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La. Sports HOF: Cajun Country shines on Hall of Fame induction night

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, July 1, 2018

Notre Dame High School head football coach Lewis Cook is inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Saturday June 30, 2018. (Photo: Chris Reich/Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame)

One of the craziest things to consider in life, and especially in sports, is the "what-if" game.

I couldn’t help but consider that exercise when watching out the 2018 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday at the Natchitoches Events Center.

What a huge night for the Acadiana area and especially UL athletics.

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There were more people from Cajun Country in the facility than any other area in the state — by far — producing the second-largest induction attendance ever.

And why not?

Sure the headliners for most sports fans were former Comeaux High and UL wide receiver Brandon Stokley and legendary area high school football coach Lewis Cook.

But there was also former UL tennis coach Jerry Simmons and former Bassmasters champion Jack Hains of Rayne.

More: Array of talented stars descends upon Natchitoches at Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame

Just a few years removed from Jake Delhomme, Yvette Girouard and Kevin Faulk going in together, what an incredible stretch for our area.

Also inducted Saturday were Larry Wright, Scooter Hobbs, Steve Gleason, Paul Candies, Jerry Simmons, Russ Springer and Lyn Rollins.

But what if Brandon Stokley didn’t decide to play football his senior season at Comeaux High?

Former Comeaux High, UL and NFL wide receiver Brandon Stokley (center) is inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Saturday June 30, 2018.
Former Comeaux High, UL and NFL wide receiver Brandon Stokley (center) is inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Saturday June 30, 2018.  (Photo: Chris Reich/Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame)

Think of all the great moments Cajun fans would have missed out on.

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For most of Stokley’s high school career, he was the point guard on the basketball team and shortstop on the Spartans’ baseball team. With a famous football-playing and coaching father, Stokley wanted to blaze his own trail for a time.

And as it turned out he did anyway.

Stokley went from a relatively unknown commodity to one of the state’s top wide receivers ever. In his one season at Comeaux, he led the state in receptions.

He followed that with an incredible collegiate career with 241 catches for 3,702 yards and 25 touchdowns.

Then, in just his second year in the NFL, Stokley was catching the first touchdown pass in a Super Bowl win for Baltimore’s Ravens.

Stokley went on to have a 15-year NFL career with 397 receptions for 5,339 yards and 39 touchdowns.

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In Saturday night’s induction, Stokley discussed what a joy it was in his life to be able to play five years to be able to play for five seasons under his father Nelson Stokley.

What if Stokley had taken up football from the get-go in his career and allowed the world to see his immense talents earlier? Perhaps those five years together never happen.

These days, Stokley has embarked on a new endeavor as a radio talk-show host in Denver. Talking to him prior to Saturday’s ceremony, all it took was one simple question about the Broncos and it was easy to see how intense he is about his new analyst duties.

The passion that made him a great player obviously fuels his opinions and evaluation of the Broncos.

Next, what if coach Cook had decided to stay in college football after his early stint as a Cajuns’ assistant coach in the early 1980s and not returned to coaching high school football?

I call Coach Cook, "The Master."

More: Sports Hall ‘means world’ to Brandon Stokley

I can’t imagine having been a sports writer for 35 years without all those interviews with Coach Cook.

He’s taught us how powerful composure, dedication to excellence and a commitment to family can be. 

His great skill of developing relationships no doubt would have made him a successful college head coach had that opportunity come his way.

Chances are, though, he wouldn’t have been a Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer. What a horrible loss to Louisiana high school football that would have been.

In the middle of his three high school coaching stints — which totaled 31 playoff appearances in 33 years with 18 semifinals and 12 state finals trips and four state titles — Cook blessed UL fans as the offensive coordinator for Delhomme and Stokley.

And just think: What if J.T. Curtis had become UL’s football coach in 1986? Coach Cook, who has a 344-82 career record, would be chasing St. Thomas More coach Jim Hightower to become the winningest coach in the history of the state.

"Look at all the people who came here tonight to honor him," fellow Hall of Fame inductee Rollins said. "That’s all you need to know about him."