Austin Deculus

LSU offensive lineman Austin Deculus (76) signals first down as LSU quarterback Max Johnson (14), background, looks to the bench for the next play during the first half at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday Oct. 23, 2021, in Oxford, Miss. Ole Miss won 31-17. (Photo by Bill Feig, The Advocate)

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BATON ROUGE, La. - Austin Deculus briefly looked down at his hands as he thought about how many injuries he suffered during his career. He has sprained ankles and taken facemasks to places you don’t want to know about. He has worn elbow pads and knee braces. His hands, though, have perhaps endured the most pain. He estimated he broke three or four fingers.

“Looking back at it, it's always fun to look at it like, 'Yeah, I totally played through that,'” Deculus said, smiling. “It's always something more of like a hard — pardon my language — like a bada** moment."

Deculus, LSU’s longtime starting right tackle, established himself over the last five seasons as one of the team’s most durable players. While other offensive linemen came and went, he remained in the starting lineup, slotted year after year at right tackle. Not much could keep him off the field, and he never wanted to leave. Coach Ed Orgeron often called him “Iron Man.”

“He’s been invaluable,” Orgeron said.

Playing so much has given Deculus a chance to set an LSU record, which is difficult for a position without many tangible stats. This weekend, he can become the first player in school history to appear in 60 games. All Deculus has to do is play one snap Saturday night against No. 14 Texas A&M in the regular-season finale, a game 5-6 LSU has to win to be bowl eligible.

Out of all the future NFL stars and All-Americans who passed through the program, none of them reached 60 games. Many of the players talented enough to contribute as freshmen left early for the NFL. Others needed time to develop. Some lost games or had their careers cut short by injuries.

But Deculus had the opportunity to play early, the durability to last and the chance to play a fifth season because of the coronavirus pandemic. He has appeared in 59 games with 44 starts.

“When it's all said and done — even when I'm done playing football and I start raising kids and it's still standing,” Deculus said, “being able to look back at it and know that throughout the greats that have come and will come through here, I got to have a record at the university that I loved since I was a kid — I'll be able to show that to my own children.”

Deculus began his unintentional pursuit of the record in 2017. He had signed as a consensus four-star recruit from outside Houston. With a father from Mamou, he grew up watching LSU games and dreamed of wearing purple and gold. Once, when Alabama gear showed up during Deculus’ recruitment, his dad said, “That does not belong on my property.” He wasn’t going to play anywhere else.

At first, Deculus appeared on special teams. The role let him play in 13 games as a freshman. He also stepped in against Florida because of injuries to other offensive linemen and helped LSU win on the road. Then he took over at right tackle two weeks into his sophomore year. He started 22 consecutive games.

Deculus’ streak ended after LSU beat Alabama in 2019. He played through an injury that night. LSU held him out the next two games to make sure he felt completely healthy for the championship run. Deculus returned for the regular-season finale. He has started all but one game since, and that was after playing through an injury earlier this year against UCLA.

Playing so much often required pushing through pain. Offensive linemen handle one of the most physical positions on the field. Deculus had to block pass rushers and hurl his body into defenders on running plays. But because of his durability and reliable performance, he rarely missed a game. Deculus averaged 12 games per season entering this year.

“As an offensive lineman, you play through pain every day,” Deculus said. “But the thing is, once it comes time for game time, I've always felt like I am healthy.”

The mentality was ingrained in Deculus from an early age. His mother said Deculus’ family had a philosophy: you played if there was no blood or exposed bone. He learned how to push through aches or bruises.

“There are some times we don’t even know if he’s hurt,” said Deculus’ mother, Cheryl. “There’s nothing that’s going to stop that kid. The only way he stops playing is if the coach says he can’t.”

Deculus rarely missed practice, too, and when he did, Orgeron sensed a different vibe without his leadership.

“I've probably missed more games than he missed practice,” sixth-year senior defensive tackle Glen Logan said.

Experiencing so many games over the years gave Deculus a deep well of memories. He faced Lamar Jackson his freshman season, upset No. 2 Georgia at home his sophomore year and, of course, won the national championship as a junior. He even appreciated how LSU kept trying throughout the last two disappointing seasons.

Deculus may have a chance at playing in the NFL, but possibly his last LSU game will take place this weekend. Over the last five years, he played for his dream school, won a title, made friends and graduated. He experienced everything college had to offer, and with one more snap, he will set a record that cements his place in LSU history.

“Even though you know there might be something beyond that point, knowing another chapter of my life is closing to where I won't be able to spend every day with the brothers and friends I've made here, it's something that I'm not looking forward to,” Deculus said. “It's going to be bittersweet. I'm truly blessed.”

As he talked, a white bandage covered his right hand. It wrapped over the back of his hand and around his palm, coating his skin four hours before he strapped on his pads again and pulled a glove over whatever bothered him this time in order to practice again. Deculus glanced at the bandage and shrugged.

“A little swelling,” Deculus said, “but it'll be gone by tomorrow.”

This article originally ran on ktbs.com.