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Spotlight Feature: HISTORY LESSON - Select group of Cajuns Leaves a Mark in the NFL
Select group of Cajuns
leaves a mark in the NFL
By Bruce Brown
Who would you choose?
If you checked on all the UL Ragin' Cajuns who have gone on to play in the NFL through the years, you know the list won't be as long as those from the big football factories like Ohio State, Southern Cal, LSU and Alabama.
That's simply the law of the land.
But you'll discover that the school has more than a few who have left an impression once they got the chance to play for pay.
Cajun running back Elijah McGuire, a sixth-round draft choice of the New York Jets, will probably need to nudge aside former Tulane star Matt Forte this summer if he is to live his dream.
McGuire will try to make his time memorable, like 10 former Cajuns who put their school on the map time and again with their play in the NFL.
Who's the No. 1 NFL Cajun? That can have an subjective answer.
Is it games played? Longevity says a lot.
Should it be Super Bowl rings? The bling factor?
Charity work in the community is great, but unlikely to move the meter.
In some ways, this list is easy, but it wasn't always the case.
In the case of No. 1, though, one name comes to mind.
KR Brian Mitchell
The Plaquemine product checks off all credentials.
Converting to running back from a do-everything college quarterback, Mitchell helped the 1991 Washington Redskins win the Super Bowl over Buffalo in his second season.
He played 14 seasons and 223 games, a seemingly indestructible asset who returned 463 punts for 4,999 yards and 9 touchdowns, ran back 607 kickoffs for 14,014 yards and 4 scores, rushed and received for 4,303 yards and 16 touchdowns and filled in at quarterback.
Mitchell, who also starred for Philadelphia and the New York Giants, is on the all-time Redskins team as well as a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
After 286 points and 8,782 yards of total offense (3,335 rush, 5,447 pass) at UL, as well as four straight winning seasons, Mitchell saw his No. 1 jersey retired by the school.
As a professional, he made a case to be the first special teams star to reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The jury is still out on that, but his impact is beyond debate.
QB Jake Delhomme
When the Breaux Bridge resident and Teurlings Catholic product got the chance to shine at UL, he became the school's all-time passing leader (9,216 yards, 64 touchdowns from 1993-96), never lost to an in-state foe, had three winning seasons and had his No. 12 jersey retired.
At times, it seemed the music would stop there, however, as Delhomme went undrafted and languished on the New Orleans Saints bench but got a chance to play in NFL Europe.
Then in 2003, Delhomme left for Carolina and immediately quarterbacked the Panthers to a Super Bowl battle in Houston against New England. The Patriots won, but Delhomme threw for 323 yards and three scores in defeat.
He had stops in Cleveland and Houston, totaling 103 games, 20,975 yards and 126 touchdowns passing in an ultimately rewarding NFL career. His final NFL pass was a touchdown.
A member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, Delhomme remains a fixture in the horse racing industry and in local charity appearances.
CB Charles “Peanut” Tillman
Born in Chicago and recruited out of Copperas Cove, Texas, by UL, Tillman had a lasting impact in the league both on and off the field after being drafted by his hometown Bears in the second round (No. 35 overall) in 2003.
He starred for the Bears from 2003-2014 and helped lead the 2006 squad to a Super Bowl appearance against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, then finished his career with a 15-1 season and Super Bowl berth for Carolina in 2015.
Tillman totaled 911 tackles in his career (773 solo) and returned 38 interceptions for 675 yards and 8 touchdowns in 156 games.
But his NFL signature was his Power Punch, the ability to knock the ball out of his foe's hands. In all, he did that 44 times (10 in 2012 alone) and recovered 9 of those fumbles himself.
Those totals reflect his UL days, when he led the Cajuns in interceptions three years (12), made 284 tackles and had his No. 5 jersey number retired.
Tillman's shining moment, though, came when he was named winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2014 for his work in the community.
Through his Cornerstone Foundation, Tillman and wife Jackie have brightened the lives of pediatric hospital patients, built schools in Cambodia, furnished hundreds of tickets to Bears games and tackled numerous other projects.
WR Brandon Stokley
The homegrown son of then-Cajun coach Nelson Stokley served notice when he led the state in receiving with 80 catches as a Comeaux High senior, yet was unheralded entering college.
Stokley redshirted as a Cajun freshman, then burst on the scene with 75 receptions for 1,121 yards and 9 touchdowns as Delhomme's new favorite target in 1995. He sandwiched seasons of 81-1,160-7 and 65-1,173-8 around an injury year to finish as UL's all-time receiving leader (241-3,702-25).
He still holds that spot today, nearly 20 years later, and his No. 14 is among the retired jerseys at the school.
In the NFL, the sneaky-fast Stokley earned a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, catching a 38-yard touchdown in a 34-7 win over the Giants.
