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Connor Neighbors follows his own path to LSU
By PAUL NEWBERRY
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Connor Neighbors could've followed his grandfather, his father, his brother. That's what everyone expected. That would've been the comfortable thing to do.
Instead, Neighbors wanted to leave his own mark.
So, a family that is firmly associated with Alabama will have split loyalties when the top-ranked Crimson Tide meets No. 5 LSU in Baton Rouge on Saturday night.
Neighbors plays fullback for the Tigers, which seems more than a little strange considering where he came from. His grandfather Billy was one of Alabama's greatest players, standing out on Bryant's first national championship team and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. His father Wes starred for the Tide in the 1980s. His older brother Wesley also played for Alabama and now works on coach Nick Saban's staff.
"I don't want to say I'm the black sheep," Connor Neighbors said with a grin. "I did choose a different path, that's for sure. But I'm glad I came down here. It's been a great experience. I've learned a lot. I've grown up as a man."
Neighbors grew up in Huntsville, Ala., but didn't receive any scholarship offers after high school. He could have gone to Alabama on a Bryant scholarship - a program set up by the late coach to benefit the children and grandchildren of his players - but would not have been able to play right away.
Then, he got a call from LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, who asked Neighbors to walk on in Baton Rouge.
"He said he could help me reach my goals," the player recalled. "I took that to heart. I came down here for a camp going into my senior year (of high school). I just wanted be different. That's why I came down here. It worked out for best for me."
His grandfather, who died in April, and father supported his decision.
"They were like, `It's your life. You go ahead and go for it,'" Connor Neighbors said. "They were in full support when I decided to come down here. Now, I have some cousins who were like 5 or 6 years old. They were a little confused at the time. They gave me some troubles."
A linebacker during his prep career, the stocky Neighbors (he's just 5-foot-11, but weighs 236 pounds) switched to fullback at LSU. He got into one game as a freshman before taking a medical redshirt, then played sparingly last season. Now, in the third year with the Tigers, he's getting more and more playing time behind starter J.C. Copeland.
Neighbors has gotten into all eight games and, though blocking in his main role, he actually ran the ball for the first time in his career for a 5-yard gain.
So, what is it like for Connor to face a school that is so deeply ingrained with his family?
"I have to say it's my favorite week," Neighbors replied. "Me and my brother, we've always had a little rivalry with each other. I don't want to say it's bragging rights, but sometimes it comes down to that. I always want to bring the win back to Alabama, back to my home state."
His brother's career ended because of an injury, and he's now a defensive analyst for Saban.
Wesley Neighbors was not available for comment. Saban does not allow his assistants to talk with the media.
Connor returned to Alabama with his head down after last season's national championship game. The Crimson Tide romped to a 21-0 victory, totally shutting down the LSU offense.
"A bunch of my friends talked a lot of smack to me," he said. "I just had to take it on the chin."
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
Updated November 2, 2012