whenever he can’t go, that’s when I go. But if he can go, play him.”
That’s no longer an option, but nobody expects LSU’s running game to miss a beat with Guice. Should he stay healthy this fall, Guice knows he has a chance to enjoy a draft status that is similar to Fournette’s a year from now.
“That also motivated me, being behind him and watching his every move. That’s why I liked being behind Leonard,” Guice said. “A lot of people wouldn’t admit to that because everybody wants to be the star before they know what to do. Leonard already had a year on me, so my first summer coming in, all I wanted to do was learn, learn, learn, learn from Leonard and Darrel [Williams].”
If he applies those lessons over a full workload in 2017, perhaps Guice might strengthen his case for inclusion among the lead GOATs in the SEC pantheon.