Lora Hinton, one of LSU's first African American football players
Going from grits to crawfish, said former football player Lora Hinton, was the biggest adjustment when he moved to Baton Rouge from Virginia in 1971.
Forty years ago, Lora Hinton helped usher in a new era of LSU football.
"On Fridays, they served crawfish for lunch in the dorms," Hinton said. "My whole freshman year, I bet I ate lunch maybe once or twice because I couldn't bring myself to eat the crawfish, but I came around."
But Hinton was part of a bigger change than cuisine; he was the first African American to receive an LSU football scholarship and was one of the first black players on the team.
In 1960, no school in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Southwest Conference, or the SEC had diverse athletic programs. LSU started accepting black students in 1953 and black student-athletes in the late 60s, but was one of the last SEC schools to have black football players.
Hinton had already blazed a trail, being the first black student at Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, Va.
"It helped prepare me for the challenges, and there were challenges. It wasn't all rosy every single day," Hinton said. "The fact that I attended Great Bridge High School, and some of the awards that I got, all of that prepared me for my journey at LSU."
Despite a severe knee injury that kept Hinton on the bench during football season of his senior year at Great Bridge, several schools were offering him scholarships including Duke University, University of Notre Dame and the Air Force Academy. But his visit to LSU sealed the deal.
Hinton had a second surgery on his knee just before his freshman year at LSU, so he saw his first football game from the stands. He was red-shirted during his sophomore year, but he remembers seeing the crowd for the first time.
"As I was coming out of, what we called ‘the chute,' the door to the chute opened up and I could see the south end zone from the locker room," Hinton said. "It was unbelievable what I saw, and I walked outside and it was like ‘wow,' I'd never been in a crowd that big before in my life. You can dream about what game night looks like in a stadium but until you see it in real life, it caught me by surprise."
Hinton recovered from his injury and surgery, hitting the field in the 1973-75 seasons as a running back.
"Coming from a small town, coming to LSU was very exciting," Hinton said. "To have my parents and friends see me on TV or say, ‘We were listening to the radio and they were talking about you,' or having my dad and my brother come to a game to see me play. That was very exciting."
Today, 70 percent of Tiger football players are African American, and often, Hinton is seen as a trailblazer.
Football alumnus Lora Hinton still visits Tiger Stadium often, serving as a game marshal for 19 years.
"In a way you have to say that just because I kind of stepped out there," Hinton said. "But, to me, I just felt like it was an opportunity that maybe some other people didn't take advantage of for whatever reason, for whatever fears they had about coming to LSU," Hinton said. "I was able to look past all of that and look at what could be gained from actually coming here.
"I wanted to go to college and get an education and play football just like any other athlete at the time, you know? Now, looking back, there are things that could be said for having done that, but I don't hype it up. It hasn't been a big deal."
When he looks back at his years on the team, Hinton said he thinks more about his teammates.
"Through the ages, me and my teammates, we all got along, all of that, that's all past stuff," he said. "It's because of them that I was able to get past all of that, (the) fears. I had great teammates."
Hinton still lives and works in Baton Rouge, and has served as a marshal at LSU football games for 19 years.
"Being around some of the incredible people who attend LSU, the professors and the students, it's incredible what people can do and achieve, and the fact that some of these people I was able to be around and be friends with, to me, LSU just brought me to another level.
"LSU is one of those unique places in the whole nation, as well as in Louisiana. An experience like that, you can't pay for it. It was truly an amazing time at an amazing place with some amazing people."