LSU defensive end Ali Gaye returns for individual, team growth in 2021

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Ali Gaye
Ali Gaye during the first half of a game between LSU and Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.

LSU defensive end Ali Gaye arrived in Baton Rouge from Garden City Community College as the No. 2 rated edge rusher in the JUCO ranks in 2020 signing class.

Prior to Garden City, he had a brief stint at Arizona Western College before the program was dissolved. Gaye initially signed to play at the University of Washington where he was offered a grayshirt opportunity, but he was not allowed entry at the university due to SAT requirements.

On the field, Gaye’s road to football success has been a late-starting but rapidly-evolving process.

Arriving in the United States out of Gambia at age 12, Gaye started playing the game of football two years later. Naturally, he was still a little raw upon stepping foot on the LSU campus, but unique athletic skills have led to success. After recording 32 tackles with 9.5 behind the line of scrimmage and a pair of sacks plus 38 pressures and 27 hurries and six pass deflections in 2020, the always active edge rusher began to attract attention from the NFL scouts.

The 2021 NFL Draft was strongly considered by the 6-foot-6-267-pound Gaye, who was projected to be a mid-round choice. He felt it was in his best interest to continue developing this year for the Tigers.

“I felt like there were things I could improve on. Also the team that we had, the closeness last year, the way we ended the season, we felt like we could have a better season,” the senior explained. “I didn’t want that to be my one year. I had a vision to win games. I have a strong bond with my teammates.”

Not only focused on helping LSU rebound from a 5-5 season, Gaye feels like he owes a debt of gratitude specifically to the teammate Andre Anthony, another defensive end who chose to return for ’21. The duo share a close relationship and could prove to be a troublesome pair for opposing offenses this fall.

“‘Dre took me under his wing when I first got here,” Gaye explained. “He looked out for me. He taught me some of the things that would help me being a defensive lineman. We’ve grown. Last year we stayed on campus and even though we didn’t have a spring (camp), we worked out together on the field and running hills. We did defensive line drills. We worked on our on-going skills development. He’s one of the guys who really helped me blossom.”

Gaye noted a bond with all of his linemates. “This defensive line is really special.”

Another recent development could prove beneficial to Gaye and everyone in the defensive trenches. New defensive line coach Andre Carter, a 13 year NFL veteran, has clicked with the LSU players quickly. He has a reputation that has grabbed the players’ attention.

“Everyday he definitely looks like he could still put on the pads,” gushed Gaye. “He basically practiced with us. He still has some gas in his tank. He’s someone guys on the defensive line love having around. A role model, somebody who has played in the League and someone who is fresh out (of the NFL). He has some skill set to teach us. I try to get as much as I can. I can learn a lot from him. He’s played the position and knows what it takes.”

Coming back to LSU has essentially led to pro coaching for Gaye, who also appreciates the enthusiasm of Carter and another well-versed defensive line coach. The latter happens to be his head coach, Ed Orgeron. That’s high praise for Carter’s motor as a coach.

“You can feel his energy in the meeting room,” declared Ali Gaye. “When we go out (to practice) we want to replicate that same energy.”

LSU also has a first-year defensive Coordinator, Daronte Jones, who has been given the task to rejuvenate the unit after a subpar season. Jones has designed an approach which seems to best suit the talent of individual players like Gaye while making them better every-down performers.

“Coach O wants me to use my skill set to get to the QB and get better in the run game,” Gaye noted. “Coach Jones is bringing a bully defense here. We stop the run, rush the passer. Being in this defense really challenges me to be effective, not just in the passing game but stopping the run.”

JUCO transfer Navontecque “Bug” Strong is another newcomer who has a chance to make a big impact on the attempted defensive rebound in 2021. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound middle linebacker has opened eyes of teammates and coaches alike since he arrived for spring drills and has continued a steady improvement.

Arriving with a reputation for being a tone-setter for the defense, Strong has a special nose for the ball and gives the defense a physical downhill tackler they lacked last season.

“(Strong) just does the things he says he’s going to do,” Gaye said. “He shows who he is as a person and a player. He doesn’t say much. He lets his actions do the talking. He is definitely someone coming in that is going to make an immediate impact.”

If the attitude of players like Gaye are any indication, the 2021 season should be a quantum leap forward from where the Purple and Gold defense was last season. Many players delayed a shot at the NFL and chose to return this year to complete unfinished business.

Chances are, Gaye won’t regret his decision to come back. Neither will the Tigers.

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Rene Nadeau

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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