Delhomme takes long road to stardom
When Jake Delhomme of the Carolina Panthers retires do not be surprised if Hollywood calls to ask if it can turn his story into a movie. The quarterback has all the ingredients for a blockbuster -- small town boy goes to local college, marries middle school sweetheart, goes undrafted in the NFL and winds up playing in the Super Bowl.
Delhomme attended Teurlings Catholic High School (Lafayette, La.) where he played both football and basketball. Sonny Charpentier was his middle school football coach and was the offensive coordinator at Teurlings during Delhomme's four years as quarterback.
"When I first got here, you could tell he [Delhomme] was just a natural leader. He was a vocal leader and he led by example, too. He was highly competitive," Charpentier said. "Everything he did, he wanted to be the best at it and he stuck out like a sore thumb. He wanted to do whatever it took to win."
One story Charpentier tells about Delhomme's winning desire comes from his eighth-grade year. Delhomme was playing quarterback when the team's starting running back was injured.
"Jake came to the sideline and told me he could play running back. I told Jake that I needed him to play quarterback. He looked at me, seriously, and said 'I can play both,'" Charpentier said with a chuckle.
Delhomme went on to throw for 6,703 yards and 65 touchdowns in his high school career, including a senior season in which he threw for 3,300 yards and 32 touchdowns en route to leading his team to the state semifinals.
Everything seemed perfect. He was dating his middle school sweetheart, Keri Melancon, who would go on to become his wife, and he was named to the all-state team.
But it was not a smooth path to the NFL. That all-state nomination was as a defensive back. Evangel Christian Academy's Josh Booty, then a junior, was named the state's top quarterback.
Because of the attention paid to Booty, who was drafted by Major League Baseball's Florida Marlins in the 1994 draft, and Isidore Newman High School's Peyton Manning, Delhomme's college choices were limited. Scouts also believed he needed to add some height, weight and strength.
Delhomme received offers from the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now University of Louisiana at Lafayette) and Tulane, but Tulane rescinded the offer at one point, leaving Delhomme with only one option.
Despite the lack of interest, Delhomme never got down and relished the chance to play college football at any level.
"He knew he was going to play college football and he knew he was going to get an opportunity and that's all Jake ever wanted," Charpentier said. "Whether someone was going to be paying for it initially or he was going to walk on or whatever. He was going to get a chance, and he just wanted to play."
Delhomme went on to start as a freshman at Louisiana-Lafayette and by the end of his career set several school records, including most yards gained in a career (9,216), career touchdown passes (64) and highest efficiency rating in a season (133.3 in 1995).
Overlooked by NFL teams in the 1997 NFL draft, Delhomme was eventually signed by his hometown New Orleans Saints, but got his first real playing time in two stints in NFL Europe with the Amsterdam Admirals and Frankfurt Galaxy.
He played in two games in the NFL in 1999, throwing for 521 yards and three touchdowns, but did not see an NFL field again until 2002 -- his final season with the Saints.
With Aaron Brooks named the starter in New Orleans, Delhomme signed with the Carolina Panthers, who were coming off a 1-15 season, in 2003. Delhomme did not start the first game of the season, but played in relief of Rodney Peete and never let go of the starting job.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Delhomme eventually led the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII against the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. Delhomme threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns, but Adam Vinatieri's 41-yard field goal with four seconds left ended the Panthers' season. Still, it seems that was just the beginning of Delhomme's career.
In his six seasons with the Panthers, Delhomme has thrown for 16,555 yards and 110 touchdowns. Fresh off a 38-23 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football, the Panthers look like potential Super Bowl contenders once again.
Even with all the success, Delhomme has maintained his hometown values, returning to Lafayette every year, where he still lives a few blocks from his high school with his wife and their two daughters. He works out at his high school on occasion and has continued to be involved with the football program.
"He's just a good guy. I'm not just saying that because he's an NFL starting quarterback," Charpentier said. "If he'd had never made it, he'd still be the same person, I think."
Mike Loveday covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.
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