BATON ROUGE, La. -- Travin Dural had already learned a painful lesson about perspective during his LSU career, even before a late-night car wreck nine days ago placed him in the hospital with a head wound that required 13 stitches to close.
As a true freshman who seemed during preseason camp to be on track to contribute to the offense in 2012, Dural's knee buckled while trying to outjump cornerback Jalen Collins and make a catch in practice. The ACL tear he suffered on the play cost the Tigers' speedster a season, but he believes it spawned personal growth that has helped him since then, as it did in the aftermath of the wreck that occurred a few hours after LSU's 56-0 win against Sam Houston State on Sept. 6.
"I'd say that helped me out a lot," Dural said of the injury. "It showed that football isn't guaranteed. You've got to play every play like it's your last play. In fall camp, I was never thinking that I was going to get hurt, especially the way that I got hurt. I didn't get touched, I didn't get hit, my leg just snapped. So that showed me that football isn't always guaranteed and it made me grow up a lot."
Perhaps the experiences from Dural's lost 2012 season might also help him enjoy the success he's experiencing today. He entered last Saturday's 31-0 win against Louisiana-Monroe averaging a ridiculous 48.5 yards per catch, having scored four touchdowns -- including bombs of 94 and 80 yards -- in six catches.
As No. 8 LSU (3-0) prepares for its SEC opener against Mississippi State (3-0) on Saturday, Dural once again looks like the playmaker teammates expected him to become when he arrived on campus. He ranks second in the SEC with 370 receiving yards and is tied for first with four touchdown catches.
"I remember his freshman year when he came in, we knew he was going to be a great player because he was out there making unbelievable catches just like Jarvis [Landry] and Odell [Beckham]," senior running back Kenny Hilliard said. "He got hurt from there. But now he just has this little firepower that's in him and he's just been great."
Dural put a serious dent in his yards-per-catch average against ULM -- he finished the night with six grabs for 79 yards, lowering his average to only 30.8 yards per reception -- but that didn't seem to bother him much afterward.
"It doesn't matter. We got the win," Dural chuckled. "I'm going to just come out next week and try to make up for it, try to have a better game than this game."
In truth, Dural doesn't need to make up for anything. He played Saturday with the 13 stitches still in his forehead -- he waited until Sunday to have them removed – and still finished as the Tigers' most productive receiver for the third time in three games.
Through three games, Dural leads LSU in receptions (12, six more than John Diarse, the Tigers' next most-productive wideout), receiving yards (370, 254 more than Diarse) and touchdown catches (four, three more than Diarse and Malachi Dupre). LSU quarterbacks have targeted Dural with 21 passes, more than twice as many as the next receiver.
Perhaps instead of Dural making up for only getting 79 yards in a game, his fellow receivers need to get on his level, helping LSU's passing game become something other than the Dural-or-bust show that it has mostly been to date.
But just as the third-year sophomore is one of the leaders in the Tigers' receivers meeting room -- partially a product of his personality and partially because of his status as by far the most experienced player in the room -- he has also become their most reliable pass-catcher.
"He's the highest on the totem pole, and sometimes I go to him because in the room, he's the only person that really played last year," Diarse said. "We look up to Travin. He has the most game experience, he knows what the defense looks like, he knows what the corners look like, so we go to him."
He's also one of the most explosive players on the LSU offense. An ACL injury can be particularly scary for a player who relies on speed the way that Dural, a state champion sprinter in high school, does at receiver. But through hard work during the grueling rehab process, Dural is once again a dangerous deep-ball threat -- as he proved last season while catching the game-winning touchdown in the closing moments against Arkansas, or when he blazed past the Wisconsin and SHSU secondaries this season for long-scoring catches.
As Dural mentioned, he certainly understands how playing sports is a volatile activity where a freak occurrence can take it away at any moment. But he has made plenty out of his opportunities so far in 2013, once Landry and Beckham's early exits for the NFL gave him the chance to become LSU's No. 1 wideout.
"I know he's not one of those guys who gets complacent," Diarse said after practice last week. "He was out here pushing me today at practice: 'Hey man, you've got to make that catch' or 'You've got to get out of that break faster.' Because we all need each other, and I'm happy to see him finally achieve what he's been working for."