LAFAYETTE — Athletic ability and coaching talents obviously played a big role.
But to listen to three of Louisiana’s newest Sports Hall of Fame members, their small-town upbringing was a major factor in their success.
When Jake Delhomme, Yvette Girouard and Kevin Faulk are inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in June in Natchitoches, the cities of Breaux Bridge, Broussard and Carencro will get more than their share of credit.
“That says something about the strong Cajun culture,” said Girouard, part of a trio that was honored with a reception before and recognized during the Lafayette City-Parish Council meeting Tuesday evening. “Our roots run so deep here.”
Delhomme and Faulk, who had high school and collegiate football success in the state before going on to stellar careers in the NFL, both talked about growing up not that far from the City Hall facility where they were honored.
“It’s all about community,” said Faulk, who was a prep legend at Carencro High long before his All-American exploits at LSU and his three Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots. “These are tight-knit communities. They know you. Everybody knows each other, and they know how hard it is. They know it’s hard work, and it’s going to take that to be successful.”
“I grew up playing in those parks in Breaux Bridge,” said Delhomme, a proud Teurlings Catholic and University of Louisiana at Lafayette graduate who quarterbacked the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl after a stint with the New Orleans Saints. “Those towns love their sports, and it was important to them. But those teams were also coached by dads and fathers, and that’s where you learned all those lessons. Some of that gets lost nowadays.”
The trio’s induction to the state’s sports shrine officially comes June 27, culminating the three-day Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Induction Celebration. They are part of an eight-member induction class announced last month by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association, the parent organization of the Hall of Fame.
The Acadiana area has never had three inductees with local ties in one class since the LSWA began honoring the state’s top athletes, coaches and athletic administrators in 1959.
“The important thing is that they all give so much back to their communities,” Lafayette city-parish president Joey Durel said. “The attention that they’ve brought to our area and continue to bring, that’s not something you can pay for. They represent our culture, and they represent it very well.”
In accordance with their small-town upbringing, the circles surrounding the trio are intertwined in many different areas.
Girouard, who set softball coaching standards of success at UL-Lafayette and LSU, used to watch Ragin’ Cajun football practice over the fence that separated Lady Cajun Park from the football practice fields. After practice, Delhomme often looked over the same fence.
“I think I went to every softball camp she had when I was a kid,” said Delhomme’s wife, Keri.
“I learned a lot just from watching her,” Delhomme said, “watching how organized she was, how much the players admired her and played so hard for her, and seeing how much class she brought to what she was doing.”
Later, Girouard arrived at LSU and took over the Tigers’ softball program not long after Faulk finished his three-time All-SEC career as a Tiger running back and set school rushing and all-purpose yardage records.
“People always talked about Kevin there and how focused he was,” Girouard said. “It’s that epitome of the Cajun culture. You are who you work to be; nothing was given to any of us.”
Their work paid off. Girouard took the Cajuns’ and Tigers’ softball teams to a combined five Women’s College World Series appearances, finishing as high as third nationally, and won 1,285 games — the fourth-most in NCAA history — in 31 years at the schools after playing and coaching in the Lafayette Parish school system.
Faulk won USA Today and Parade Magazine All-America honors at Carencro High, and still holds the Southeastern Conference all-purpose yardage record despite finishing his LSU career 16 years ago. He played all 13 of his NFL seasons with the Patriots.
Delhomme was Louisiana’s all-time passing leader upon graduation from UL-Lafayette after his all-state career at Teurlings, and he threw for 20,975 yards and 126 touchdowns for three NFL teams. He still holds Carolina records for pass yards and touchdowns.
But Durel said it was more than athletic success that places them among the area’s most popular sports figures.
“It’s both the caliber of athletes and the caliber of people they are,” he said. “They brought a politeness, a sense of class, to people across the country that aren’t used to that. Anytime you ever heard them in interviews or read stories, they always talked about home and were proud to say where they were from.”
“So many people helped all of us to get to this point,” Faulk said. “It’s those people that I want to recognize when we’re at the Hall of Fame. I can’t wait to get there.”
“To go in with these two, I’m just floored by it,” Delhomme said. “Sometimes you’re cordial with people, but I have actual relationships with both of them. It’s two people I’ve looked up to my whole career.”