'Love at First Punch': Coach O Learning to Fight During His Newfound Free Time

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L.J. Morvant has trained some of the best boxers to emerge from Louisiana. His most prized fighter, Eric Walker, is 20-2, has nine knockouts and was featured on the TV series The Contender. His latest rising star, John Williams, once fought his way to a youth boxing national title at age 13.

Professional boxers cycle through Morvant’s cozy boxing club in Baton Rouge, seeking advice from a guy who trains in the ring at night and works in piping during the day. In fact, Morvant began training a new client, a man, about two months ago.

The man is burly, strong and athletic, especially for his age. The man packs a potent punch, even bruising Morvant despite the body pads he wears during training sessions. The man is a relentless worker, spending two hours in the ring three nights a week jabbing at ropes, pads and dummies, leaving exhausted and sweaty. 

“He’s an incredibly strong and explosive man,” Morvant says. “He loves boxing. It was love at first punch.”

The man is Ed Orgeron.

Ed Orgeron boxing with L.J. Morvant

The pandemic-triggered quarantine left college football coaches with a luxury they don’t often possess: free time. Many of them embraced new hobbies, vacationed at beach houses and cozied with families they, normally, rarely see. LSU’s head football coach, already an imposing figure, a large, gravelly voiced Cajun man, took up the art of fighting.

Orgeron trains six hours a week at Morvant’s boxing club, Beat2Sleep, about 20 minutes from Tiger Stadium. They’ve boxed through the pandemic. Morvant shuts down his club three nights a week for one-on-one training sessions with the coach. Orgeron is a quick learner, says the 46-year-old Morvant. And despite turning 59 later this month, Orgeron is fast on his feet and lethal in his arm.

Take it from Morvant — he knows. In line with traditional beginner boxing lessons, Morvant shouts a number corresponding to a type of punch, bracing his body for Orgeron’s blow. There’s the jab, the hook, the upper cut — the coach is learning them all. He’s learning to move his feet, synchronize his hips and shoulders and even play defense, which his teams often do so well on the football field. 

“No way am I letting him hit me without pads,” Morvant chuckles. “Maybe I’ll bring somebody else in for that.”

Orgeron’s boxing interests are decades old. The coach grew up watching Muhammed Ali, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, and then later in life, Mike Tyson. He’s always wanted to learn but never had the time, juggling his role as a college football coach with being father to three children. His kids are now grown and football, at least for now, is on pause. 

“I have extra time now,” Orgeron told Sports Illustrated. “I get in there in the ring and I am the pupil. We go at it. He teaches me. It’s really good for me to see how it is to be the pupil again. It makes me a better coach.”

Ed Orgeron boxing with L.J. Morvant

Morvant is a Louisiana native, originally from Brusly, so his fandom, as with many in the state, runs purple and gold. It’s surreal, he says, training the head coach of the reigning national champions. It’s rewarding, too. Morvant is the father of four children, all in high school or later. He missed much of their childhood while immersed into the boxing world, working long hours at his day job before filling his nights with training sessions.

He missed enough youth league competitions that his kids grew to almost resent the sport their father loved. Then he got, as his new pupil, the reigning national college football coach of the year, a man embraced by millions of diehard Tigers fans — maybe the most recognizable voice and face in the state of Louisiana.

"You’re training who, dad!?"

“This man has motivated me in ways he doesn’t understand. He has redeemed me completely in my kids’ eyes,” an emotional Morvant says in a phone call. “When daddy is coaching Coach Orgeron, daddy is a hero.”

In fact, one of his sons, 21-year-old Grant, just landed the head coaching job for a girls soccer team at a local high school in Louisiana. One day, Grant’s phone rang with an unfamiliar number. He answered and Orgeron’s voice boomed from the other end wishing him congratulations. “It’s surreal,” Morvant says.

Orgeron and Morvant connected through LSU strength coach Tommy Moffitt, but the two actually met fortuitously in one of the more Louisiana ways possible — running shirtless on the Mississippi River levee. They started jogging together. They exchanged numbers. And the rest is now inside the ropes.

More than anything, Orgeron uses the sessions as a way to work out. It’s worked, too. He’s dropped some pounds. “I get out of the ring and I am drenched,” Orgeron says. “It’s more of me needing it for a workout, gives me something to do at night.”

So there’s no title bouts in Orgeron’s future? The coach laughs. He’ll keep those, he says, exclusively to the football field.