ATLANTA — When T-Bob Hebert finally got to play in the Georgia Dome, it didn’t come at the position where he had spent almost his entire football life.
“I played tackle when I was 9 years old,” the LSU junior from Norcross said. “But ever since then it had been center.”
Until Saturday night against North Carolina, when he was forced to make a switch.
LSU right guard Will Blackwell broke his right ankle on the Tigers’ first play from scrimmage and Hebert, who had been beaten out for the starting job at his normal position, was forced to replace him.
“Playing center, you have to learn all the positions,” the Greater Atlanta Christian graduate said. “Or at least you try to. They always told me to be ready, just in case something happened.
“At least the inside positions are kinda similar. If I was trying to move out to tackle, no chance. I could kinda make it work at guard.”
Hebert played all except that first snap as LSU built and then almost blew a big lead before hanging on to beat North Carolina 30-24 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
Down by 20 points at halftime, the Tar Heels had a chance to win at the end despite being without 13 players — nine of them starters.
“It was interesting,” said Hebert, referring to both his baptism of fire at guard and depleted North Carolina’s late rally behind the passing of T.J. Yates.
The 280-pount Hebert, who started for LSU at center most of last season, played well except for a holding call that wiped out a Tigers touchdown in the fourth quarter to keep the Tar Heels within striking distance.
“I made some mistakes, but I’m going to work on being the best guard I can be if that is what I’m going to be playing from here on out,” Hebert said.
It was an eventful homecoming for three LSU players from Gwinnett County, although none of them started. Redshirt freshman linebacker Kevin Minter made six tackles, four of them solo, and junior safety Derrick Bryant had three, two unassisted. Both played at Peachtree Ridge.
Shane Mularkey, a sophomore linebacker from GAC, played on special teams for North Carolina and made a tackle.
“That team never gave up,” Hebert said of the Tar Heels, who were shorthanded because of NCAA and school sanctions. “When it seemed like they were out, they kept playing hard.”
And LSU kept flubbing chances to put the game away.
“We just can’t afford to make mistakes like that,” Hebert said. “Penalties and turnovers really hurt us. My holding penalty, which I still feel sick to my stomach about, cost us a touchdown. We’ve got to eliminate stuff like that if we want to go from a good team to a great team.”
Patrick Peterson had a school-record 257 return yards for LSU, including an 87-yard touchdown on a punt. But Yates passed for 412 yards and his 97-yard TD pass was the longest play from scrimmage in UNC history.
“This is kinda a wakeup call for us,” Hebert said. “We were feeling real confident coming out of camp.”
But it had been a rough few months for Hebert, who had a tough time coming back after ankle surgery at the end of last season and then was arrested for driving while intoxicated in May.
“I had to take a step back and really look at my life and where my priorities where,” Hebert said. “I choose to rededicate my life to school and football. I have things in the right order now.”
GAC never made it to the Georgia Dome when Hebert was playing there and a knee injury kept him from playing in the 2008 Chick-fil-A Bowl. He was a redshirt when LSU beat Tennessee in the 2007 SEC Championship Game.
“It was fun to finally play here,” he said. “I was a strange night with the way that everything went, but definitely fun.”