Going into last season, LSU offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert had to be wondering if his career had reached his apex and was on the downward slope.
He had missed the final few games the season before with a leg injury, which allowed P.J. Lonergan to slide into the starting center role.
As the Tigers were preparing for the 2010 season, Hebert found himself a man with no starting job, so he began working at both guard spots to expand his versatility.
That turned out to be a blessing in disguise for him and LSU when starting right guard Will Blackwell suffered a broken ankle on the first offensive snap of the 2010 season.
He filled in for Blackwell for several games before giving way to Josh Williford and then transitioned into the offensive line’s version of a sixth man – ready, able and willing to fill in at center or either guard spot.
So when fall camp arrived this season and fellow fifth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk’s knee continued to deteriorate instead of getting better, Hebert was ready on deck.
After starting 11 games at center in 2009, T-Bob Hebert has adjusted to playing both guard spots.
Hebert took over as the starter at left guard, getting the nod there for the first four games before his own knee injury forced him to sit out one game and then not start last week against Florida.
When Lonergan got banged up against the Gators late in the first half, Hebert jumped in at the center spot and afterward drew the praise of Tigers coach Les Miles, who said the veteran looked happy to be back in his most natural spot.
“It was a lot of fun to go in at center,” said Hebert, whose 22 career starts are split between center and one of the guard positions. “I love making the calls and snapping the ball and all that. But I’m really starting to love playing guard, too.
“PJ is still a better center than me, so I’m just going to help this team however I can.”
Hebert’s o-line mates often comment about Hebert’s cerebral value up front, saying he knows every position’s responsibilities and can answer whatever questions anybody up front has.
Although he’s bulked up to just over 300 pounds, Hebert isn’t likely to fill in at either tackle spot – but he isn’t shy about letting younger teammates Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst know what they can do differently or better.
“T-Bob would be good anywhere you put him,” said Williford, who moved into the starting lineup last week at right guard when Blackwell shifted to the left side in Hebert’s absence.
“He’s just a very humble dude. He’s seen almost every front possible. He’s like a living football dictionary and he helps all of us up there.”
Hebert helped the entire team a year ago against Tennessee, with a little prodding from Blackwell as it turns out.
With chaos reigning in the closing seconds, Hebert – who had moved to center late in the game because Lonergan was ailing – snapped the ball to make sure time didn’t run out without LSU at least getting a chance for a final play.
The year before in the infamous Ole Miss loss, Hebert did not snap the ball with a second left and the Tigers’ chances evaporated. Blackwell never hesitated to remind Hebert of that.
“That goes back to Will,” Hebert said with a smile. “Will always made fun of me for not snapping the ball at Ole Miss.”
So Hebert made sure there was no repeat of history against the Vols. Only his snap sailed past Jordan Jefferson and resulted in a fumble that – momentarily anyway – ended the game with LSU losing 14-10.
“I saw the clock and remember snapping and remember being real mad because I thought we’d lost,” Hebert said.
Instead, Hebert snapping the ball when he did gave LSU a second life when an official review showed Tennessee had 13 players on the field.
The rest is history, of course, as the Tigers got one more shot and Stevan Ridley punched into the end zone for a game-winning touchdown.
“If T-Bob’s not there and he doesn’t snap it, we lose that game, plain and simple,” Blackwell said. “It was a smart decision by a very smart football player.”
Added Hebert “I got a lot of credit for that, but that was a team win. Ridley runs somebody over to get in the end zone. Jarrett Lee comes in and throws a pass on 4th-and-18 to get a first down on that drive. We were fortunate to get that win.”
Good fortune aside, Hebert and his teammates were left for an indelible memory – a game they lost and won on the same day.
“The thing I’ll always remember is the emotion swing,” Hebert said. “Going from you thought you’d lost to it and then winning it. That was a rollercoaster.
“I think the Tennessee guys have completely opposite feelings than we do on the game."
Miles, Dooley weigh in on SEC coaches call
Looking back helps Tigers move forward
All about the attitude
Miles before Tennessee
Defense talks Tennessee
Tigers remember 2010 Tennessee game
Tigers offense preps for Volunteers
Dooley talks LSU
Vol assistants go over LSU
Wilcox's defense must be ready