His best season was in 2004 with the Colts, when he caught 68 passes for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns, including Peyton Manning's 49th TD toss of the year. He was on the 2006 squad that beat Tillman and the Bears in the Super Bowl.
Blessed with soft hands and the ability to find openings in a secondary, Stokley developed into a slot receiver ace despite injuries along the way in a 15-year, 131 game career.
Some of his best moments came in two tours with the Denver Bronocs (2007-09, 2012) and he also played for Seattle and the Giants, finishing with 397 catches for 5,339 yards and 39 scores.
FS Orlando Thomas
Thomas's story is one of great achievement, individual highlights and inspiring courage in the face of Lou Gehrig's Disease, which finally claimed the Crowley product in 2014 after a long battle.
His No. 42 is retired at UL for a spectacular career that saw him make 347 tackles (224 solo) as a guided missile in the Cajun secondary at free safety from 1991-94.
Thomas was more than a hitter, though, leading the nation in interceptions as a junior with 9 pickoffs in 1993, adding six more as a senior and finishing with 18 interceptions in an All-American college career.
He wasted little time making an impression as an NFL rookie in 1995 with the Vikings, leading the league with 9 interceptions. Thomas had 5 more pickoffs in 1996.
Thomas spent 7 seasons and played 98 games with Minnesota, which went 15-1 in 1998 but just missed a Super Bowl berth.
He finished with 473 tackles and 22 interceptions, and coached area high school players until his illness progressed.
CB Ike Taylor
If bling is the thing, the Taylor's the man.
The New Orleans native played 174 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2003-14 and was a key element in a secondary that helped capture Super Bowl titles after the 2005 and 2008 campaigns.
That game total is second only to Brian Mitchell for Cajun longevity in the NFL.
Taylor intercepted 14 passes and scored once for Pittsburgh, adding in 636 tackles (517 solo) in run support and pass defense.
More and more fans are coming to know him as a commentator on NFL Network as he made a smooth transition to a second career.
At UL, Taylor saw time as both a running back when needed, as well as on defense.
OT Anthony Clement
A Cecilia High product, the mild-mannered Clement had one thing coaches can't coach – size.
That enabled Clement to carve out a 128-game career as an NFL offensive tackle. He harnessed aggression learned as a high school defensive lineman under the guidance of UL teammate Ronald Gunner, who taught him the game's finer points.
Clement played for the Cardinals (1998-2004), 49ers (2005) and New York Jets (2006-07), reaching the playoffs in 1998 and 2006.
PK Rafael Septien
A 50-yard field goal is not that surprising these days, but when Septien arrived at UL in 1974, it was downright rare.
The native of Mexico gave the Cajuns of coach Augie Tammariello a marquee talent to showcase while Tammariello built his program.
Septien kicked 9 field goals of 50 yards or longer for the Cajuns – a 57-yarder against Lamar, 55-yarders against Arkansas State and UTA, 53 yards vs. Arkansas State, four 52-yarders and a 50-yarder.
That attracted NFL scouts, and Septien kicked for the Rams (1977) and Cowboys (1978-86) for 151 games, reaching the Super Bowl after the 1978 season.
The soccer style ace had 960 points, hitting 420-of-433 extra points and 180-of-256 field goals.
WR Clarence Verdin
A diminutive wide receiver and kick returner for the Cajuns from 1980-83, Verdin first made a professional impact with the free-wheeling Houston Gamblers of the USFL in 1984 and '85.
Speed was the magic ingredient that helped Verdin overcome his size, as he moved on to a 118-game NFL career with Washington (1986-87), Indianapolis (1988-93) and Atlanta (1994). The 1987 Redskins won the Super Bowl.
Verdin finished with 82 catches for 1,329 yards and 7 scores and was an added threat on reverses.
Best of the Rest
CB Todd Scott
S C.C. Brown
DB Michael Adams
These three defensive backs are a tag team entry to round out the Top 10, with Scott (83 games), Brown (81) and Adams (80) close in service and impact.
Scott set the tone at UL as a big cornerback and dangerous punt returner, then went on to play for the Vikings, Jets, Buccaneers and Chiefs from 1991-97.
Brown played from 2005-10 for Houston, the Giants and Detroit.
Adams made up for small size with hustle with Arizona (2007-12) and Tampa Bay (2013). He is best remembered for jarring the ball loose from Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, forcing a pick-6 fumble that ended an overtime offensive shootout in the 2010 playoffs, 51-45.
OL John Magee, 91 games with the Philadelphia Eagles, 1941-55.
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Please click here for an overview of the football retired jerseys on display at Cajun Field and featured in GEAUX, the football game day program.
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Click here for the chronological listings of the Spotlight on Former Athletes.
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