NATCHITOCHES — It was all about the journey for football players Kevin Faulk and Leonard Smith. Softball coach Yvette Girouard chronicled her memories, and so did basketball player Avery Johnson.
The foursome with different kinds of Baton Rouge ties completed another milestone stop Saturday night with their induction to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
“I was a pre-Title IX baby. I couldn’t play anything growing up,” said Girouard, the former Louisiana-Lafayette and LSU coach. “Never played the game of fast-pitch softball. I feel very special. I grew up playing with the guys because that’s all I could do. Tonight, I’m still playing with all the guys.”
A record crowd of 831 attended the ceremony at the Natchitoches Events Center. Girouard teamed with Faulk the former LSU and NFL running back; former McNeese, Lee High and NFL defensive back Smith; and ex-Southern and NBA standout Johnson to lead the list of inductees.
Former Cajuns and NFL quarterback Jake Delhomme, Louisiana-Monroe football coach Pat Collins, horse trainer Frank Brothers of New Orleans and legendary St. Augustine and Southern football coach Otis Washington also were part of the class.
Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan received the Dave Dixon Sports Leadership Award. Two Distinguished Service in Sports Journalism Award winners, the late Bobby Dower and Glenn Quebedeaux, also were honored.
Girouard built the Cajuns’ softball program from scratch and took them all the way to the Women’s College World Series in 19 years. She then led LSU to new heights and two WCWS berths before finishing with 1,285 career wins.
Johnson kept the crowd laughing as he detailed his story of vision, investment and execution that began with a state title at St. Augustine and his father’s push to attend a New Mexico junior college.
“My whole life has been about vision, investment and execution,” Johnson said, telling family members and friends that he loved them multiple times. “They’ve talked about my Mom, but today is about Jim Johnson. He had a vision and made an investment in me. All I had to do was execute. And here we are.”
Johnson, now the coach at Alabama, played 16 years in the NBA, won an NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs and was dubbed the “Little General.” He then coached the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals, earning Coach of the Year honors. He also coached the Brooklyn Nets.
Smith was an All-America defensive back at McNeese and a first-round draft pick of St. Louis Cardinals. He earned All-Pro honors in 1986 and helped the Buffalo Bills advance to two Super Bowls during his nine-year NFL career.
“I’m on Cloud 25,” Smith said. “I never lost focus of what I wanted, and that was to be the best I could be on the field and in life. I’ve extended my family again. I’ve been telling people all week … ‘I’m home. My home has accepted me. Not Florida, not Texas … Louisiana.’ ”
Faulk thanked his family for their love and support and said that all the stops he made, from Carencro High to the New England Patriots, molded him.
“Every place I’ve been helped make me the person I am today,” Faulk said. “I thank LSU for understanding the little kid from Carencro could do it.”
Faulk won three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots and posted 12,349 all-purpose yards. He rushed for 4,557 yards and is the all-time leader at LSU.
Washington was a legendary coach at St. Aug, compiling a 106-25-1 record that included three state titles from 1969-79. He went on to be an assistant coach at LSU and was head coach at Southern.
“People have tried to talk to me and congratulate me for past accomplishments,” he said. “I have just been along for the ride, and what a ride it has been.”
Collins went from being a 135-pound high school player to becoming a coach who led ULM to the 1987 Division I-AA title, the only FCS national title for a Louisiana school.
Brothers rose to prominence in Louisiana and trained Preakness and Belmont winner Hansel en route to being an Eclipse Award winner on the national scene.
Delhomme forged a path from Teurlings Catholic, UL-Lafayette and then to the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He was a backup for the Saints before earning Pro Bowl honors while helping lead the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl.
“I am so grateful to be a part of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame winning team,” Delhomme said to close the evening.