How Jared Small went from walk-on to likely starter at linebacker for LSU football
BATON ROUGE - Statistically speaking, LSU linebacker Jared Small has not produced big numbers.
He has been on the football roster since 2017 and has exactly one tackle. That happened on Aug. 31, 2019, on special teams in the season-opening, 55-3 win over Georgia Southern.
Small, a fifth-year senior, has played in 15 games during his career, but the walk-on from Catholic High in Baton Rouge was given a scholarship just before the 2020 season. And this season, he is expected to play either as a starter or a fourth linebacker along with Clemson sophomore transfer Mike Jones Jr. and seniors Micah Baskerville and Damone Clark.
"Jared Small is all over the place," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. "They're all four going to be considered starters."
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Small cannot wait for regular, non-special teams play, which will begin on Sept. 4 (7:30 p.m., FOX) when the No. 13 Tigers play at UCLA.
"Growing up in Baton Rouge, it's every kid's dream to play for LSU," he said. "With that being the goal in mind, I just stayed with it. The journey itself - you've just got to know that there is an end goal in mind. You've just got to keep working on it each and every day."
Incremental progress helped over the years.
After a redshirt season in 2017, Small played in four games in 2018, five in 2019 and six last year.
"Jared Small is a grinder. He came in here and earned it," Jones said.
Then he had a breakthrough, leading both teams with 15 tackles and intercepting a pass at the spring game in April.
"Jared's very quick to the football," Orgeron said. "Can diagnose, plays with great leverage. He's strong, has good speed, can cover."
Small said he learned from the best at LSU and listed former linebackers Devin White, a first-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2019 and a Super Bowl champion last season, Patrick Queen, a first-round pick by Baltimore in 2020, and Jacob Phillips, a third-round pick by Cleveland in 2020.
"I've been around a great group of linebackers," he said. "Learning from those guys and being around that, I know what it took. After all those years and gathering all those abilities, I've just taken them into play now. I've just got to stay on top of it and continue to get better each and every day."