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Former Football: Delhomme is proof to area youth dreams do come true

Brady Aymond • baymond@theadvertiser.com • July 10, 2008

Jarrett Phillips stood patiently in line, a Carolina Panthers helmet floating comfortably on his head.

Another kid sat on the floor, carefully laying out his freshly-autographed Jake Delhomme jersey, then took a picture of it.

Just in case, I guess.

Orlando Thomas Jr. bounced back and forth between his mom and his spot on the floor. The whole time, he tossed a bruised, battered and, in some places, torn, red-and-white nerf football in the air.

Besides being campers at UL’s annual Ragin’ Cajun football camp, all three had another thing in common: They were all smiling and having a good time.

And that’s something UL coach Rickey Bustle never gets tired of seeing in the Cajun locker room.

"You can never start recruiting them too early," Bustle joked. "This is truly a special event for us. We love to see the kids out here having a good time and learning a little bit about football."

Wednesday was the culmination of the three-day camp at the Cajun Athletic Complex. The reward for all their hard work was meeting former Cajun quarterback and current Carolina Panthers starter Jake Delhomme.

"It was fun … and cool," Phillips said about meeting one his two football idols – Brett Favre being the other one.

Delhomme made the trek back to Lafayette to visit with kids he said shared the same vision he had when he was their age.

"I was in their spot, that was me out there sitting on that floor," Delhomme said. "I lived sports, that’s all I ever wanted to do. I was blessed with a little bit of talent and I worked hard and showed that you can get there if you want it."

Delhomme is quite possibly the greatest example of how far hard work and dedication can get you.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder played at tiny Teurlings Catholic, which at the time was a Class 1A school. He later moved on to UL, where he became the school’s all-time passing leader in every category that matters.

Undrafted out of college, Delhomme finally got his shot with the New Orleans Saints, where he served as a backup and scout squad member from 1997-2002.

After the 2002 season, he moved over to Carolina and led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in his second season. Delhomme was off to the best start in his career last year when an elbow injury sidelined him for the season just three games into the campaign.

"I think the biggest thing about Jake is he’s a guy that hasn’t forgotten where he came from," Bustle said. "He’s been to our camp several years now. When he’s been in town, he’s talked to our football team. A lot of guys get to where he is and they don’t come back."

Following the final drills of the camp Wednesday, Delhomme took a moment to talk to the kids, answer questions, pose for pictures and sign autographs.

Many of the kids either wore Delhomme jerseys, or had Carolina t-shirts or caps, a sign that Delhomme’s impact is still felt locally.

"That’s weird to me, one thing that’s still strange to this day," Delhomme said. "To see the kids wearing your jersey, it’s a humbling sight. It’s great.

"I think it’s the way we are, we’re very prideful people. I know that’s how I am. When Kevin (Faulk) plays in the Super Bowl or Brandon Stokley does something, I’m proud of him. You know how Cajuns are, we’re proudful people."

As Delhomme is at the pinnacle of his career, another possible future Cajun legend is just starting his.

Seven-year-old Orlando Thomas Jr., the son of Cajun Hall of Fame defensive back Orlando Thomas, experienced his first UL football camp this past week.

"It was cool," the younger ‘OT’ said. "The (new field) was awesome."

The elder Thomas, a native of Crowley, was a defensive back at UL from 1991-94 before being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round of the 1995 draft.

Thomas had a stellar career in Minnesota, recording 457 tackles and 22 interceptions in seven years. He came back to the area to coach at Comeaux High School.

Thomas and Delhomme were teammates at UL, where they helped lead the Cajuns to back-to-back Big West titles in 1993 and 94.

"Of course, I know your dad," Delhomme said when the younger OT asked if he had known his father. "Can you hit like your dad? Because your dad could hit. Your dad was a great football player."

These days, Thomas is in a battle with the debilitating disease ALS, which is more commonly referred to as Lou Gherig’s disease.

Some days are better than others for the former Mack truck in cleats. His Cajun spirit has helped him defy doctor’s odds for nearly two years now.

One Cajun fighting for his life, another fighting to return to Pro Bowl form after elbow surgery.

Both shining examples for the hundreds of kids in attendance this week at the UL football camp.

Brady Aymond is a sports writer for the Daily Advertiser. He can be reached at (337) 289-6357 or baymond@theadvertiser.com.