NATCHITOCHES — Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame chairman Doug Ireland dubbed the 2015 inductees a “blue-collar group.”
Appropriately, the inductees got right to work by recounting stories and expressing their thanks during a news conference Thursday at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame museum.
Former St. Augustine coach Otis Washington went first. He recalled telling a quarterback that he wanted to “freeze the ball” and told him to get on the football — only to watch the player jump on it in the red zone for a penalty.
Moments later, former Louisiana-Lafayette and LSU softball coach Yvette Girouard empathized.
“Coach Washington, I know exactly what you mean,” she said. “The pitcher had walked two straight, so I called timeout and told the batter to take the pitch. She swung at it. So I called timeout again, and she said, ‘You told me to take it, and I did.’ ”
Former St. Aug and Southern basketball star Avery Johnson was the only inductee unable to attend the official kickoff to Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame weekend, which concludes with a 6 p.m. Saturday induction ceremony at the Natchitoches Civic Center. Johnson is set to arrive Friday.
The rest of the inductees relayed heartfelt thanks for being selected to join the Hall of Fame, which dates to 1960. Predictably, the athletes credited their coaches and families, while the coaches credited their players.
The common thread was the work and what it led to.
“Coach Otis is a special man,” former Louisiana-Monroe football coach Pat Collins said. “We’re all in the same business. And what we try to do is take care of our kids. It makes no difference if you’re at the high school level or the college level.”
Ex-McNeese State and NFL defensive back Leonard Smith, a former Lee High standout, noted that he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and also became a grandfather in recent months.
“The college (hall of fame) thing is one thing, but home is another thing,” he said. “I think I made my mark around the lake a little bit. I’m prouder than anything to go into the hall for Louisiana.”
Trainer Frank Brothers talked about working his way through the ranks through the Fair Grounds in his native New Orleans and Louisiana Downs in Bossier City before training Preakness and Belmont winners. Girouard talked about building the UL-Lafayette program from scratch, noting that her mother made the first uniforms.
The other two NFL players, quarterback Jake Delhomme and running back Kevin Faulk, shared their contrasting stories.
Faulk, a former LSU star, talked about opting not to turn pro after his junior year in order to complete his degree. And he gave credit for his 13-year pro career with the Patriots. He also talked about his current job, coaching at Carencro High.
“I thought I knew everything I needed to know about football before Coach (Bill) Belichick came my second year,” Faulk said. “For him to flip me inside-out about football and what to look for in a football player and what to look for in a game — that’s why I’m here.”
Faulk recalled getting calls from home when the Patriots met Delhomme and the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Fans in Carencro and Delhomme’s hometown, Breaux Bridge, displayed yard signs to cheer for their favorite sons.
Delhomme, who also has race horses, asked Brothers a question. When he spoke, Delhomme, the former UL-Lafayette, Saints and Texans QB, left no doubt about his motivation, which led to NFL success few predicted.
“I didn’t play for accolades,” he said. “I played for one reason, and that was to win. There’s winning and there’s misery, and that’s about it.”
When asked to explain Louisiana’s penchant for developing quarterbacks, he quipped, “I honestly think there’s something in the water.”