Connor Finucane will experience a full-circle moment when he takes the field at Tiger Stadium in Death Valley Saturday night.
Finucane was cheering for the Tigers in the stands, growing up in Baton Rouge, La. Now, Army’s senior offensive lineman is on the other side.
“It’s cool for me to be going from the home team to the away team in a sense and getting cheered against and having the noise when you are on offense now versus when I was yelling back when opposing teams were on offense,” Finucane said.
It’s fitting that Finucane, who will have up to 20 family and friends in attendance, will play his first game in Tiger Stadium in his final season at Army. Finucane, a standout lineman for Catholic High School in Baton Rogue, had aspirations to play for his hometown team.
Ed Orgeron, then LSU coach, left “enamored” after stopping by Catholic during Finucane’s junior year and talking to coach Gabe Fertitta about his lineman.
“I told him, ‘Coach, this is guy you want on your team,'” Fertitta said. “He’s a tough, smart offensive lineman.”
Finucane attended LSU camp the next summer and was worked out with Orgeron and LSU’s offensive line coach James Cregg.
“They (LSU) loved him,” Fertitta said. Orgeron pulled Fertitta aside and asked him, “If you were me, what would you do?”
“I told him ‘I’d offer him twice,'” Fertitta said. “I thought it was a done deal and they were going to offer him.”
LSU asked Finucane to compete in 1-on-1 pass-rush drills at center, a position that he hadn’t played much.
“He lost three 1-on-1 drills in a row and that was it (from LSU),” said Fertitta, who is now an offensive analyst for Florida State. He also said Alabama was going to offer Finucane as a preferred walk-on but “they moved on.”
“I know Connor will use anything he can to give him that edge,” Fertitta said. “I wouldn’t be surprised in the littlest bit if he has an edge (Saturday) because he didn’t get recruited (by LSU).”
While it wasn’t meant to be at the SEC power schools, Fertitta’s description of Finucane to Orgeron has held true at Army. Finucane will start his 32nd game for the Black Knights. He’s an NFL prospect that has Army’s coaching staff consider him as much peer than one of their players due to his high football IQ.
Finucane connected with Fertitta after Army’s game at Syracuse earlier this season. Florida State was next playing Syracuse and Finucane had a scouting report.
“He sent me a three-to-four page dissertation on how to work combos, who to worry about and what techniques to use,” Fertitta said.
Fertitta caught up with former Army offensive coordinator now Virginia Tech analyst Brent Davis before their ACC game earlier this month. Both agreed about Finucane’s football future.
“All he needs is a chance,” Fertitta said. “If he gets a shot, there’s no way you let a guy like that walk out.”
Finucane’s focus is now locked on turning around Army’s season as one of four captains. The Black Knights have lost three games in a row
“I’m proud of the work that we have put in practice this week and since camp,” Finucane said. “Not proud of the results. We can certainly execute a lot better on offense, starting with me in a leadership role. I need do better emphasizing the fundamentals and core tasks we need to do to execute our plan to win.”
Leadership is a quality that Finucane prided himself back at Catholic. He took LSU tackle Emery Jones Jr. under his wing and “molded” him, Fertitta said.
When Finucane left for Army, Jones continued to wear his No. 50. Finucane and Jones were both named to the Outland Trophy watch list this preseason.
“We keep in touch from time to time,” Finucane said of Jones, who will miss Saturday’s game with an ankle injury. “I remember he was super into asking questions and trying to workout with the upperclassmen. You could tell he was going to be super successful. He was really talented, great characteristics of good guy and hard worker. When you saw what he did at Catholic High and what he’s doing at LSU, it’s just his hard work paying off.”
Back to Saturday, Finucane said “it’s always fun,” to play big games at big stadiums. Finucane’s started at Wisconsin before 76,000 fans at Camp Randall and 82,000 fans in the Army-Navy game at MetLife Stadium. What is it going to mean to Finucane when he runs out in front of potentially 100,000 fans Saturday night?
“Everything,” said Veronica Finucane, Connor’s mother. “Connor being home, being on the field playing an SEC team on a Saturday night as co-captain has got to be a very proud moment for him.”
A proud moment. Finucane will be right where he belongs.