Marcus Randall thought his career was over. He wasn't playing well. He'd lost his job to a minor league baseball player. And if that wasn't bad enough, an all-everything high school quarterback was on the way to replace them both.
"I did everything I could to keep my head screwed on straight," Randall said. "But I couldn't help but think I might not get the chance. That I was just going to be stuck as a backup."
He thought it, but he didn't say it. At least not publicly. Randall, who started six games in 2002 after Matt Mauck suffered a foot injury but lost the job went Mauck returned, kept his concerns to himself. He didn't complain. He didn't whine. He didn't threaten to transfer.
Instead, he watched, roomed with him on the road, picked up the nuances of the position and then, when Mauck announced last January that he was leaving school early to enter the NFL draft, he pounced.
He took the preparation of Mauck, the leadership of Rohan Davey and the execution of Josh Booty -- he studied under at LSU -- and blended them with his own abilities to take his game to a whole new level.
Now, entering the fall season, he's the starting quarterback for the defending BCS champions.
"This is what I've waited for," Randall said. "This was the payoff for being so patient."
Randall is also LSU's biggest question mark. He's the only quarterback on the roster to have taken a college snap, a fifth-year senior who's played in 22 games in his career. But if the LSU fans had their way, he'd still be on the bench. They want Jamarcus Russell, the electrifying sophomore and the headliner of the best recruiting class in 2002, to take them back to the title game.
It's in the newspapers. It's on the talk shows. His coaches didn't want him then. The fans don't want him now. But his teammates -- they believe LSU's path back to the national championship is paved with the unpopular choice of starting Randall at quarterback.
"We have to put the best player on the field," said teammate Corey Webster, Randall's roommate and an All-SEC defensive back. "Not to take anything away from Jamarcus, but he's not ready. Marcus may not be the fan's choice, but who cares? He's the guy that gives this team the best chance to go where we want to go. He can take us there."
Randall started six games in place of Mauck in 2002, but the Tigers were 2-4 in those games, including a loss to Texas in the Cotton Bowl. His biggest problem was consistency. Randall came off the bench to complete 13-of-20 for 179 yards and touchdowns in 14-13 win over Ole Miss, earning SEC Player of the Week honors, but he threw four interceptions against Auburn.
He was the quarterback for the Bluegrass Miracle, the 75-yard, last-second Hail Mary to Devery Henderson to beat Kentucky, but was 19-for-45 against the Longhorns.
"I had good games and I had bad games," Randall said. "That's what I'm focusing on -- the consistency thing. And when things go wrong, I need to move on to the next play. I need to keep thinking ahead."
LSU coach Nick Saban has said Randall and Russell are comparable talent-wise. The difference is Randall's experience and leadership -- no quarterback has been in Saban and offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher's system longer.
This summer, it was Randall who organized 7-on-7 passing drills for he and his teammates, combing everyone's class and work schedule to find a time that could accommodate the entire team. It was Randall who pulled aside some younger players during those workouts for not giving it their all. And it was Randall who earned the respect of his teammates.
"You have no choice but to respect him," Webster said. "Here's a guy who's paid his dues, who's waited for his chance, never complained, never said a word and now he's stepped up and committed himself to helping this team.
"I believe in him. His teammates believe in him. He's going to do some very good things."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.