NEW ORLEANS — He's played all but 20 snaps for a team competing for a national championship, but on the night he proved how much he truly means to his school, LSU's 317-pound left tackle wasn't on the football field.
He was alone in his apartment, staring at a computer, trying to see through his own tears as he typed a message to an 8-year-old boy he'd never met.
"Hey Michael," the note began, "I recently saw your story and wanted to have the honor to write in your guest book. My name is Ciron Black. "
No one paid much attention to Ciron Black during LSU's final media session before Monday's national championship game against Ohio State. All-American Glenn Dorsey had his own podium, and reporters lined up five-deep to listen to coach Les Miles.
But when a member of LSU's media relations staff tried to seek out Black for an interview, he ducked and hid behind a teammate, grinning sheepishly when he was finally discovered.
"I didn't write that letter," he said, "to get attention."
Which makes his story that much better.
While surfing the Internet Dec. 16, Black received an email containing a link to CaringBridge.org. He logged on the site and read the story of Michael "Mikey" Conger, an intense LSU fan who is battling cancer-related complications at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.
In his healthier days Mikey wore jersey No. 70 when competing for his youth football team – the same number as Ciron.
"I fell in love with the kid," said Ciron, who was so moved by Mikey's situation that he left this message on his guestbook:
"I am the left tackle for the LSU Tigers football team. I'm also number 70 and I saw you wearing that jersey number, that's a great number by the way :). You know some people see us as heroes because of how we play but the truth is people like yourself are the real heroes. I see all the small problems I face are nothing compared to the hardships that you may go through. God has a plan for all of us and for some reason he put it on my heart to write you tonight. If it is at all possible I would love to talk to you. My number is ***-**** anytime, day or night, if you need someone to talk to. Hang in there buddy and just know that anything is possible through Christ."
Your friend, Ciron Black
P.S. I would love to write your name on my wrist tape as I get ready to take the field on Jan. 7th for the national championship. Let me know if that is OK.
He didn't know it then, but Black's gesture would end up touching Mikey and his family in ways he would have never imagined.
Somehow, Ciron's letter made its way onto various message boards frequented by LSU fans. Before long a lengthy, well-written article appeared in the The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge. Television and radio stations in Baton Rouge and Tyler, Texas – Ciron's hometown – reported the story, too.
Day after day, the word continued to spread.
A woman – a stranger – who lost a relative to cancer sent Mikey a 42-inch, plasma TV so he could watch LSU's game against Ohio State from his hospital bed. Miles mailed Mikey a T-shirt that read, "This is What True Champions Look Like," and Ciron sent him the game ball that he was awarded for his performance in the SEC title game. Ciron made sure each LSU player autographed the pigskin.
"At Christmas, his family sent me a picture of him holding that ball," Ciron said. "If what I did really made him happy, then that just makes my day. I just hope I was able to lift his spirits a little bit."
Those closest to Ciron said they weren't all that surprised by his actions.
LSU offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said Ciron, although soft-spoken, is one of the most well-liked players on LSU's squad.
"When you see him on the football field he's a big, bald-headed guy that's mean and nasty and wants to kick your butt," Studrawa said. "Off the field, he's the team prankster. He never shuts his mouth.
"He always wants to get in a joke or a barb. He wants everyone to laugh and feel comfortable and be happy. I think that's one of the reasons he wrote that little boy. He wants to put everyone at ease."
If what I did really made him happy, then that just makes my day. I just hope I was able to lift his spirits a little bit.
— Ciron Black on his note for Mikey Conger
Gary Fleet is the offensive line coach at Tyler Lee High School in Texas, where Ciron once starred. He said he shared the story of Ciron and Mikey with his current players before they left for the Christmas holidays.
"I'm hoping it motivates them," Fleet said. "This wasn't out of character for Ciron at all. He's got a mean streak on the field, but he's also got a huge heart."
Ciron said his character was molded by his parents, Sandra and Ronnie, both whom are preachers. Missing church was never an option, he said. Sometimes he had to be pushed in school but, when it came to getting into trouble, Ciron was never a problem.
"The biggest trouble he ever got in with me was when his mother would call me when he wouldn't clean his room," Fleet chuckled. "She wanted me to punish him."
Sandra was so proud of Ciron for reaching out to Mikey that she doted on him throughout the Christmas holidays.
"Anytime someone came to our house at Christmas, she was telling them about it," Ciron said. "It brought tears to her eyes, which made me feel good.
"She saw that her son isn't just playing football. He's trying to use his status to do something good."
Pleased as he is that he helped bring Mikey joy, Ciron will be carrying somewhat of a heavy heart into Monday's title game. He said Saturday that the latest reports he's received about Mikey haven't been good.
"He isn't able to hear," Ciron said. "His chemo is getting to him, and his eyesight is messed up."
"He's hanging in there, though — he's fighting," Ciron said. "They said they're geared up and ready to watch the game."
Ciron knows there's a chance cameras won't catch it, but when he takes the field against Ohio State, the word "Mikey" will be written in black ink on the tape protecting his wrist. Just like he suggested in his initial email.
It's small gesture, sure. But lately Ciron is learning that even those can go a long, long way.
Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.