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December 14, 2012LSU football coach Les Miles often indicates that his football team lives in a vacuum outside the media's scrutiny or public's perception of his program.
However, Miles said he began Friday's team meeting about the frailty of life and discussed at length the horrific events that took place earlier in the day in Newtown, Ct.
In a far corner of the country a gunman opened fire on two classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary, killing 20 children, six adults before taking his own life.
The deaths of 28 people, the gunman also killed his mother, made it the second worst school shooting in U.S. history only behind the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.
"I think we're all connected some way," said Miles, a father of four, including an elementary-aged daughter. "Our team is shocked like the rest of the country. These young men in my team meeting room, that will eventually have family, can certainly sympathize with those fathers and mothers on the perimeter of the school waiting to see if their child is coming out. Our football team is also affected. It's not something that goes unheard or unseen."
Ninth-ranked LSU conducted its second practice in preparation for the 45th Annual Chick-Fil-A Bowl that will take place Dec. 31 at 6:30 p.m. against No. 14 Clemson in the Georgia Dome.
The Tigers went through weight lifting and conditioning drills on Tuesday and Wednesday before dressing out in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) the past two days.
LSU will take a two-day break, including having its annual team banquet on Sunday, before returning to practice Monday with six straight days of practice heading into their Christmas break Dec. 23-25.
The Tigers fly out to Atlanta on Dec. 26 where they will resume their preparations.
"The two practices were designed to get the speed of the game," Miles said. "We ran them hard. It's a lot of LSU versus LSU, 7 on 7 and some two-minute situations."
Because of the impending break after two days and again for the Christmas holiday, Miles doesn't anticipate any difficulty with his team having fresh legs for the game.
"Right now it's easy to work them hard because we have breaks," Miles said. "They're going to have this weekend off. (Starting) Monday we'll have a good, hard week of practice and then they'll be another break.
"When they come back they should be pretty fresh-legged," Miles said. "It's game week and making sure it's not so taxing that it wears you out and it's pretty safe to say we won't do that."
Miles lauded the team's intensity over the first two days of practice and also pointed toward some new faces that were back to help on both sides of the ball.
Junior offensive guard Josh Williford, who has been out of the lineup since suffering a concussion at Florida, has returned along with freshman linebacker Kwon Alexander, who suffered a broken ankle in the same game.
Alexander was back for the Tigers final two games but did not play.
Moreover, Miles was happy to see junior linebackers Tahj Jones, a projected starter going into the season, and reserve D.J. Welter back with the defense where both are expected to play after being academically ineligible and missing the entire season.
Sophomore offensive lineman Evan Washington also returned from a similar fate.
"They're pretty veteran guys and they recognize where they've been and what to do," Miles said. "I saw the snaps those guys took today and they looked pretty good."
While LSU's fans have been slow to gobble up the school's allotted 16,000 tickets there hasn't been any such sign of a malaise on the practice field, Miles said.
"I liked the enthusiasm of the team and looking forward to playing in Atlanta," he said. "We recognize there's a great challenge in front of us with a very quality Clemson team. Teams that come to finish in a season recognize the importance of the bowl. I don't think that's being overlooked here."
With a total of eight practices in Baton Rouge, Miles said he generally likes to have the majority of the game plan installed before leaving for Atlanta and then introducing a few more elements to work on and polish once at the bowl site.
"I'd like to have it all in," Miles said. "I don't know that we'll do that. We generally save a piece or two for our bowl site and we very well may be doing that again."
Miles also discussed the many areas in which he's had to multi-task this week.
Miles made an in-home visit Monday with quarterback recruit Hayden Rettig in Los Angeles, flew back to take part in Wednesday's bowl announcement with officials from Chick-Fil-A followed by the start of practice and game planning for Clemson.
Miles and his staff are hosting approximately 10 prospects on official visits that will require a division of his time over the course of the next three days, along with preparing for the team's banquet on Sunday. That will be followed by a media opportunity in Atlanta to promote the Chick-Fil-A Bowl along with Clemson's Dabo Swinney.
Miles will then fly back to Baton Rouge for practice that afternoon and continue in that mode until Dec. 22 which represents the team's break for the holidays.
"It's an amazing thing and I give it to my assistant coaches," Miles said. "We're seven days a week. There's not a day that goes by that we're not either recruiting or coaching."
A total of nine players received their degrees on Friday - a group that included current team members Josh Dworaczyk, Russell Shepard, Kevin Minter, Chancey Agyahere, P.J. Lonergan, Nick Rice and Edwin Johnson. Former Tigers Matt Branch and Eric Alexander also received their degrees. "I think it's what this program stands for," Miles said of Alexander, who was a part of the 2003 national championship team. "We expect that we'll win football games and win championships and be a part of championship teams. Their part of it is they have to get their degree and I encourage those kinds of guys to come back a decade or what length of time it takes." Miles said that between 11 or 12 members of the current team has graduated. Miles offered no update on the status of junior tight end Nic Jacobs, who has been suspended since the Mississippi State game for a violation of team rules.