By: Terrill J. Weil
Da Boot Sports!
Today's Q & A Session is with former LSU football great Jeff Wickersham. Wickersham was the starting quarterback for LSU from 1983-85.
During his three years as the quarterback for LSU, Wickersham completed 58.4% of his passes for 6,921 yards, which at the time were both the 3rd best performances in SEC history. He was also the first quarterback in LSU history to pass for over 5,000 career yards, the first LSU quarterback to throw for over 2,000 yards in three different seasons, the first LSU quarterback to throw for over 2,500 yards in a season (1983), and the first LSU quarterback to throw for over 350 yards in a game (368 yards vs, Mississippi State in 1983).
By the end of his college career, Wickersham held the school's record for most passing yards, along with 15 other marks.
He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the 1986 NFL draft. After being released by Miami he move on to play in the CFL for a couple of seasons before a knee injury lead to his retirement decision.
Q -What is your Favorite TV Show?
Jeff - The crime shows on ID Channel. We enjoy watching those shows as a family.
Q - Your Favorite Food?
Jeff - Shrimp. I love shrimp every way you can cook it. I also love all the Louisiana cajun foods like gumbo and jambalaya, dishes like that. It was pretty surprising when I moved here from Florida that people here actually ate crawfish and catfish. It was shocking to me. In Florida back in the 80s, no one would ever consider eating either of them. When I got to LSU I went to a crawfish boil and I had no idea how good it would be. The same thing with catfish. They are two of my favorites now.
Q - Favorite Pro Athlete?
Jeff - My all-time favorite is Dan Marino. I really enjoyed watching him play. I actually got to go to training camp with him when I was with the Miami Dolphins and watch him in action in person. He was tremendously impressive and a super nice guy to meet.
If I had to pick one for currently, I would say it's Drew Bress. I admire him as a quarterback and as a person. He's such a good guy and a great quarterback.
Q - Favorite Music Artist?
Jeff - I'm not a big music person. I listen to just about anything. I like The Cars, Aerosmith, 80s stuff. Stuck in the 80s...
Q - Favortie Actor?
Jeff - Clint Eastwood
Q - Favorite Movie?
Jeff - I love Clint Eastwood movies. Anything that he is in would be an automatic favorite of mine. As well as the old western movies with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.
Q - Your Favorite Sports Team?
Jeff - LSU would be number one. Love watching LSU sports, of course because I've played there. I really love watching the LSU softball team right now, because my daughter is there. I enjoy that tremendously.
Then I'm a hometown guy so the Saints would be on the list. We go to the Saints games every Sunday. My family and I really enjoy that.
Q - I see you're from Merritt Island, Florida. Did you grow up there?
Jeff - I did. I was born in Minot North Dakota, then my family moved to Merritt Island when I was 2 years old, so it's the only place I knew.
Q - When you were a little kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
Jeff - I always wanted to be a professional athlete of some type. I loved basketball and football. I really enjoyed playing those while I was growing up. Probably wanted to be a pro football player my whole life, that was my main goal.
Q - Did you play multiple sports at Merritt Island High School?
Jeff - I did. It was a bit different back then, everyone played multiple Sports. I ran track. I did the high jump, the long jump, and the 440 relay.
I played basketball. We had a real good basketball team in high school that was fun to play on. Will Perdue who played for the Chicago Bulls play on our team. He was a 7’2” center. So I got to play with some pretty good guys.
Then of course I played football all the way through.
Q - Tell us a little about your recruiting process? Where you recruited in multiple sports?
Jeff - I was recruited a little bit in basketball. I was fortunate to make All-State in basketball and in football.
Back then, if you were a Parade All-American in football that was like the ultimate honor you could have in high school. I had a lot of good players surrounding me. We had a lot of D-1 recruits every year on our team. We won the state championship two years in a row in the State's highest classification. We had a lot of college coaches watching us all the time. That helped bring a lot of attention to me.
I started during my sophomore season, so that helped my recruiting to start early age. I was recruited by basically everyone in the country. I had offers from Alabama, LSU, Stanford, Georgia, Florida, everybody really. When they saw your name as a parade All-American, that was like being a five-star in today's age.
