By Luke Johnson | LSU Student
The purpose of a football player's uniform is to identify him on the field, but a few choose it to identify themselves, the digits a tribute to those they admired.
For others, the number is either traditionally assigned or selected at random. So what's in a number?
Coming out of Houston-area Cypress Ridge High School as a dazzling dual-threat quarterback, Russell Shepard idolized former Texas quarterback and fellow Houstonian Vince Young, who served as a mentor to Shepard and as the impetus behind his selection of No. 10.
Shepard switched positions from quarterback to wide receiver shortly after arriving on the LSU campus, but kept the number he has worn since his high school days.
"We were from the same area and he always had a good relationship with me. So it was to honor him, and I wanted to be better than him."
Sophomore wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made the switch from No. 33, which he wore during his freshman season, to his current No. 3 as a way of making his own name. His father, Odell Beckham Sr., wore No. 33 as an LSU running back in the early 90s.
"It was an honor to make him proud last year," Beckham Jr. said. "But it was something that I felt was more me, and more comfortable in a way.
"He was definitely proud. I think he still has the No. 33 jersey at home. But he bought a No. 3 jersey. I could have been No. 10 or No. 11, it doesn't matter. He's going to be proud."
Paying homage to those icons that roamed the fields earlier is a common theme among the players, but it doesn't always work out.
A young Eric Reid was mesmerized by former LSU safety LaRon Landry. He aspired to be just like the muscular safety that patrolled the Tigers' defensive backfield and doled out heavy hits in his No. 30 jersey.
Flash forward to 2010 and Reid found himself attending the same school and playing the same position as Landry. He originally planned to wear the same uniform number to show his respect.
"When I got here I wanted to be just like him," Reid said. "But after talking to my mom and some other people, they told me I should be my own person. So I stuck with No. 1 because that's what I've always worn."
Of course, it didn't help that a recent tradition blocked Reid from his path to No. 30.
Starting with Josh Jasper in the 2008 season, No. 30 has been reserved solely for kickers on the LSU roster, and No. 38 has been set aside exclusively for punters. In the five years since the tradition started, five players have worn No. 30, five have donned No. 38 and senior kicker Drew Alleman has worn both.
This season, four players wear No. 30 and two wear No. 38.
The origins behind the tradition are mysterious, according to those wearing the uniforms.
"That was something that came before me," said sophomore punter Brad Wing. "It's a tradition now, I guess, and we're keeping it up."
Wing, who wore No. 9 in his lone season at Parkview Baptist High School in Baton Rouge, didn't individually decide to be part of the tradition. "That's actually (LSU coach Les) Miles' decision, having something about not wanting to know who's kicking."
But the 30/38 tradition isn't the longest-running uniform institution on the team. Dating back to quarterback Matt Mauck and the 2003 LSU, the No. 18 jersey has been passed on from year to year to the player considered the team leader.
The jersey has changed hands six times now. This season, it's worn by junior defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who wore No. 93 last season.
"I was surprised because I'm a big guy and a defensive lineman," Logan said earlier this season. "I was just delighted to be a part of it and wear the No. 18. I think the respect I got from my teammates came through my hard work."
But for every tradition and careful uniform number selection, there is a player who assumes a number without much thought.
"As a kid I was No. 42 and 64. I was No. 6 in high school, No. 8 in JUCO, No. 5 at Georgia," said junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger. "A number is just a number for me. There's no special meaning behind it."
Junior linebacker Lamin Barrow and sophomore offensive lineman La'El Collins merely kept the number they wore in high school.
Senior offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk was assigned his No. 68 when he made the team, but said the number has grown from identifying him on the field to identifying him, in part, as a person.
So, what's in a number?
"The number is what you make it," Reid said. "If you feel like the number is who you are, it's obviously going to be a bigger deal for you.