LSU legend Jerry Stovall enters College Football Hall of Fame

Dave Moormann

Life is not so much about accomplishments as it is how one handles adversity that is part of everyone’s existence.

In that regard, Jerry Stovall has lived a life worthy of his enshrinement into the College Football Hall of Fame last weekend.

From growing up in West Monroe as the oldest of five children with four sisters in a three-bedroom house, Stovall embarked on a career that would be the envy of most anyone.

Having spent the last 17-plus years as president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Sports Foundation in his adopted hometown, Stovall has tackled a host of assignments with the same vigor that made him an All-American football player at LSU.

With his unshakeable faith in God, a steely determination, and the love and support of his wife, Judy, who he married while a junior at LSU, Stovall has embraced life with the positive approach that has served him well for all of his 70 years.

Not that things always have been easy easy for Stovall or that they’ve always come his way.  It’s just that Stovall is an opportunist and seizes chances when they present themselves. If something doesn’t work, rather than fret and despair, Stovall takes a different approach or goes in another direction.

Bill Arnsparger, the man who replaced Stovall as LSU football coach after the 1983 season, liked to say that either one gets better or worse, no one ever stays the same.

Stovall got better, which is saying plenty considering he was the 1962 Heisman Trophy runner-up, a two-time NFL All-Pro defensive back during a nine-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals and the 1983 National College Football Coach of the Year.

He also grew up in surroundings that could have defeated a lesser person, was the last player signed in LSU’s 1959 recruiting class and unceremoniously dumped by former athletic director Bob Brodhead after the second of two losing seasons during Stovall’s four-year LSU head-coaching tenure.

This, too, although Stovall was more than willing to serve LSU when school officials were stunned by the 1980 death of recently hired coach Bo Rein in a plane crash.  Stovall was hastily installed as Rein’s replacement, ordered to keep Rein’s assistant coaches, and promptly guided LSU to a winning record under the most trying of circumstances.

Stovall’s 1982 team finished 8-3-1 with a near-upset of Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. That wasn’t enough to keep Stovall’s job after a losing record the next season, but that didn’t slow Stovall down nor sour him on his beloved LSU.

Instead, Stovall has embarked on a whirlwind of activity ever since. He’s also remained true to LSU which he told the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune originally “offered me three things I’d never had before – my own bed, (air conditioning) and three meals every day where I could eat as much as I want.”

Stovall now has all that in abundance, but he also has displayed the work ethic that allowed it to come to pass. Whether vice president of Louisiana National Bank, athletic director at Louisiana Tech, or in his current position, Stovall has been driven to excel.

That’s the same trait that allowed him to prosper during his illustrious football career at LSU from 1960-62. So much has happened at LSU in the half century since Stovall’s playing days, but those who remember, know how much he meant to LSU.

Those who don’t, need only to look at the numbers to appreciate his worth back then. Stovall, a two-way performer, allowed for a nearly seamless transition from All-America halfback Billy Cannon to the self-admitted runt from West Monroe.

Stovall proved himself to be anything but that with 1,081 career  yards rushing, 452 yards receiving, nearly 700 yards in returns, seven interceptions and  a 39.3-yard average on 165 punts.

That doesn’t begin to tell the entire story of Jerry Stovall, but it’s a pretty good place to start.