Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner looked in amazement at Catholic-New Iberia football coach Brent Indest and wanted some answers.
Moments after a throwing session that turned into a personal highlight reel for Catholic-NI quarterback Jason Pellerin, Werner said he didn’t need any more convincing the senior was worthy of a scholarship.
Question was, why didn’t more Southeastern Conference or Power 5 schools feel the same way?
“College coaches are big-time copycats,” said Indest, a former Louisiana Tech assistant. “You’re always hesitant to offer because all of these other guys haven’t offered. Ole Miss was at the right place at the right time.”
Just two weeks prior, while he was still playing outfield for Catholic-NI’s eventual Class 2A state runner-up baseball team, Pellerin turned in a less than stellar audition in front of coaches from the University of Houston.
With offensive coaches from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Miami and Penn State scheduled to visit campus, Indest implored Pellerin to find time to work on his craft and iron out his mechanics.
With Werner in attendance on that fateful day, everything fell into place.
Pellerin, who through an adjustment with his grip and pressure on the ball, was simply lights out. He was asked to attend Ole Miss’ camp, where he threw in front of Rebels coach Hugh Freeze, earned an offer and subsequently found a home.
Pellerin committed to Ole Miss on June 9 over Northwestern, Cal, Louisiana-Lafayette, Tulane and Nebraska.
“By the time I went to their camp I was throwing a little bit better and my arm was alive and accurate,” said Pellerin, who has a 3.6 grade-point average. “They fell in love with me. They knew the potential I had, and I was the kind of guy they wanted. I knew I wanted to play for them, and I honestly couldn’t be happier with my decision.”
Having alleviated the anxiety often associated with the recruiting process, Pellerin’s refocused his time and energy over the past two months toward a common goal.
A season after leading Catholic-New Iberia (9-4) tantalizingly close to its first state championship game appearance in more than five decades the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder returns for his final year with a fervor and greater sense of purpose.
By all accounts his first season as a starting quarterback was a smashing success, with Pellerin accounting for 2,703 yards and 43 touchdowns, good enough all-state honorable mention status. He completed 56 percent of his passes (97 of 172 for 1,917 yards, 22 TDs, three interceptions) and rushed 150 times for 786 yards and 21 scores.
There were several high-water marks along the way in Catholic-New Iberia’s 51-8 triumph over District 6-2A arch-rival Loreauville, Pellerin totaled 385 yards and five TDs with 272 of those and two scores coming through the air.
The Panthers, who averaged 46 points, cracked the 50-point barrier in back-to-back playoff victories, routing The Dunham School 50-9 before registering the school’s first road playoff win in three years — a 60-26 blasting over previously undefeated Northlake Christian.
Pellerin was front and center in both wins, rushing for 188 yards and five TDs against Dunham and accounted for 8 scores — six rushing with 211 yards — in the win over Northlake.
“When you’re 6-4 and 225 and can run 4.6, and not only throw well but run well, it’s going to make people have to make some decisions on how to defend us,” Indest said.
However, it was in next week’s Division III state semifinals at home, where the pilot light was struck on Pellerin’s offseason desire to improve and help guide the Panthers a step farther in 2014.
Watching your final pass attempt get intercepted — with the game on the line — will do that to you.
Catholic-NI had valiantly rallied from a 27-12 third-quarter deficit against Calvary Baptist to pull within 34-33 and were on the cusp of a fourth-straight scoring drive.
The Panthers reached the Cavaliers’ 5-yard line and faced third-and-goal where Pellerin, who threw for 209 yards and a score, had his pass tipped and intercepted for a touchback in the final minute of play.
Moreover, Calvary went on a week later to win its first state title in convincing fashion, 62-7, over Archbishop Hannan.
“Getting that experience of a semifinal game is going to help this year,” Pellerin said. “You’d have to be crazy not to take that as motivation to get better and help the team out. We were that close to doing something special for the school and New Iberia. It just added fuel to the fire.”