LAFAYETTE — When one football coach attends a hall of fame induction ceremony next year, the formal atmosphere will also contain the casual elements of a surprise party.

“I am in awe of that group, and I have to be the most surprised inductee ever,” St. Thomas More football coach Jim Hightower said about his inclusion in the 2016 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction class. Hightower’s 379 career victories make him the second-winningest high school football coach in state history. He has never had a losing season in a head-coaching career that began at Catholic-Pointe Coupee in 1975.

Among the class of eight inductees who will be enshrined on Saturday, June 25 in Natchitoches, Ben Sheets is an Olympic gold medalist who gained that honor in 2000 as a member of Team USA. P.J. Brown won a NBA championship with the Boston Celtics.

“The state of Louisiana has so many sports dignitaries,” Hightower said. “It is an awesome group.”

Before Hightower became part of that group, the California native played football and baseball at Cal-Davis and worked for NASA in the late 60s. Those math and analytical skills have helped shape him as an educator and a coach.

“It’s hard for me to separate the two,” Hightower said. “Educating out there on the field as well as in the classroom, I have always looked at it as an opportunity to try to teach kids the right way to do things.”

On the field, that has generated 27 straight playoff appearances since 1988 at STM in addition to 13 district championships. Hightower’s 1978 Catholic Pointe-Coupee football squad won a state title. He also led a baseball state championship team there.

When Hightower ponders how he got here — being among the best in the state —the general atmosphere within Louisiana has played a big part.

“This state is blessed,” Hightower said. “Faith, family and sports are so intertwined in our culture. That is a big reason why there is such a golden crop (of Hall of Famers).”

Hightower has seen his former pupils go into many different careers. Some have chosen engineering or medicine. Some have picked coaching. “I am awfully proud of those guys when they come back and I see their successes in raising families and having careers of their own,” he said. “Four members of my staff played for me at STM.”

Assistant coaches and parents who have helped bolster the St. Thomas More football program have also helped Hightower earn a spot on that Louisiana Hall of Fame stage. Any questions he has about the ins and outs of the ceremony might be answered by a pair of 2015 inductees ... Kevin Faulk or Jake Delhomme.

“I’m sure I’ll be seeing Kevin and Jake during the next few weeks, and I’m sure they will have some stories to tell me about that experience,” Hightower said with a chuckle.