ATLANTA — Playing before family and friends, Kevin Minter was named Chick-fil-A Bowl defensive player of the game on New Year’s Eve at the Georgia Dome.
But now that we are into 2013, will the Louisiana State middle linebacker soon be declaring for the NFL draft?
Minter has a year of eligibility remaining, but performances like the one against Clemson make a return for another season at LSU seem unlikely.
The Peachtree Ridge graduate was all over the field in the last-second 25-24 loss to Clemson. He was in on 19 tackles (seven solo) and had a sack and two other tackles losses. That left him just two tackles short of the LSU record and he missed a couple series with leg cramps.
When Tajh Boyd drove Clemson down the field for the winning field goal that capped a fourth-quarter comeback, the quarterback was substituted for LSU running back Jeremy Hill as the offensive player of the game.
There was no question about who the standout defender was, though.
Minter, who had a breakout season, was already projected to go as high as the second round in the NFL and his standing certainly didn’t drop.
LSU may have slipped from the BCS Championship Game to a loss in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but Minter’s production skyrocketed in 2012.
After starting just 11 games his first two seasons, Minter earned team MVP honors while making the All-SEC first team and being a second-team All-American selection.
“Took a lot of hard work to get to this level,” he said. “Coming out of high school you’re riding high. I was thinking ‘I’m a player.’ It hits you in the face a little bit. It made me humble myself and work hard.”
Going into the Chick-fil-A Bowl, he already had a team-best 111 tackles, including 13.5 for loss. His final total of 130 tackles was the fourth most ever for an LSU player and best since 2002.
Minter may not have been on the NFL radar when the season started, but he certainly is now.
Minter, red-shirted one season, already has his degree in sports administration, too. That makes his return even more unlikely.
“I had to work hard and compete for everything I got, and that’s made me appreciate it that much more,” Minter said. “I’ve always had the size, strength and talent to be a good linebacker. It was just a matter of getting the system down and gaining confidence in myself in the ability to move people around and tell them where they need to be.”
As disappointing as the loss to Clemson may have been, Minter would hardly be leaving LSU without fulfilling his scholarship.
“Kevin Minter is an all-in guy,” coach Less Miles said. “For those guys, the shame is you couldn’t finish in front. Kevin Minter was all out. I think he was out for two series, cramps, then back in. Just a great leader, great player.”
As much as Miles would like to have Minter back for next season, he knows that may not happen.
“We’re going to sit down with [the juniors] this week and give them all the information we can. It’s certainly their call. The only thing I don’t want to see happen is I want to make sure our guys are doing the right thing for them. I don’t want to give the NFL a deal in any way.”
Minter has become the defensive leader for LSU. But he doesn’t go in for a lot of loud cheerleading on the field or enjoy talking a lot about himself off it.
“It kind of came with my personality,” he said of his on-field demeanor. “I’ve never been that kind of guy. I’ve always been somebody who leads by example. I was a lot more assertive this year as far as getting guys lined up and telling them where they need to be because it’s kind of what this job demands. But I’ve never felt like I needed to yell or scream to make my point.”
Before the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Minter said he loved playing in the Georgia Dome. That is where he made his first college start against North Carolina in 2011.
Actually, however, Minter’s teams have had mixed success in the Dome.
Peachtree Ridge lost in the 2008 state championship game. But LSU defeated Georgia for the 2011 SEC title in Atlanta.
“I’ve got a lot of history here,” Minter said.
Now his LSU career may be history. It turned out to be a memorable one, though, even if it ended with a loss in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.