It's weird how I got recruited by LSU. When I was growing up, we would go to the Tangerine Bowl In Orlando a lot. Well LSU ended up playing there often. So we would go watch the game when LSU happened to be playing. We would walk around the parking lots and see the crazy cajuns cooking. They were always super nice and super inviting. They would say, "Hey come on over here and try this!"... So I got a taste of the LSU fan base by attending a few Tangerine Bowls. Then I was always Impressed with their players. We got to see Charles Alexander play. Some of their great quarterbacks like David Woodley and Steve Ensminger. So I was like, "If I ever get a chance, I would love to go see LSU play in Baton Rouge."
As I got older and got to High School, that became a reality. LSU began to recruitment me. Mack Brown was there recruiting coordinator and was also the quarterback coach at that time. I really enjoy being around Mack. That's how it kind of lead me to going to LSU. So it's crazy I just going to a football game in meeting their fans got me interested in them.
Q - What was it about LSU that made you choose them over everyone else?
Jeff - I went on a bunch of different visits. I went to Clemson, went to Florida, Stanford, and then I went to LSU.
When I got to LSU they weren't having the greatest season that year on my official visit. But we did go to a game. When we walked out onto the field the stands were packed and the fans were going crazy. It amazed me. I thought, “Wow these guys don't have a really good record and this place is packed.”.. It was crazier than any Stadium I had ever been in.
Of course before the game they did take us around to see fans tailgating and I was super impressed with that. I really like coach Mack Brown a lot and liked Coach Stovall who was the head coach at the time. They were both really good guys and with the class that they were recruiting, I felt we would have a chance to win.
I would say, "Can you imagine if we were winning at LSU? They pack the stands when they're losing. If they had a winning team it would really be something."
Then they always had a great history of awesome quarterbacks that played and graduated from LSU. So that was a deciding factor also.
Q - Could you tell us a little about Coach Jerry Stovall?
Jeff - Jerry was a super good person and someone who they got rid of too early. They didn't have a lot of patience with him. If they would have kept him a little longer he would have done tremendously well. He was a great recruiter and a super motivator. I also thought he did a great job of bringing in good assistant coaches. We won a lot of games with the players that Stovall recruited.
He was just such a good person. A good Christian man. Truly had the best interest of the players in mind. I missed him. I really liked him a lot.
Q - How did you and the team handle the coaching change?
Jeff - I was prepared for it. Kids these days have got to know that coaches are going to move around a lot and that it's not their fault. If they're winning, people want their assistance. If they're not winning they get fired because fans get impatient.
I realized when I went to school that I'm going to school because I love LSU. I love the coaches, but if the coaches leave I'm still going to be happy because I wanted to go to LSU for the school itself. So I think that had me somewhat prepared.
It's always disappointing when your coach gets fired. But Arnsparger came in, a totally different type of coach and we had a lot of success with him. So everything works out. Once you're there you've got to be happy with where you are. It's kind of like the coaches, you have to play with what you have.
So that's what we did and we did have a lot of success after coach Stovall. I just felt bad for him because I knew what a great guy he was and I wish they would have given him another year or two because I think we could have won with him also.
Q - Please tell us a little about Coach Bill Arnsparger?
Jeff - Arnsparger was a straight ahead, no BS type of guy. He was not a cheerleader. He was more of a professional coach. He came in and set the bar straight right off the bat.
We had some guys on the team who probably weren't giving their all at practice. He came in and cut three or four guys on the second day. He told them, “Pack your stuff up and hit the road. If you're not here to help this team get better then you're not wanted around.”.. So that got everyone's attention immediately. That kind of got the ball rolling in the right direction and got everyone on the right page.
He was also a defensive coach. He brought in more of a defensive mentality to our football team. But we won a lot of games so there is nothing you could argue with.
On offense, when we would get up a score or two, he would basically start to run the ball to try and slow the game down because our defense was so good. So he added more of a defensive mentality then what we had when Stovall was there.
Q - What was it like to have the "Dalton/James Gang" in the same backfield with you?
Jeff - It was great. It was neat because we had so many good players in that class. I would say it was one of the best classes LSU has ever had. not everyone was a five-star, but they could play.
