Fans of LSU Football have gotten used to enjoying a plethora of highly skilled, athletic, supremely talented defensive backs patrolling the Tigers' secondary over the years. From Ryan Clark and Laron Landry to Eric Reid and Brandon Taylor, the Tigers have churned out some decorated prospects at the safety positions for some time now. The 2014 NFL Draft may produce yet another safety to emerge from the defensive back haven in Baton Rouge, Craig Loston.
The top rated Safety prospect in the high school class of 2009,Craig Loston prepped at Eisenhower High School in Aldine, Tx, a North Houston suburb. Loston was originally slated to play his college ball at Clemson, having committed to Tommy Bowden's squad in April 2008. However, when Bowden was fired mid-season, Loston opened up his recruitment. It was not a big surprise when he announced his decision to attend LSU in January 2009, where he would join his cousin Russell Shepard, another top 2009 recruit from Houston now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With lofty expectations and the brightest of Saturday night lights set to shine down upon him, Loston headed for Baton Rouge for the beginning of what was to become a steady career in purple and gold. Craig Loston brings down Johnny Manziel in a November game
Due to NCAA Clearinghouse issues, Loston's arrival on campus in Baton Rouge was delayed until August with fall camp set to begin. Nevertheless, his talent spoke for itself. Despite being enrolled for less than a month and seemingly behind his teammates, Loston still found his way onto the field, covering punts and kickoffs in the 2009 season opener at Washington. He also appeared in the Tigers' next game against Louisiana-Lafayette. However, upon suffering a wrist injury in that game, Coach Les Miles elected to sit Loston the rest of the year in order to heal and develop his knowledge of the defensive schemes employed by first year coordinator John Chavis. In doing this, Loston became eligible for a medical redshirt, which he was granted.
Healthy and ready to contribute on defense, Loston entered 2010 as a redshirt freshman with big plans. He continued to shine on special teams, delivering bone jarring tackles on coverage units and showing why his teammates bestowed the nickname 'Poppa' upon him. He and true freshman Eric Reid received valuable reps behind more experienced Safeties Brandon Taylor, Ron Brooks and Karnell Hatcher. With Hatcher missing due to injury, Loston started the team's second game at vanderbilt and also went on to start the team's Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M. He recorded his first career interception in a 51-0 shutout of Louisiana-Monroe. He positioned himself for an increased role heading into his redshirt sophomore campaign.
In what was to become one of the more magical regular seasons in not only LSU but College Football history, Loston saw more reps on defense, continuing to rotate into the defensive backfield while also excelling on special teams. Loston and his teammates went on to defeat eight nationally ranked teams, including victories over three top 3 ranked opponents. Hanging their hats on a powerful running game, strong defense and consistent special teams, LSU went on to win the Southeastern Conference and earned an appearance in the BCS Championship game. The result of that game notwithstanding, 2011 was a great year for Loston and his teammates. A defense that was loaded with future pros including Michael Brockers, Barkevious Mingo, Kevin Minter, Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu, Brandon Taylor, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon to name a few, Loston more than played his part as he saw increased reps at the Strong Safety position and displayed further skills on special teams including a crucial forced fumble in the season opening win over #3 Oregon. He missed three games due to injuries, but showed improvements in run support and play diagnosis in his time on the field.
As a redshirt junior, Loston started 12 games and had a successful campaign, going on to earn 2nd team All SEC honors. His best game came against Mississippi State, where he recorded 6 solo tackles and returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown. He had a career high 9 tackles in the Tigers' win over Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel in College Station. His biggest play of the season came against South Carolina in October, picking off a pass to help seal an important win over Steve Spurrier and the nationally ranked Gamecocks. Loston displayed better coverage skills and emerged as a leader on a unit that was looking to replace some key losses to graduation and the NFL Draft. Following the end of the season, he considered entering the Draft but ultimately elected to return for his 5th year.
As a record 11 LSU underclassmen declared for the NFL Draft in 2013, including several key defensive players, Loston's budding leadership skills became more important than ever as the team looked to fill holes all over its defense. While it understandably took time for Chavis's unit to gel, Loston turned in another good campaign in his final collegiate season, once again earning 2nd team All Conference honors and helping lead LSU to another 10 win season under Les Miles. Injuries forced him out of 3 more games, but he helped his younger teammates improve as the season progressed. From giving up passing yards seemingly at will earlier in the fall, the Tigers secondary was at it's best come November. This was on display as they once again smothered Manziel and the Aggies. Loston helped seal the deal with an interception in the end zone in the 4th quarter. He finished his senior season with 57 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 3 interceptions, and 3 pass breakups. He capped his career in stellar fashion, picking off a pass late in the 4th quarter as LSU held on to defeat Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
It was then on to Mobile, Al and the Senior Bowl for Loston. There, he looked to display his coverage skills, trying to shake his reputation of being seen as more of a big hit/run stopper. He did well in the game, showing his instincts and ball skills by picking off a deflected pass. he impressed Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, who was in charge of the South squad in Mobile. Loston built upon his strong draft prep with a solid showing at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, where he clocked a 4.65 forty yard dash and a 9'9" broad jump. He will have another chance to make a strong impression at LSU's pro day in the coming weeks.
His ability and willingness to stick his nose in and deliver a big hit speaks for itself on tape. Loston has a good feel and good knowledge of how to operate in the box close to the line, but can also run in coverage and when attacking the play. Agile and athletic with good instincts and ball skills, he is a good fit at Strong Safety. Played in a pro style defensive scheme for Chavis, one of the most respected defensive coaches in college football.
The downside of his love for the big hit, Loston is prone to injuries at times, missing games during his college career for ailments such as a concussion and similar dings associated with his fearless will to attempt to separate his opponent from the ball. He tends to rely on this skill too much which can lead him to get sucked in on a play fake. Is still developing in coverage and at times can be beaten by double moves or by speedy receivers that can get behind Loston in certain coverages. His propensity for the big hit has also seen him susceptible to the occasional personal foul, though his toughness and physicality will always be a strength.
Craig Loston is a well rounded young man who is already planning for his post-Football career by taking theatre classes at LSU. Having grown steadily and risen from special teamer to part time contributor to part time starter to full time starter, all while garnering all-conference honors and the respect of his teammates and coaches, Loston seems set for a good, long NFL career. Staying healthy and continuing to develop his skills in pass coverage will be key to the length of his career, but there is little doubt he will be the next in the long line of talented defensive prospects to be drafted and represent "DBU" at the next level.