NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Kirston Pittman can't feel sorry for himself. Not now.
A cyst in his right foot and a torn left Achilles tendon, which cost LSU's standout defensive two lost seasons of pain and disappointment, have in the long run provided a rare gift.
Pittman has a chance to win a second BCS championship with LSU when the Tigers take on Ohio State in the Louisiana Superdome on Monday night.
``I never once said that I was going to quit, but I always questioned, was it meant to be for me to be playing football,'' Pittman said. ``I'm just thanking God for the opportunity and really taking advantage of the opportunity.
``This doesn't happen at all to a lot of people - two national championships.''
Pittman was a freshman during the 2003 season, when LSU defeated Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, which that year doubled as the BCS national championship game.
Back then, he was a seldom-used reserve. His sophomore season, he saw more action and started one game.
In 2005, when Pittman was hoping to impress new coach Les Miles, he was slowed by nagging pain near the base of his ankle that turned out to be a cyst.
It had to be surgically ``ground out,'' Miles recalled, costing Pittman his junior season.
Taking that first season-ending setback in stride, Pittman worked hard to be ready for conditioning drills the following summer. At the end of the first day, however, he came off a block and felt a ``pop.'' His Achilles tendon had torn.
There went another year.
``A lot goes through your mind after you get injured one time and then after you've rehabbed the entire year to come back ... and you get another letdown like that,'' Pittman said. ``It takes a toll on you mentally.''
If not for those injuries, however, Pittman would have used up his eligibility last season and would not have been around to help LSU advance to the national title game this year.
There was an additional side benefit. Pittman had more time to write and produce hip-hop music on his computer, a hobby he picked up when he was 13.
He used his music as therapy, but never allowed it to interfere with his rehab. Football still came first.
``I try not to emphasize it a lot because I don't want to be known as the guy who wants to be a football player and a rapper, so I just really leave that alone for the time being,'' Pittman said. ``I just play football.''
Pittman grew up in Garyville, La., a town about halfway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. He was widely recruited coming out of East St. John High School and seriously considered playing at Michigan.
In the end, remaining in a warmer climate and close to the warmth of his family were the deciding factors, he said.
His mother, Emma, a minister who also runs a deli in St. Rose, was happy he was close to home following his injuries.
``His first injury, he was kind of disappointed, but came through it all right,'' she said. ``The second, he was really down in spirit and I prayed him through. We didn't understand why God allowed this to happen two years back-to-back, but I know there was a master plan.
``I told him to stay focused. Now he's older, wiser, stronger, more mature. He's healthy and it's like he lost nothing. It was a setback that set him up for a great comeback and he has come back stronger.''
It's hard to argue, looking at Pittman's statistical line this season: He made or assisted on 61 tackles, including a team-leading 12 1/2 tackles for losses and a team-best seven sacks.
``It's an amazing story,'' Miles said. ``To miss two full seasons due to injury ... the likelihood of him playing this season was small and the likelihood of him having a great year, less. I can't tell you how happy I am for him, how it was important for him to persevere. He has taught himself and his teammates a lot about him and he's one of the reasons we're in the position we're in. There isn't any question.''
In the mean time, Pittman graduated during the past semester and now must decide whether to enter next spring's NFL draft or, like his teammate Glenn Dorsey did, stay for one last season of eligibility at LSU.
Pittman, who applied for only one medical redshirt exception during his two missed seasons, has begun the paperwork for a second. If approved, that would allow the 6-foot-4, 254-pound senior to come back once more.
``I love LSU, I love my teammates and I love the environment,'' Pittman said when asked why he'd pass up turning pro in 2008. ``I have family not too far away.''
His mother said she was hesitant to push her son either way, believing he'd find the answer himself by searching his heart.
Emma, a big New Orleans Saints fan, only wishes that when her son does turn pro, he can somehow end up playing his home games in the Louisiana Superdome.
``That would be real nice. It was only 40 minutes one way to see him play at LSU, and then it would be 40 minutes the other way to New Orleans,'' she said. ``And the Saints sure do need help on defense.''

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