Changing the game: Kevin Faulk

It was a cold January day in 1995 when Pete's Sports Bar and Grill, a popular burger-and-ball game joint on the main drag in Lafayette, La., was packed with people spilling out the door, with cars spilling over to the Chinese restaurant next door.

It wasn't for an NFL playoff game. It was for one kid, a talented high school senior running back named Kevin Faulk who was set to announce where he was going to college.

Faulk's announcement was being carried live across the state on television. It was a testament to how much passion there was for football in Louisiana, which was buzzing because there was a chance the state's best player might pick LSU instead of, like so many top Louisiana players before him, opting to leave for a more prominent national power.

Faulk, set up at a table in the back of the restaurant just beyond the big-screen TV and the virtual golf game, picked LSU as the building erupted in cheers, as did living rooms all over the state and, most importantly, the office of first-year LSU coach Gerry DiNardo.

The buzz in the room was that "if we can keep the players like Kevin Faulk at LSU, nobody can beat us." That sentiment, mixed with the passion that was displayed in the room and across the state, drew a clear road map to LSU prominence: Use the passionate LSU fan base as a drawing card to keep the state's best players at home. Faulk, who went on to be LSU's all-time leading rusher before a distinguished NFL career, made staying home to play for LSU cool.

Alas, DiNardo could not fully take advantage. It wasn't until Nick Saban's arrival that the "fence" was put up around the state.

By the time Les Miles hit his LSU stride, commitments such as Faulk's, once cause for statewide celebration, became the expectation.