PONCHATOULA — Being the quarterback who holds the team’s destiny in his hands is the dream of most boys born in Louisiana. Reality can be quite different, unless you are TJ Finley.
“I've played basketball since I was four years old,” Finley said. “Football was always my first love because I just loved having the ball in my hands, making all the decisions and making sure I'm make everybody around me better.”
No one can question Finley’s instincts or dreams. The Ponchatoula quarterback enters his junior season as a 2020 LSU commitment. At 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, Finley has better than the prototype size for a prostyle quarterback. He is the 14th-rated prospect by rivals.com and No. 16 by 247/Sports in Louisiana for 2020. Finley also is an honor student who plans to graduate in December 2019 so he can enroll early at LSU.
Before he can live that dream, Finley must first prove himself and help the Green Wave improve. Last season was Finley’s first as PHS’ starting quarterback after transferring from Hammond’s St. Thomas Aquinas. It also was a first for veteran coach Hank Tierney, who changed his option offense mindset to a passing offense at mid-season. Ponchatoula finished 2-8.
Tierney has 273 career wins and won state titles at Shaw with an option attack. Despite the 2017 record, Tierney has no plans to go retro. He says Finley is that good. So good that when the Green Wave called seven straight pass plays, he completed seven to seal a new spread offense deal.
“I've been running the option since 1985, and really a true triple option like Georgia Tech and Navy runs,” Tierney said with a laugh. “We've probably had five or six quarterbacks who were special athletes and went to college or the NFL and played different positions.
“When T.J. came along, we tried to do what we did. But his skill set was so good we said, ‘This is crazy, we have to change. We have to do what he can do.’ For an option, old-school guy like me, it was a difficult transition.”
Finley is not the only Green Wave player who should benefit. Tierney said the spread will provide more opportunities for running back Tyjae Spears, a 2019 Tulane commitment and a corps of fleet receivers.
Few things about last season were easy. However, Finley did finish with 115 completions in 203 attempts for 1,924 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. Tierney had a short list of things for Finley to work on for 2018. Even though PHS will not be running an option offense, Tierney challenged Finley to improve his foot speed and mobility.
“He was coming to us from a wing-T offense, so he wasn't asked to move around the pocket. He has to do footwork things so he can he evade the rush and throw the ball,” Tierney said. “We've been working with him on just running some drills. He's 235 pounds so when he runs, he's hard to bring down.”
Tierney’s commentary is all into the spread attack. Now it will be up to Finley to continue setting the tone.
“Our goal for this year is to go 10-0 and make it to the playoffs. If something happens and we don't go 10-0, at least get to 8-2 and secure our place in the playoffs,” Finley said. “A lot of teams we're playing were older than us last year. We were a very young team with a lot a lot of sophomores and juniors, so I'm looking forward to this season.”
Finley looks forward to games against Lake Charles power Barbe and Tangipahoa rival Hammond. Both beat the Green Wave handily in 2017.
If Ponchatoula has the success, Tierney and Finley said is possible, other colleges are likely to ramp up their efforts. He has offers from many, including the likes of Alabama, Auburn and Georgia in the Southeastern Conference alone. Finley has no plans to alter his commitment. Just like so many other boys, he talks about dreaming about playing at LSU, and being a “mama’s boy,” who wants to be close to home.
The boy that Finley was and the teen he is now have one thing in common — he still wants the ball.
“I was always really quiet as a young kid,” Finley said. “I've grown so much from two years ago. Most of it is mental, making better decisions than I did last year. I'm speaking more than I did last year to my teammates, making sure they keep me accountable and making sure I keep them accountable, stuff like that.”