Former Cajuns, Saints, Panthers QB Jake Delhomme headed to Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame _lowres

Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme reacts after he threw to DeAngelo Williams for a touchdown in the third quarter of their football game against the Philadelphia Eagles Monday, Dec. 4, 2006 in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)

Jake Delhomme is still the same person he’s always been.

That might not seem that hard, but after all he’s achieved, the Breaux Bridge native still remains a product of his south Louisiana roots.

When Delhomme helped rescue Lafayette’s Teurlings Catholic High School football program from the doldrums and into the state playoffs, it didn’t go to his head. If anything, it drove him to work harder.

The University of Southwestern Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns endured a 2-9 campaign in 1992 before Delhomme, a true freshman, took over at quarterback midway through the 1993 season opener and promptly sparked the Cajuns to an 8-3 finish.

Again, his reaction was to seek improvement, and he threw for a record 9,216 yards and 64 touchdowns. He was 25-18 as the starter, including a 29-22 upset of No. 25 Texas A&M in 1996, and never lost to an in-state foe.

When he got his chance to lead an NFL team after years as a backup with the New Orleans Saints, Delhomme directed the 2003 Carolina Panthers to their only Super Bowl berth.

That stage wasn’t too big, either, as he threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns in a thrilling 32-29 last-second loss to New England.

With each step along the way, including 20,975 passing yards and 126 touchdowns in 11 NFL seasons, Delhomme stepped up to lead — yet remained the same person throughout.

“It means he was raised right,” said Teurlings coach Sonny Charpentier, Delhomme’s position coach in high school. “He’s grounded, and he’s got his priorities straight. His dad (Jerry) and mom (Marcia) did a good job.

“He’s definitely never forgotten where he came from, like some (pro) athletes do.”

Notre Dame Pioneers coach Lewis Cook saw many of the same qualities while serving as USL’s offensive coordinator.

“He was grounded, mature, highly motivated and extremely competitive,” Cook said. “He went at it and attacked it. What you see is what you get with Jake.”

Delhomme is being inducted Saturday, June 27 into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches, but he remains the same approachable Cajun he was when he was young.

“It hasn’t changed my life,” Delhomme said. “It has put me in contact with a lot of people I hadn’t talked to in a while. I’ve invited a lot of people as a token of gratitude.

“The Hall of Fame allows you to take a step back and appreciate the people and places that have been a part of my life, and how lucky I was that things worked out for me.”

Delhomme relied on his solid upbringing for strength and patience as he awaited his turn in the NFL — much like Hall of Famer Ron Guidry did with the New York Yankees in the 1970’s.

“I was so proud of him,” Charpentier said of Delhomme. “There were so many times he could have said it was not meant to be. But when the lights came on, he was always ready.

“He deserved everything he got. That’s why I think he appreciates it more. So many just give up. It takes a guy who believes.”

“Quite honestly, I did question whether I would get the chance,” said Delhomme, who was undrafted when he left USL in 1997. “It was by chance I got a free-agent tryout with the Saints. I got the call to be their training camp arm, then once I got there I said this is not too big for me.”

He languished on the Saints bench, with no pass attempts for two years, before defeating Dallas in a late-season start in 1999. Then it was back to the bench until 2002 mop-up duty as coach Jim Haslett stuck with Aaron Brooks and missed the playoffs.

Delhomme even played in NFL Europe to get seasoning, but he lost some prime years.

His patience finally bore fruit when he signed with the Panthers.

Delhomme caught lightning in a bottle in 2003, leading Carolina to the Super Bowl with playoff wins over Dallas (29-10), St. Louis (29-23 in double-overtime) and Philadelphia (14-3) — the last two on the road.

Delhomme stayed with Carolina through 2009, had an injury-shortened 2010 campaign with Cleveland and was a midseason insurance pickup with the Houston Texans in 2011.

The final pass of his NFL career was a touchdown against Tennessee — full circle from a tip-drill interception first attempt in 1999 — and he finished 61-43 as a starting quarterback.

Returning to the family horse-racing business with Jerry and brother Jeff, Delhomme serves as vice president of the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

He and wife Keri keep busy with athletic daughters Lauren (12) and Lindsey (8), who thrive in Biddy Basketball with their father helping as a coach.

Asked what his legacy will be, Delhomme said, “I hope I’m remembered as a competitive (guy) who’ll do whatever it takes to win. On the personal side, I want to be remembered as someone who enjoys life and treats people with respect. That’s good enough for me.”