NATCHITOCHES — Only a small percentage of high school athletes grow up to achieve hall-of-fame status in any sport. Yet when they do, it often sounds like a cliché to thank a high school coach or to recall a championship season.
Former LSU football stars Tommy Hodson and Kevin Mawae assured me it’s not a cliché — it’s giving credit where credit is due. Both players reflected on their high school careers before their Saturday induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
“I had a lot of great people to be around,” Hodson said. “I learned how to work, how to handle success and how to be humble along the way. My coaches had a lot to do with who I am now, along with my parents.
“For me, it’s always about people. I really don’t remember the games; it’s the impact people had on my life. My coaches taught me and believed in me. It’s about the confidence they had in me. They told me I was good enough to play at the next level.”
Hodson was a two-sport star at Central Lafourche High, where he played football for Bob Gros and basketball for Sonny Charpentier, who is now head football coach at Lafayette’s Teurlings Catholic. Hodson went on to play with four NFL teams.
Mawae was a 16-year NFL player and an eight-time All-Pro selection with the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans. Before that, he was a military brat. Mawae said Leesville High was an eclectic melting pot that brought different races and cultures together, thanks to Folk Polk.
What Leesville High morphed into on Friday nights was what Mawae said he lived for.
“Playing at a small community school had an impact on me,” Mawae said. “Football was king and still is. When you’re one of the boys of fall, everybody comes to watch you play. It’s a special time.
“I had great coaches like Jack Andre and Brownie Parmley. High school was about doing it (football) because you wanted to, not because you had to. Waking up on Friday mornings for two-a-days was special. And I loved every minute of it.”
Things have come full circle for Hodson and Mawae. Both had children who competed in high school sports for Baton Rouge schools last year.
Hodson’s daughter, Catherine, played basketball and threw the javelin for St. Joseph’s Academy and is set to attend LSU this fall. Mawae’s son Kirkland swims for The Dunham School. The two former football players said they enjoy encouraging their children as they compete.
For this sportswriter, it doesn’t get much better than this.
It’s a high school sports version of the circle of life. And it’s why we should never, ever underestimate the importance of high school sports in Louisiana.