BY PARRISH ALFORD
OXFORD – Robert Lane will have 10 to 15 people cheering for him Saturday night, he predicts.
That's a comforting thought, but it's hard to imagine Lane's little fan club making a dent when more than 91,000 will be cheering against him.
Lane will likely see extensive playing time at quarterback when Ole Miss meets No. 14 LSU at Tiger Stadium.
LSU fans routinely cheer against opposing quarterbacks. That much isn't new.
There could be a little more venom directed at Lane, however. He was Louisiana's Mr. Football two years ago, a prized recruit who gave a verbal commitment to LSU coach Nick Saban only to change course.
Will there be a boo or two for Lane?
“Oh, no doubt. I expect the worst, but that's part of it. It will be fun,” he said.
Lane has played more snaps in each game since getting his first action at South Carolina on Oct. 9 as part of a three-man quarterback rotation.
He saw his most extensive playing time yet in last week's 35-3 loss at Arkansas. Only Lane and starter Ethan Flatt played, and Lane rushed for 94 yards on nine carries. He was less effective passing, completing 4-of-13 attempts for 42 yards.
Although his father, Bob, spent part of his football career at LSU, the younger Lane was never smitten with the Tigers.
“I went to a couple of games growing up, but I was never a die-hard fan, like most at LSU are, who think that LSU is the only college in America,” he said.
Still, Lane thought enough of the Tigers to invest his future there – but with a stipulation. For Lane to attend, LSU coach Nick Saban could sign no more than two quarterbacks in his 2003 recruiting class.
It seemed rather brash for the high school kid to try and dictate the recruiting plan of a successful veteran coach, and it didn't bump Lane up the PR charts with LSU fans.
On the surface it appeared Mr. Football wanted to carve a path of least resistance to a starting job.
But the decision wasn't about competition. It was about practice time opportunities.
Lane's stipulation to Saban was shaped by his father's experience at LSU in the late '70s when the elder Lane, now a financial advisor in Monroe, La., injured a knee and eventually transferred. LSU had five quarterbacks at the time, and all five advanced to gain some measure of professional experience.
That included Bob Lane, who showed enough in one season at his hometown school, Northeast Louisiana, to be drafted in the ninth round by Tampa Bay in 1982. He eventually played three seasons with the Birmingham Stallions of the United States Football League and spent time as a free agent with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.
“It didn't matter if the third quarterback was Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse. It's the matter of repetitions at quarterback,” Bob Lane said. “Quarterback is such a volatile position as far as the timing with the running and passing game. It had nothing to do with the kids signing. It had to do with being in a crowded room.”
Adding a crowded room to the knowledge that his son, also a high school All-America baseball player, might pursue a college baseball career, Lane could see his son's springtime football opportunities reduced. Such a scenario could have buried Robert Lane on the depth chart.
Two's the limit
Saban agreed to sign no more than two quarterbacks in a face-to-face meeting with father and son, the elder Lane said.
But Saban, facing the possibility of Lane skipping college after the Major League Baseball draft, continued to recruit JeMarcus Russell out of Mobile, Ala., after Lane and Matt Flynn of Tyler, Texas, had already committed. Saban had said he would stand pat with the first two quarterback commitments he received, Bob Lane said.
Russell, also a redshirt freshman, will share time with senior Marcus Randle for LSU on Saturday.
“Robert didn't want to come into a situation where there would be three quarterbacks in the same class, which we basically understood,” Saban said. “But we had made commitments to three different guys, and we didn't feel it was our place to bail out on them.
“We didn't bail on Robert. It was his decision to make, and we respect it. We're glad he's doing well. He's a fine young man from a great family. We'd like to keep our favorite sons at home, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way.”
Bob Lane said there is no bitterness in the family for Saban or LSU.
“While he liked Robert personally, he is still the football coach at LSU and needs to get the best players he can get,” said Lane, who was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Northeast Louisiana when it won the Division I-AA national championship in 1987. “With Robert, there was a risk that he may not show up because of the Major League draft.”
The draft came and went in June, and Lane's name was never called. It is not uncommon for teams to pass on high school players with a love – and a scholarship – for football if they deem the player “unsignable.”
Cutcliffe's late push
Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe was trying to get the best players he could get, too.
Word gets around on the recruiting circuit, and when Cutcliffe heard from the grapevine a murmur of discontent in Monroe, he targeted Lane more diligently.
“We had heard rumors. Then we called and got a positive response. Robert said he'd be interested in visiting,” Cutcliffe recalled. “That got the ball rolling, and we went full speed ahead. We got involved late, and things went kind of fast.”
Robert Lane says he would be playing at LSU today had Saban not exceeded the two-quarterback maximum.
But both father and son are quite pleased with Lane's position at his second choice.
“A lot of things went on during that time that I don't want to get into, but things change. That's what happens during the recruiting process,” Robert Lane said. “Things change, and it all happened for the best.”