Toward the end of the epic Alabama game in which LSU finally conquered their decade-long nemesis, CBS cameras found running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire embracing wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph.
The tears were rolling more than an Alabama Crimson Tide.
“It was just an overwhelming feeling,” Edwards-Helaire said, struggling to put words together to describe it.
This one moment in the 2019 season encapsulates everything the 5’8 back from Baton Rouge is all about.
And now he is drawing comparisons to an NFL player who spent much of his career to this point with the New Orleans Saints.
Mark Ingram won a Heisman Trophy and a national championship at Alabama, and was a first round pick of the Saints in 2011. Ingram has earned three Pro Bowl selections in his career, two of which were with the Saints (2014, 2017) before he signed a free-agent deal with the Ravens before last season.
On the heels of a breakthrough, national championship-winning season in which he amassed 1,867 total yards from scrimmage, Edwards-Helaire is a legitimate draft prospect and potential starter in the NFL, much like Ingram was nine years ago. Recently, ESPN draft analyst Matt Bowen analyzed some of Edwards-Helaire’s film and saw the comparison to Ingram, who also wore No. 22, with the Tide and the Saints.
#LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (5-foot-8, 209)
• Dynamic footwork + lateral quicks
• Initial burst shows up on tape
• Finds daylight in zone schemes
• Seeks contact at 2nd/3rd level
• Ability to flex into the slot
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 7, 2020
It is certain that Edwards-Helaire would gladly take a similar career path as Ingram has taken. He had to overcome onslaughts of doubt throughout his career, largely because of his size. He finished his career at 5’8, 209 pounds. Ingram is 5’9, 215.
Even his mother once doubted he’d turn into the football player he has become.
Born in Baton Rouge, when he was just six months old, his father was arrested and convicted on a drug charge and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Shortly after, his mother met Shannon Helaire. She would eventually marry him, and Helaire took on the role of the man of the house.
“Every year I’d have someone tell me, hey, he did real well, but next year the kids are going to be older and smarter,” said Shannon Helaire. “He’s not going to be able to do that.”
Helaire continued, “Every year he did it. Over and over and over.”
Edwards-Helaire played high school football at Catholic High-Baton Rouge. He was on the same team as former Tiger great Derrius Guice (2015-17), who could see his underling’s talent even back then.
From head coaches to high school teachers, it seems everyone that speaks of Clyde speaks of his character more than anything. He has the grit, respect, and humility that is rare in today’s star athlete, all characteristics that were infused in him at home.
It is this character that bubbled forth toward the end of the Alabama game, that will likely make him a steal for some team looking for talent and heart in the NFL Draft.
“Part of it is probably that and understanding there were plenty of guys before me that didn’t win a game [against Alabama],” Edwards-Helaire said. “There were five-year seniors that didn’t win a game here against Alabama. My strength coach Connor Neighbors was a fullback here some years ago.
“Just to see the look on his face, as far as emotion, I can’t, you can’t remake that. Looking at him he was holding back tears, I’m holding back tears, it wasn’t just something for people on the team now, it was for everybody.”
No, football fans don’t often see this kind of emotion in an NFL player. But you know it’s in there, despite the oftentimes hardened exteriors we see. Mark Ingram has made a living being a smallish, tough running back in the league. I’m not sure if he’s ever cried tears of joy over a football game, or exactly what character he has inside, but if Edwards-Helaire can combine his own personal integrity with the Ingram-like measurables Matt Bowen identified, this Baton Rouge boy will be a hard man to catch for years to come.
Writer Jeff LeJeune has an M.A. in English, is a high school and college instructor, and is a former college athlete. In addition to his writing work for The Hayride, he is a ghostwriter, editor, and novelist. His website is www.jefflejeune.net.