College football has long been about the option.
In Louisiana, Louisiana College, a Division III school in Pineville, has given prep players an option to pursue and education while continuing to play football.
“There are a lot more football players than there are Division I scholarships available in the River Parishes, that’s why we put a high priority for us in recruiting because there are a lot of excellent players that fall through the cracks,” said Louisiana College coach Dennis Dunn.
One of those type players is Melancon. The Hahnville product has been the Wildcats’ starting quarterback since his freshman year. Melancon is coming off a sophomore season in 2014 in which he was 221 of 415 passing for 2,968 yards, with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on his way to being named the Co-Offensive Most Valuable Player in the American Southwest Conference.
“He’s a guy, if he had been two inches taller, we probably wouldn’t have been able to touch,” Dunn said of the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Melancon. “In my mind, he’s a Division I guy that fell through the cracks and he’s proven to be just that. He was named the Most Valuable Player in our conference this last year and started as a freshman. We truly believe he will be an All-American for two years.”
Liking what they saw from Melancon, the Wildcats came back to the River Parishes a left with a big haul. On National Signing Day last Wednesday, Louisiana College inked four players from West St. John – running back Bradley Borne, defensive lineman Quantae Gaudia, defensive end Da’Jon Taylor and linebacker Jordae Gautier. The Wildcats crossed the Mississippi River and added Destrehan defensive back Austin Dickerson.
“Coach Stanley Smith coaches at Louisiana College and he does a good job of recruiting our area,” West St. John coach Robert Valdez said of the Wildcats assistant. “He’s been recruiting our area for years.
“The first time I met him was a couple of years ago at Block. He was impressed with our kids. It’s not the first time he’s come down to recruit our kids but it’s the first time our kids felt it was a good place for them.”
Dunn, the Louisiana College head coach, said there is a lot to like about River Parish players.
“They are coached well and they are blue-collar. They work extremely hard, and they know how to win,” said Dunn.
If they want to win, Louisiana College is a pretty good place to be.
“We are the second-winningest program in the state of Louisiana over the last seven years,” Dunn said of his Wildcats, second only to LSU in that span. “Guys are knowing more and more about us and knowing more about our success.”
In that seven-year span, the Wildcat never lost more than three games in a 10-game season until last year’s 6-4 mark. In 2012, Louisiana College went 8-3, including playing in the first round of the Division III playoffs.
Players like Melancon are helping to bring some recognition to Louisiana College.
“We are still relative new as it relates to a college football program. We didn’t start football here until 2000,” said Dunn. “I think guys like Easton have put us on the map and more and more people have heard about us. We put out a traditional winner and its turning people’s heads about wanting to be part of something special like what we’ve created here.”
Melancon isn’t the only River Parish native for the Wildcats. Linebacker Brandon Zimmer and kicker Patrick Juneau, a pair of St. Charles Catholic products, also play for Louisiana College. Zimmer just concluded his sophomore season while Juneau was a freshman on the 2014 squad.
With Louisiana College being the only Division III school in the state, and with the program still being relatively young, there are some misconceptions about the program on the recruiting trail, according to Dunn.
“I think the misnomer is we don’t have scholarships,” said Dunn. “We can’t call our scholarships ‘athletic.’ Louisiana College does give scholarships, and typically, we will put together a financial aid package that compares to a Division II-kind of financial aid package.
“We are the only D-III school in the state so a lot of (high school) coaches don’t know we have scholarships and there is a lot of misinformation as it relates to what we do, and can, offer.”
What Louisiana College does offer is another option.
“Rather than walking on somewhere else, with the financial aid package and things like that, it makes a wise decision for parents and students. Rather than taking a gamble and walking on somewhere else, maybe going out of state and paying out-of-state fees, it’s a school you can go to and financially support yourself and get a chance to play football,” Valdez said.