Saahdiq Charles poses with MRA line coach Kenny Williams, his wife Lauren and daughter Elise after signing with LSU. Photo: Lou Ann Woidtke for MS Scoreboard.

Saahdiq Charles will be the starting offensive left tackle (No. 77) for the LSU Tigers when they play Clemson tonight at 7 p.m. for the national college football championship in New Orleans.

         But long before tonight, the Madison-Ridgeland Academy graduate’s athletic ability on the soccer field sealed the deal for LSU to make a scholarship offer for him to play football.

         Let Jonathan Branch, MRA’s soccer coach in 2017, tell the story about Charles who is now listed at 6-foot-4, 295 pounds, and LSU’s recruitment:

         “The offensive line coach from LSU (Jeff Grimes, who coached at LSU from 2014-2017) had seen Saahdiq play goalkeeper before and saw how athletic he was, but this time I was going to put him in the field if we got ahead by a large margin. So we were ahead by six or seven goals at half and the LSU coach was there watching. We didn’t have any jerseys big enough to fit him so we found a white T-shirt, put black electric tape for his numbers and put him out there. In the first few minutes of the second half, Saahdiq got the ball around midfield, juked about three guys, dribbled down the field and barely missed scoring a goal. All of his teammates and the fans were going crazy about what great moves Saahdiq had. I looked up at the LSU coach and he was on the phone with Coach O telling him they had sign him. He was so impressed with Saahdiq’s footwork. He said he had recruited offensive lineman who were dual sport athletes in football and basketball, football and powerlifting and football and track and field, but never football and soccer.”

         Branch moved from Oxford to MRA and didn’t know about Charles when he first arrived on campus that fall.

         “One of the first things I do when I take over a team is to find a good goal keeper,” Branch said. “I heard that Saahdiq played soccer and that he was a big guy and played offensive line. I said to myself, ‘Well, that will be ok because he was big and maybe he could stand there and block the ball.’ When I first met him he had a huge frame and I knew he would be ok. But the more I watched him during football season, the more I realized he was a great athlete on top of being big.

Saahdiq Charles works in goal for MRA soccer. Photo: Lou Ann Woidtke for MS Scoreboard.

“I let my keepers do the same drills that I let my field players do at practice and Saahdiq was doing just as well or better than the other guys. So I asked him if he had played soccer before and he said, “Coach, that’s all I did in sports until about the eighth grade.” He told me he played travel soccer too. So Saahdiq was a huge surprise for our team.”

“Saahdiq has the fastest hands and feet on anyone I’ve ever coached,” MRA goalkeeper coach Payton Lockey said. “And to think a man his size could move like that? I have never coached someone with as fast of hand and eye coordination as him. He realized that soccer could always make him a better athlete. I would put him through the toughest drills I could and he would always excel.

“The most impressive drill we would do, and he loved to do it, I would stand about eight yards away from him and drop kick the ball or punt the ball at him as hard as I could and he would always catch it. That may not sound impressive, but they are professional goalkeepers that cannot catch a ball at that close range.”

Charles made first team All-MAIS as a keeper in soccer, but his future was in football. 

He transferred from Madison St. Joseph to MRA going into his junior year. MRA head football coach Herbert Davis could tell Charles was a special player early on.

Saahdiq Charles poses with his mother Patricia Burrell on Senior night at MRA. Photo: Lou Ann Woidtke for MS Scoreboard.

“Saahdiq has such good feet, he would do great in our drills,” Davis said. “I’ve been around enough college players to know what it takes to be a good one in college and I could tell Saahdiq was a good enough athlete to do well in college. And he has. He has had a great college career.”

“When he came here he had never played offense, only defense. But because of some injuries and us wanting him to try it, he did and became a great one for us. He is one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached.”

“I tried to be a father figure to Saahdiq and also tried mentor him as well as coach him,” MRA offensive line coach Kenny Williams said. “My wife (Lauren) tutored him. Saahdiq is a once in a lifetime kid. He was playing defense and we told him that if he moved to the offensive side he would wind up in the NFL, pay for his family one day and have a long career. Saahdiq is athletic, strong, powerful and he can run in the bent position. He ran a 4.9 (second) 40 this spring. His first love is soccer, but his ticket is football.”

Hayden Davis, MRA coach Herbert Davis’ son, was a quarterback at MRA while Charles was there. 

“Saahdiq is humble, a good kid and tremendous athlete,” Hayden Davis said. “I’ve seen him dunk a basketball several times. He has tremendous strength, he was awesome in the weight room. Saahdiq also could run. He was blessed with a lot of athletic ability. Also, he was respectful, a good guy to be around and always in a good mood.” 

Saahdiq Charles works on the line for MRA. Photo: Lou Ann Woidtke for MS Scoreboard.

         “Saahdiq could dominate anybody he went against. Anytime we called a play towards his side I made sure to run right behind him because there would always be a hole there,” said Jake Reeves, who played football and soccer with Charles at MRA. “It was impressive how quickly Saahdiq could go in either direction and dive as goal keeper.”

Charles is held in such high esteem at MRA that the school is having a Spirit Day today in support of Charles and is asking all students to wear LSU’s colors, purple and gold. 

“Saahdiq is hard worker and I love it that he always comes by MRA when he is home and that he came to watch our football team play this year when we played at Oak Forest Academy in Amite, La.,” MRA Head of School Termie Land said. “This says a lot about his character that he is diligent and loyal.”

“We are all very proud of Saahdiq and what he has been able to accomplish during his time at LSU,” MRA Associate Head of School Greg Self said. “Regardless of who we pull for during the college football season, all MRA Patriots will be cheering for No. 77 to play the game of his life as he anchors the left side of the No. 1 ranked offense.”

Charles was an immediate impact for LSU as a true freshman. He made nine starts (seven at left tackle, one at right tackle and one at right guard) and played in 13 games. Charles was named to the All-SEC Freshman team. He became the first true freshman to start in the season opener for LSU in the modern era when he started in a win over Brigham Young.

Charles started 10 games at left tackle as a sophomore, playing an incredible 96 offensive snaps in the seven overtime game vs. Texas A&M, 86 in the Fiesta Bowl win over Central Florida and 78 in the win over No. 2 Georgia.

Charles has started eight games at left tackle this season as a junior and been a part of an offensive line, which led the nation in total yards per game and received the Joe Moore Award for the best offensive line in the nation. 

Saahdiq Charles works on the line for MRA. Photo: Lou Ann Woidtke for MS Scoreboard.

After tonight’s game, Charles could possibly declare for the NFL Draft. He is projected to be as high as a third round pick, which would make Charles an instant millionaire once he signs.

         But before Charles makes a decision whether to go pro or stay at LSU, he has a national championship game to play. And his big fan club at MRA will be cheering his every move.