We had guys on that team that had played three or four years as starters. So it was a super class and it was great to play with guys like that because you could throw a short little five yard swing pass and they can turn it into an 80-yard touchdown with Dalton and Gary.
We had some great receivers. Eric Martin was there when I played, and he could make a lot of things happen. Herman Fontenot was great. Even Wendell Davis came in when I was a senior. So we had tremendous players every year that I was at LSU.
It was a great experience to be able to play with those type of caliber players. It was unbelievable, offensive and defensive guys, just a lot of fun to be around. Guys that can make plays. I had the best time of my life at LSU.
Q - Do you keep in touch with a lot of your old teammates?
Jeff - No I don't keep in touch with a lot of them. A lot of those guys ended up moving out of town and doing their own thing. It's great to see some of them when we have a chance to get together. I'll see a bunch of them before the games or when they have a reunion.
At the national championship they had a nice get together the night before and a bunch of us were able to visit. It's always great to get together and see each other again when we can. Pretty much everyone has their own life and goes their own way. The reunions we have are very special and fun to go too.
Q - What was one or more of your favorite moments or games that really stand out to you during your career?
Jeff - Probably the most special game that I can remember at LSU was when we played Florida State when I was a freshman. The winner of that game would advance to the Orange Bowl. It was a foggy night, overcast, with bad weather. Every time we scored a touchdown the field would get bombarded with oranges. It was crazy. It looked like hundreds of thousands of oranges just showered the field.
They put me in at the end of the game. We were winning and were supposed to keep the ball on the ground. We ended up driving down close to the Florida state end zone. Well Coach Brown always told me that if I see the defensive end crashing to just keep the ball and run it myself. Don't let the offensive line or anybody else know. So when I got the ball I was supposed to hand it off to Dalton but I keep it on my hip and ran around the corner and scored a touchdown. There was less than two minutes to go in the game and of course I wasn't supposed to do that. I was supposed to down the ball or give it to Dalton and let him down it. But I thought I did good and came to the sidelines all happy. Coach Brown starts chewing me out, “ What the heck are you doing? We're not trying to run the score up on them and rub it in their nose.” .. I told him, “ You said if I ever see the defensive end crashing to keep it myself.”..He just kept fussing.. It was a lot of fun. Oranges where flying everywhere. It was a great game. We won and got to go to the Orange Bowl. That was probably the most memorable game. Then we have some really good games against Florida and Alabama that I'll always remember. those were the big big games. We won some of those and lost some of those. but they were always very special.
Another is when we beat Washington in Baton Rouge when I was a sophomore. They were ranked number one in the Country and we were having a rough season that year. We beat them 42-14. It seems like they just couldn't handle the humidity. So that one was pretty cool.
Winning at USC! We went out there and beat them.
Then we also won at Notre Dame which was pretty cool to play in and win in that historic stadium with it freezing cold and snowing. It was pretty neat.
It all was a lot of fun. I enjoyed every bit of it.
Q - Can you tell us about your NFL draft experience?
Jeff - I got drafted in the 10th round back then and to be honest with you I didn't think I would get drafted high. I was hoping to be a free agent actually so I could go to a team who was actually looking for a quarterback. So when the Dolphins draft me I really wasn't excited. They call you before they draft you. So when they called I told them that I wasn't going to sign with them. I was going to go ahead and go to the CFL. The Dolphins drafted me anyway, so I said what the heck and went there. I knew I didn't have a chance to make the team, they had Dan Marino and Don Strock, two of the greatest quarterbacks In the history of professional football. So I went and made the most of it and worked out all summer with them. I really had a good relationship with both Marino and Strock. They liked me a lot. But they ended up only keeping those two guys at quarterback so I was released after training camp.
Then I went up to Canada and played in the CFL for two seasons with the Ottawa Rough Riders. I had a great time up there. I enjoyed the fast pace and the wide-open game. Then I ended up hurting my knee and had knee surgery. That's when I decided I needed to find out what I was going to do for the rest of my life. This job is just too unsure and unstable. After seeing people get cut, coming and going, one day you're making pretty good money, the next day you're unemployed. You just never know when you'll have a job or not. So I gave it up after that and got in the business I'm into now.
