In Focus: Lloyd Cushenberry
There’s two sides to LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry.
There’s off the field Lloyd: a cool, calm and quiet guy who keeps to himself. He puts his head down, does what he needs to do and does so in a reticent manner. On Saturdays in the fall, however, there’s Lloyd on the field, a 6-foot-4, 315-pound human brick wall who flips a mental switch into an All-SEC offensive lineman feared by many around the conference.
“I’ve had a few people tell me I’m just a completely different person on the field,” Cushenberry said. “Off the field, I don’t really have much to say. I’m quiet and go about my business.”
Don’t let that big smile and humble personality fool you; there’s nothing quiet about Cushenberry on the field, just ask opposing defensive linemen. His play is deafening.
Cushenberry noted ‘the greats’ always flip a switch when they step on the playing field. For the Carville, Louisiana native, the habits and routines of 5-time NBA champion and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is something he’s tried to absorb and study at volume this year.
“When I’m on the field, it clicks. It switches,” Cushenberry said at media availability the Monday before the Alabama game. “I look at a lot of videos of Kobe Bryant and how he used to switch that mentality on game day. I try to do the same thing.”
Starting all 13 games as a sophomore a year ago, Cushenberry has developed into LSU’s most consistent offensive lineman. He plays a thankless position that is only noticed when something goes wrong. In a new-look offense loaded with playmakers garnering national attention, Cushenberry is the team’s unsung hero who seems to still be flying under the radar.
“You can’t put it into numbers,” said quarterback Joe Burrow on the value of Cushenberry. “Great leader. Great player. Even keeled presence throughout the entire team. I don’t know where we’d be without Lloyd to be honest.”
It goes without saying that it’s imperative for a center and a quarterback to have a good relationship, but Cushenberry and Burrow’s connection is as strong as there is in college football.
“It’s a great connection,” said Cushenberry of Burrow. “I feel like we’re kind of the same in a way. We both don’t say much. He’s actually my next door neighbor. That’s my guy. I love him.”
Cushenberry and Burrow do have some things in common. Both were undervalued high school athletes who knew their worth was far greater than the ranking next to their name. Out of Dutchtown High in Geismar, Cushenberry was the 1552nd ranked player in his class, a 3-star, the No. 82 offensive guard in the nation and one of the final prospects to sign with the Tigers. He’s always been overlooked and underappreciated, but continues to defy the odds during his time in Baton Rouge.
“It goes to show all the rankings in recruiting, the opinions that people have on social media, it doesn’t really matter,” said Cushenberry. “Once you get on campus it’s fair game. All the stars are gone.”
Interestingly enough, former LSU tight end and current Oakland Raider Foster Moreau was the last prospect to sign with LSU in 2015 and Cushenberry was similarly a last-day signee in 2016 as well.
Both have something special in common: the No. 18.
Moreau and Cushenberry proved to be playmakers on the field, but key leaders to the team off it, earning themselves the coveted No. 18 given annually to a team member who best represents LSU football.
“It’s just crazy,” said Cushenberry on two last-day signees earning the No. 18. “I haven’t really thought about that. Some people can get too caught up about the hype out of high school. I just put my head down and worked hard everyday.”
Becoming the first offensive lineman in program history to be honored with the legendary No. 18 jersey, Cushenberry is not actually allowed to wear the number due to NCAA rules, but proudly dons a patch on his jersey signifying the honor.
Not only was Cushenberry chosen to be the next No. 18, but he was also picked as one of three players to represent LSU at SEC football media days in Hoover, Alabama in July. Throughout the offseason, coach Ed Orgeron challenged Cushenberry to become more of a vocal leader. Suddenly, the quiet guy who mostly keeps to himself is starting to find his voice.
“In the past, I’ve always been a lead by example guy,” he said. “I always wanted to work hard and hope that other guys would follow. Recently I’ve tried to be more of a vocal leader — not only with the offensive linemen — but with the team. I have that confidence now that I can speak up more often.”
“I have seen that,” said Orgeron on Cushenberry being more of a vocal leader. “Having extra meetings with the offensive line. Extra practices with the offensive line by himself. Being a leader to the younger guys. Challenging them. He’s a great character young man.”
His leadership is paying dividends. Week after week, Cushenberry has made sure to emphasize how much closer this offensive line group has been this year. They have a lot more confidence in one another. They have a different swagger. And it’s much in part due to their anchor in the middle.
Ever since he stepped on campus, the obvious end goal for Cushenberry is to play in the NFL, but ironically, the quiet guy who doesn’t say much has an interest in media.
“Maybe one day I’ll be sitting behind the desk for SEC Network,” Cushenberry laughed. “You never know. I just want to be around sports and to make an impact on the youth.”
Never judge a book by its cover.
Often criticized, LSU’s offensive line as a whole has been the most improved group from last season and Cushenberry is a big reason why. In fact, LSU is averaging 7.8 yards per carry (41 carries, 321 yards) when running between Cushenberry and left guard Damien Lewis.
“Everyone has their own chip on their shoulder,” said Cushenberry on the offensive line. “We understand how we played last year. It wasn’t good enough. The whole group has that chip.”
Cushenberry and the LSU offensive line, affectionately nicknamed the “Bomb Squad,” have kept Joe Burrow upright for most of the year, allowing him to throw for a staggering 3,198 yards through the air. Burrow has become one of the least pressured quarterbacks in the SEC, and if you ask Burrow who to credit for his success, he’d probably say his offensive line.
Despite feeling a little misunderstood, coach Orgeron saw the potential in Cushenberry early in his career. Cushenberry earned the starting center job in 2018 and hasn’t looked back since. Orgeron saw a cerebral leader who led mostly by his actions. Now, as arguably the team’s most indispensable player, Cushenberry has worked to become a player who leads also with his words.
And he has. So make sure to listen up.