When you’re considered part of football family royalty, you know enormous expectations are inevitable.
Notre Dame of Crowley fullback Austin Thibodeaux certainly realized it.
And that wasn’t solely from the periphery, but instead from Thibodeaux’s own inner-circle where holiday get-togethers were a step back in time to some of the greats who wore a Pioneers uniform.
Those friendly games of backyard football with his father and five of his uncles may have given way to Father Time, but there was no denying the competitiveness that came out in those contests. Just as memorable to Thibodeaux was the chronicling of their playing careers and vast accomplishments.
“It’s a lot of pressure, because every time I see them on a holiday they’ll say, ‘This is what I did at Notre Dame, let’s see what you got,’ ” Thibodeaux said. “There’s a lot of competition in my family.”
Thibodeaux has not only done his best honor his family’s name — one that’s on par with such pillars of Notre Dame lore as Casanova, Zaunbrecher and Hundley — but helped uphold the school’s tradition-rich program that will play for a fifth state championship when No. 2 Notre Dame (12-1) meets No. 1 Parkview Baptist (12-0) in the Class 3A title game.
Kickoff is set 4 p.m. Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Thibodeaux is the latest in a generation of Notre Dame football players that dates five decades and includes his father Darryl (cornerback/running back) along with uncles David (running back), Paul (center), Michael (linebacker) and Benjy (defensive tackle).
Benjy Thibodeaux rose to statewide fame during a career at LSU where he earned All-Southeastern Conference honors in 1979. Another uncle, Robert, spent a year at Notre Dame before transferring to John Curtis and LSU, where he lettered in 1992-93.
“I saw all of my uncles either made all-state or all-district and some of them three years in a row,” Thibodeaux said. “I knew everyone would say I had big shoes to fill, and I did. I knew I had to get to work.”
Because of his father’s occupation, Thibodeaux, who was born in Baton Rouge where he lived for two years, also resided in San Antonio and Marietta, Ga., until moving to Crowley three years ago.
During his freshman season at Class 6A Lassiter High, Thibodeaux played defensive tackle but was switched to fullback upon his arrival at Notre Dame, where he played the latter part of his sophomore season on the junior varsity and rotated at the position with the varsity a year ago.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Thibodeaux lost half of the 2012 regular season to injury, suffering a knee sprain on the first series of district play against Jennings. A year after a second-round exit at the hands of Parkview, Thibodeaux waited to return to help his senior class make their first state championship game appearance since 2009 when the Pios defeated Parkview, 14-7.
“I knew when I got back I had to get something done, and I’ve gone full speed to try to get to where we wanted to get to, which is the Dome,” Thibodeaux said.
The thought of potentially having his season end short of New Orleans was a driving force for Thibodeaux, who rejoined the starting lineup with a vengeance and has served as a devastating lead blocker for Luke Broussard and John Michael Besse.
Thibodeaux ranks second on the team with 106 carries for 657 yards (6.2 per carry) and 13 touchdowns to go along with eight catches for 78 yards. He’s also second on the team in points scored with 80.
“We’re a different offense with him in there because of all the things he’s capable of doing,” Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook Jr. said. “Our offense revolves around him to a certain extent.”
Moments after Notre Dame celebrated its 16-14 Class 3A semifinal victory over East Feliciana last week, Thibodeaux said he had a surprise waiting for him — an all-out celebratory blitz from his adoring family.
With him taking center stage in his final high school game, Thibodeaux expects the same supportive legion (minus Benjy because of a conflict) to be on hand. They’ll be able to witness the pursuit of the family’s third state title which Benjy accomplished for Notre Dame in 1976 and Michael did at John Curtis in 1990 — a feat that would enable Austin Thibodeaux to cement his own legacy within the family.
“I’m glad I can share this with my family,” Thibodeaux said. “They couldn’t see me play if I would have stayed in Georgia. It’s a big accomplishment to have them all at my games. I’m just glad I’m here.”