But I had a great time and it was a super learning experience. I really enjoyed my time being around Marino and watching him. He was always a hero of mine and I looked up to him. He was such a nice guy to me also, I had a great time being around him.
Q - What was it like being around someone like Don Shula while you were with the Dolphins?
Jeff - He was a great coach. One of the best of all-time. I didn't really have a lot of interaction with him. I worked more with the quarterback coach. I would sit in on meetings and I really respected him. But there wasn't a lot of one-on-one meetings with him or anything else. He was more of the organizer. The head coach guy. He was a tough coach and did a great job running the team. But like I said, I was more involved with the quarterbacks, sitting in the film room with them. So I had a lot more interaction with them than I did with Don.
Q - I see you had your acting debut when you had a part in the movie, "Everybody's All-American"....
Jeff - Yes that was fun. My buddy Scott Bailey, who I'm actually in business with now called me and said, “Hey Jeff they're doing a movie down here in Baton Rouge with Dennis Quaid, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, and Timothy Hutton. They need a bunch of football players. They pay you really good money every week and they pay for your hotel, for food and everything.”
I said, really?, yea, I’ll come over there. So I went back to Baton Rouge and we did the film for about 2 to 3 months. Had a real good time and got to know John Goodman pretty well and had a fun time with him.
They brought in a lot of football players. AJ Duhe was there. A lot of big-time football players were there. Tim Fox was there. ...
It's funny I have a good story for you on that one. Dennis Quaid played the running back in this story, So we're filming this one spot when he is running to the sideline. Now usually they would use a stunt double to run the ball for him. But in this particular scene they wanted him to get smashed out of bounds and have his helmet fly off and have him get knocked out. So Dennis Quaid is running toward the sideline and you have Tim Fox, who was an All-Pro safety for the New England Patriots was going to make the tackle. Well they told Fox not to hit him that hard, that they have a real loose helmet on him so it will fly off. But don't light him up because we don't want you to hurt him.
So Quaid runs toward the sideline and Fox lightly hits him and he falls to the ground and his helmet flies off. Well the director says, “Okay, we're going to have to film this scene again.” ..
Dennis Quaid hops up and yells, “Come on man! You got to make this look real! I don’t want to be here all night doing this crap!” … and everyone was like… Oh boy, you said the wrong thing now..
So the next time I pitch the ball out to Quaid and he heads toward the sideline and here comes Fox flying 100 miles an hour and just levels him. Quaid’s feet went flying up in the air, his head hits the turf and he was knocked out completely and the hit also broke his collarbone.
So in the movie if the hit looked real, it’s because it was. You can see at the end of the film when the players hoist Quaid up onto their shoulders, he has his arm sitting next to his body because his shoulder was separated.
It was fun. We had a blast being a part of that movie. It was a good time. Actually I was the quarterback in all of the football scenes. They put me down as being the Denver quarterback but I ended up playing the quarterback in every scene and I got to say a few words. I said something like, “Come on guys!” or whatever it was… So I got in the screen actors guild. Now I’m an actor. I tell my family all the time that I’m a famous actor. And they laugh at me like you're doing now..
Q - Is there anything you want to tell the LSU fans?
Jeff - What an honor and a privilege it was to play in front of those fans. They still recognize me today which is amazing to me. I'll go into some place and they recognize me and ask for an autograph and that makes a guy like me feel really good. That people are that loyal of a fans that they remember guys from 30 to 35 years ago.
It is just an amazing privilege to be able to play at a school like LSU. My daughter is going through the same thing now. I tell her to soak it all in. It's something you'll never forget. You just couldn't find a better place to play in the Country.
The fans are just the best. They always have been and they always will be. I'm just so appreciative...
Q - Would you like to tell us what you're doing now?
Jeff - I just sold my company recently. I basically have an Import company where we bring products in from overseas and sell them. It's mainly Industrial and Marine Supplies that we sell to the environmental companies, the plants, pump rental companies, things like that… I sold it back in November, so now I'm just working for the new company doing the same thing.