Derek Stingley Jr. was the most decorated freshman in LSU football history.

He was a consensus All-American after leading the SEC in interceptions (6) and doubling as a dynamic punt returner.

But 2 years later, it looks like Stingley’s legacy with the Tigers will feature only minor additions to that unique individual season and Stingley’s contributions to LSU’s CFP championship.

Injuries limited Stingley during the Tigers’ 5-5 season last year and head coach Ed Orgeron announced Wednesday that Stingley “had a procedure performed on his foot” and “there is no timetable on Stingley’s return to the field.”

The obvious assumption is that Stingley will not be returning to the field in an LSU uniform. It’s a natural assumption given that Ja’Marr Chase left the 2020 team before the season to focus on the NFL Draft and fellow wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. bailed on the team during last season to do the same.

LSU portrayed this development as a temporary interruption in Stingley’s ongoing career.

Perhaps that’s accurate.

Perhaps not.

The revelation that Stingley’s season – and career, presumably (though he’s just a junior) – is over would be coming at a really bad time for LSU. The Tigers are struggling at 3-2 and 1-1 in the SEC after squandering a game to Auburn last Saturday.

With 5 more games in a row against ranked teams looming, the concern that this season could cave in around Orgeron, would be enhanced by the departure of the team’s highest-profile player, the one awarded the legendary No. 7 before what was a supposed to be a bounce-back season this year.

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The announcement about Stingley came in the form of a 3-paragraph statement, featuring this quote from the player:

“I appreciate all of the support from LSU and the fans. I’m doing all that I can to return to the field as soon as possible. I want to finish out the season with my teammates and I will do everything I can to get healthy so that I will be able to play again this year.”

Perhaps Stingley will recover sufficiently to play again this season and perhaps he will seize that opportunity.

Perhaps not.

Whatever “the procedure” was on Stingley’s foot, it was significant enough for the Tigers to be uncharacteristically forthcoming with the injury update. Presumably, they released this information because, one, they recognized that it would almost certainly leak out, but just as importantly to discourage weekly inquisitions as to Stingley’s progress.

He’s not coming back soon, so stop asking.

It’s 52 days until the regular-season finale against Texas A&M and presumably LSU will play in a bowl game a few weeks after that.

So there’s a lot of recovery time if, in fact, Stingley is determined to play again for the Tigers.

But why would he be?

His stock has fallen since the end of that championship freshman season, though he still projects as a possible top 10 NFL Draft choice.

He wasn’t the same player last season that he was as a freshman, though the injuries were a big part of that.

He missed most of preseason camp this summer due to injury and in the season-opening loss at UCLA, Stingley’s poor, failed tackle on one of the Bruins’ touchdowns was the definitive image from a performance that suggested this might not be a bounce-back season for the Tigers or their best player.

Stingley missed other tackles in the early going and Orgeron dismissed it as a result of Stingley not tackling in the preseason.

Fair enough – and Stingley did have his best tackling game in Week 3 against Central Michigan.

Then he was sidelined again, and now a procedure.

It’s unavoidable that Stingley’s durability will be questioned by NFL folks.

It’s reasonable to wonder if Stingley will ever be drafted as high as he would have been if he had been in the 2020 draft.

It’s unlikely that anything Stingley could do in limited action with this mediocre team the rest of the season can change any of that.

It’s more likely that focusing on rehabilitation and preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine and individual workouts will enhance Stingley’s draft position.

It would be good for LSU and college football if we could see Derek Stingley Jr. play again before becoming a professional.

It just seems very unlikely.