At practice during the 2014 football season, LSU’s offensive line – one that included current NFL players like Vadal Alexander, Jerald Hawkins and La’el Collins – struggled to block a then-390-pound freshman defensive tackle from Florida in one-on-one battles.
They couldn’t take Travonte Valentine two at a time, either.
“We had a difficult time blocking him period,” coach Les Miles said Thursday. “Kind of where we put him, he required a double team, but the double team wasn’t very successful.”
Valentine, a sophomore, rejoined the team Monday and participated in his first practice Wednesday, while also enrolled in summer intersession. He must complete one course to be eligible for the 2016 season. The intersession ends Aug. 20, and grades are posted Aug. 24, according to the school’s website.
LSU meets Wisconsin on Sept. 3 in a highly anticipated showdown at Lambeau Field. Miles indicated Thursday that the Miami native will be ready to play nose tackle for the Tigers by that point, despite a shaky past.
Miles dismissed Valentine from the team in July 2015 for violating team rules, and Valentine, three months later, was arrested and dismissed from Arizona Western community college in Yuma, Arizona. He played six games there, registering 11 tackles and two sacks. The court dismissed the arresting charge, disorderly conduct. Valentine then spent the spring at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where he was expected to anchor the middle of a talented defensive line.
Why bring him back?
“Very quality defensive player, a guy that in my opinion gives us reason to trust him as being a quality student and doing the things we ask him to do,” Miles said. “We’re very optimistic that it’s exactly the right thing to do.”
Valentine arrived at about 330-335 pounds, the coach said – more than 50 pounds lighter than he showed up in August of 2014. He’s listed at 356 on the program’s website.
“He was in pretty good shape when he showed up (this year). Last time he was here, he was just under 400 pounds,” Miles said. “We’re a couple of weeks away (from the opener). Shape is something we think we can give him. Sometimes big men kind of defy what he should weigh. I think he should weigh … 270, but his body density, if you will, is one that allows him to play a little heavier and still play quick and use his strength to his advantage. Could be pretty special.”
Valentine is expected to play a significant role at nose tackle, a key position in new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s 3-4 scheme. The absence of defensive end Christian LaCouture, out for the season, only exacerbates LSU’s need for the big body inside – a guy who gave fits to LSU’s offensive line two years ago.
He served as the nose tackle on the Tigers’ scout team during the fall of 2014, while waiting for the Southeastern Conference to clear him for the season. The league never did.
“He’s a big guy and he’s got great get-off,” senior Ethan Pocic said. “He’s real quick for how big he is. Him and (former LSU lineman) Trey (Lealaimatafao), they gave some good looks on the scout team and we had some fun. When we played a 3-4 team, he was playing the zero (nose tackle).”