Former college teammates at Louisiana-Lafayette, QB Jake Delhomme and WR Brandon Stokely are expected to play against each other for the first time Sunday. Stokely's always been hurt when his team played the Panthers, but he's expected back from a heel injury.
There's a story in the Rocky Mountain News about the pair which made me want to dig up something too. I remembered in 2003 talking to Stokley and his father, who coached the Ragin' Cajuns at the time. Here's a copy-and-paste excerpt of that Sept. 14, 2003 story, since I couldn't find a link:
Nelson Stokley was coaching Louisiana-Lafayette at the time, and he was looking for a quarterback. There was this scrawny kid at Teurlings Catholic High that people were raving about. Delhomme would eventually amass 7,423 yards of total offense and 81 touchdowns, but it wasn’t just his offensive play that impressed the coach.
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“I remember watching them one night, and whoever they were playing was driving,” Stokley recalled. “There was a big play, a third or fourth down, and they tried to run it. When the pile cleared, and the guy was short, you could eventually see that it was Jake that brought him down.
“He was just always in the right place at the right time.”
As you look back on Delhomme’s career, that sounds odd. But during those early years, he was perfectly situated.
The beginning of his college career was eerily similar to start with the Panthers.
Stokley wanted to redshirt the 165-pound Delhomme, thought it would give him a chance to mature physically. But on Sept. 4, 1993, the Delhomme era began accidentally.
The Cajuns were playing Utah State, and generally getting their heads beat in. Stokley ran through his first three quarterbacks in the first half after they combined for five interceptions. At that point, the redshirt came off and stayed off.
“We really didn’t have a choice,” Stokley said with a laugh. “And even though we hadn’t planned on playing him, you could just tell he belonged in there. He had a presence about him in the huddle and on the field the other guys didn’t have.
“He had this confidence he was going to get it done. He was calm and poised, but at the same time he didn’t mind showing a little emotion.”
Delhomme wasn’t sparkling but he was effective the rest of the way, and he threw his first touchdown pass with 11 seconds left in the game. It wasn’t the storybook finish of his Panthers debut — it narrowed the Utah State lead to 34-13 — but it was an indicator.
The hometown quarterback quickly made the job his own, starting the next 43 games.
It became the most successful time in school history, as they went 25-18 and won a pair of Big West Conference titles. They’ve won 12 games total in the six years he’s been gone. Delhomme also led the only win in school history over a ranked team, a 29-22 win over Texas A&M his junior year and he still owns school records for basically every passing statistic.
“He brought the whole program to a new level, and it hasn’t been the same since he left,” said Brandon Stokley, Delhomme’s go-to receiver his final two years in college who now plays for the Indianapolis Colts.
But as seems fitting, the stories of his resilience and passion outweigh the numbers.
There were the back-to-back fourth-quarter comebacks against Tulane and Louisiana Tech in 1995. But there were also classic Delhomme moments when things were leaner.
The Cajuns went to Florida for a paycheck Delhomme’s senior year. As expected, Steve Spurrier’s Gators put a 55-21 pounding on them. But even though few expected anything out of them, it was the little mistake that drove Delhomme the craziest.
The Cajuns were already down when they took over deep in their own territory. Delhomme walked to the line of scrimmage, looked over and saw Stokley waving his right hand. Delhomme noticed Florida cornerback Fred Weary was pressed up on Stokley, so he figured his wide receiver was asking for an audible to a deep route.
“So I took three steps and laid it out there, trusting Brandon,” Delhomme recalled. “And then he breaks a short out route and they pick it off and run it back for a touchdown. I jumped in his face and said ‘What are you doing giving me the signal and then doing that.’ He said ‘No, I was trying to get the crowd fired up.’”
Delhomme was in disbelief, and let his sophomore wideout have it.
“‘Man, we’re in The Swamp, you’ve got to be kidding me,’” Delhomme remembered saying. “‘We’re getting killed here.’ ... It’s one you laugh about later, but not at the time.”
Stokley laughed and said Delhomme’s version was cleaned up quite a bit. That’s just like last week, when Delhomme walked into his first Panthers huddle, down 17-0 and caught everyone’s attention. “He told us to get our (expletive) heads up,” Panthers receiver Steve Smith said.