JACKSONVILLE — He’ll always remember the roar. It cascaded from the Carrier Dome stands at Syracuse, a mixture of the excitement from a large collection of visiting fans and the agonized moans from the home crowd.
Kevin Spears had earned his way onto the punt block team at LSU. He was leading the convoy that was escorting Tre’Davious White on a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“I had one of the main blocks and I didn’t even know it until I saw it on film and he was right behind me,” Spears recalled. “I heard the noise. It was so big. And then he was in the end zone.”
But nobody does crowd noise like the LSU folks at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, where they’ve measured fan response on the Richter scale, not merely in decibels. And Spears is on the other side of the roars now.
Spears will be making a homecoming of sorts as Jacksonville State visits fifth-ranked LSU next Saturday at 6:30 p.m. He’s a wide receiver for the Gamecocks, having transferred this past spring. He’ll have two years’ eligibility left at Jax State.
It was an amicable departure. He visited with LSU coach Les Miles as he was making up his mind and the Tiger coaches “were behind me 100 percent,” Spears said.
The decision came “after a lot of prayer” and after “I did a lot of scout team (practice opposition for the starters) and I just seen I had the potential to be better than what I was. I just decided somebody else would be better for me. I’m thankful for being at LSU. I matured a lot and I got a lot stronger,” he said.
Though he played only one year of high school football, at Holy Cross in New Orleans, Spears wowed recruiters with his prototypical wide receiver size — 6-2, 200 pounds — and speed. He caught 60 passes for more than 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns his senior season, but never caught a pass in two seasons at LSU.
Spears “did a little research trying to find me a new home,” and recalled Jax State’s impressive game against Auburn last year, “a small team that put up a good fight. … I figured this could be a home for me.”
Finding a home is more than an expression for Spears. Once, it was a legitimate necessity.
Though he happily reports that family and friends have not been impacted by the recent flooding and nightmarish weather that has devastated Louisiana in the last month, that wasn’t the case in 2005.
As Katrina began its assault on the state, he and his mother Stacey Garner were forced to evacuate their home. They spent three nights just north of New Orleans, then traveled to Houston, where they spent three months.
Initially, he had a typical 10-year-old’s reaction. Said Spears, “I was more excited that school was over. Then I realized what happened.”
When Spears and his mother returned to New Orleans, they discovered an enormous moss tree “that used to be in front of our house was in the neighbor’s yard. Our refrigerator was in a hallway. The sofa was tossed somewhere else. You could see the water line four feet high on the wall.
“Mother Nature,” Spears said. “You can’t control it.”
He has not severed all his LSU ties. He’ll still talk to a few former teammates this week. He maintains great respect for Miles.
“He’s an amazing guy,” Spears said. “He’s got a lot of characters. I was excited just to be under him as an LSU Tiger. I hope for them the best.”
Except, it goes without saying, this week, when LSU finds itself homecoming opponent for Spears.