Spears headlines strong returning defense
Defensive end ready for season
By Graham Thomas, Sportswriter
March 23, 2004
Marcus Spears understands why opposing quarterbacks struggled against LSU's defense last season. It did not matter how prestigious they were. Heisman Trophy winner Jason White, potential first pick in the NFL draft Eli Manning of Ole Miss and Georgia's David Greene all could not overcome the Tigers' defense.
"It's complicated for a quarterback to see all those guys coming at him and have a good ballgame," Spears said. "It's tough. Any good quarterback, and all the guys we played were good, are going to struggle when you have guys that are 6-foot-5, 290 pounds running at him at full speed.
"If you got a guy running at you with a gun, you're not going to be poised to enough to stand around and fend him off. You've got to move around."
As a defensive end, Spears hunts quarterbacks and recorded 49 total tackles in the 2003 national championship season, including 13 for a loss and six sacks.
After the Tigers beat Oklahoma in the 2004 Sugar Bowl 21-14 to win the BCS National Championship, Spears immediately announced he would return for his senior season. Spears said the decision was an easy one for him.
"For me it was more of a career decision, life after football," Spears said. "It was very important for me to get my degree. That was the main reason I came back."
Spears' contribution in LSU's national championship will be something he will carry with him the rest of his life.
The Tigers came into the second half of that game leading 14-7 and on the first play of the second half, Spears sacked Oklahoma's White. On the second play, Spears dropped back into pass coverage and intercepted the Heisman Trophy winner's pass and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown and what proved to be the game-winning score.
Spears said scoring the winning touchdown in the national championship was an incredible feeling.
"It was really unbelievable," Spears said. "It was during the game and I had to actually make sure we won the game before I could enjoy it. I thought the aftereffects of it were great. People would come up to me and tell me I got the winning touchdown in the national championship game. When it happened I didn't look at it like that. It was just another play. It was a big play because it was a score, but I just tried to focus on the remainder of the game."
Kyle Williams, who moved into pass rush on the play because Spears was dropping back into pass coverage, said his immediate thought was to go block for Spears.
"He dropped out and I turned to chase and I saw he caught the ball," Williams said. "I ran up field and hit the guy and he ran past the quarterback. Marcus did that against Florida last year [in 2002]. He's no stranger to intercepting the ball. It's nothing new for him."
Williams said Spears -- a 2003 first team All-SEC selection -- is going to set the tone for the Tigers' defense, much like All-American Chad Lavalais did in 2003.
"Him being the player that he is and him coming back and choosing to finish his career out here, he's going to get the D-line up and keep us excited and motivated through the spring and fall camp," Williams said. "I don't expect anything less from him during the year either."
Spears knows he will be looked to as a leader, especially with former teammate and defensive end Marquise Hill headed to the NFL.
"When you're in a situation like me and you've been here for three years and guys look up to you," Spears said. "If you're making plays, usually your leaders are the best players on the team. I just know that these guys around me are very intelligent and they don't need much leadership. We stress individual responsibility on this team. Anytime someone comes to me with a question or concern, I address it with the coach and that's what leadership takes. As far as being out there on the field, I expect those guys to play like they've been playing."
Spears expects the 2004 LSU defense to be as dominant as the 2003 unit.
"I think anytime you get to a institution like this and the way coach Saban has been recruiting, you always have a chance to have a great defense because you have good athletes," Spears said. "It's just learning what you have to learn and putting it into play. I think we have smart enough guys to have a defense like we had last year.
"This system has a lot to do with us playing good football. I don't think guys who go to other schools understand how much we prepare on the defensive side of the football. We believe in it."