RESERVE — If things had gone the way most people expected, Ryan Perrilloux would be preparing for an NFL preseason game instead of a high school jamboree this week.
Perrilloux would have just played a snap or two, because that’s what star NFL quarterbacks do in the preseason, especially veteran ones entering their eighth season in the league.
As you know, Perrilloux never became that star NFL quarterback.
Instead, off-the-field issues made him have to settle for a journeyman’s professional career, playing in almost every “FL” there is.
NFL. CFL. UFL. AFL. And his most recent stop, the AIFL (that’s the American Football International League, where he played in France).
But for Perrilloux, that journey has finally brought him to the place he says he most wants to be.
So there Perrilloux was Thursday night, pacing the sideline at East St. John's scrimmage at Joe Keller Stadium, the same field where just a little more than a decade ago he was Cam Newton before Cam Newton, rushing and passing his way to becoming one of the most heralded stars in Louisiana high school football history.
This time, he wore a headset, replacing the East St. John helmet from years past.
And he sported a gray T-shirt instead of the No. 11 jersey the school wasted little time retiring. Nobody has worn No. 11 at East St. John since Perrilloux put the finishing touches on his prep career in the 2004 season.
It was just a scrimmage, but for Perrilloux, now the quarterbacks coach at his alma mater, it was much more.
“It feels good to be back under the lights,” Perrilloux said. “I want to give back to the community where I came from. I feel like I have a lot to give these young men. There’s nothing like high school football. It’s the love of these kids’ life, and I just want to see them get better.”
Perrilloux is 29 now. With that age, he said, came wisdom. It’s what made him make his past just that: the past.
“Over time, you learn things and stuff becomes clearer,” he said. “You become a better decision-maker. You realize that you’ve got to do it right. Any time you’re not doing it right, all you’re doing is preparing to fail. These kids know I’m going to do things right and not cut any corners and I’m not going to let them cut any corners.”
It’s the way Perrilloux played the game when he was in high school, according to his former coach, Larry Dauterive, who watched from the stands Thursday.
“He never wanted to go home after practice,” Dauterive recalled. “He wanted to stay out here and throw.”
That work ethic, coupled with God-given talent, is why he was considered by most to be the No. 1 player in the country by the time his senior season finished in 2004.
He had the numbers to back it up, accounting for 66 touchdowns his senior season. He threw for 3,556 yards and rushed for another 1,434 yards.
“He did so many things with the football that just defied logic,” Dauterive said. “He was like pinball. People would hit him and he’d never back down. He was an idol around here, now these kids are being coached by him.”
Many of the players he’s coaching are too young to remember him.
But they know who he is.
“Just living in this parish, everybody knows who Ryan Perrilloux is,” East St. John quarterback Marquis Darensbourg said. “We heard how good he was. We know he is the best player to ever come out of Louisiana. It’s great having someone like him coaching me up. Hopefully I can get where he was.”
Perrilloux would like to see Darensbourg, and everyone else on the East St. John roster, get even further than he did. He wants to see them avoid the pitfalls that he fell in along the way.
It’s why he stays on top of his players about every little detail.
“If I do something wrong, something as small as not having my shirt tucked in at school, he’ll make me run,” Darensbourg said. “He is teaching me how to be a leader on and off the field.”
Leading on the field was never a problem for Perrilloux, who was named Most Valuable Player of the 2007 Southeastern Conference Championship Game in 2007 after leading LSU past Tennessee. It was off the field that was the problem for Perrilloux, who ended up transferring to Jacksonville State after Les Miles booted him from the team. The legal issues and suspensions mounted. Those issues continued at Jacksonville State, but it didn’t stop Perrilloux from being named the Ohio Valley Conference’s’ Offensive Player of the Year. He agot his degree from Jacksonville State before going on to a pro career in which the biggest highlight is a Super Bowl ring he got as a member of the New York Giants practice squad.
“He made a lot of foolish mistakes when he was young because of all the adulation he had,” Dauterive said. “Sometimes when you’re young, you can’t handle all of that. But he got back on track. He will make a difference for this program before it’s over.”
It’s why current East St. John coach Alden Foster didn’t hesitate to bring Perrilloux on board when he found out the former Wildcats quarterback was back in town.
“You can’t get any bigger than Ryan Perrilloux around here,” Foster said. “He is a real humble kid now and is real passionate about those kids not making mistakes. He has a chance to go and coach college ball, but he wanted to come back and give back to where he went. That speaks volumes about him.”
Foster had no problems selling Perrilloux, who teaches business classes at East St. John, to principal Cory Butler, who is starting his second year at the school.
“Ryan knows that there were some mistakes made in his own life,” Butler said. “But here’s an opportunity to make sure that they don’t happen again for these kids. That’s what makes this so special. This community can identify with who he is, what he did and what he stands for. The man you read about some years ago is not the man you see today. The man that you see to day is just that. A man.”
But around his hometown of LaPlace, he’s not just a man. He’s THE man. He still gets stopped almost everywhere he goes by people wanting to reminisce about his glory days. He admits its gets frustrating at times, but for the most part, it’s not a problem.
“I embrace it,” he said. “This is my community, my hometown. They can say that I’m the young man who left and came back to help the kids because I’m passionate.”
His face lights up when he talks about his new venture, his first coaching gig. He said he plans to be around football forever.
The game has been good to him, even when he wasn’t good to it.
“I don’t have any regrets,” Perrilloux said. “The Lord’s got me in the place right where I need to be. I played college football and nine seasons as a pro, had a chance to travel the world, and now I’m back at home coaching the kids I love. I’m around my family and friends. I wouldn’t rather be any other place.”