Casey Therriault showed he is first rate at making the most of a second chance. Back on the football field after serving time for a manslaughter conviction, Therriault took full advantage of the opportunity afforded him at Jackson State and had a first year few in the Southwestern Athletic Conference will ever forget.

Last season, the Tigers’ 6-foot-5, 203-pound quarterback, was second in the Football Championship Subdivision with 3,436 yards passing and was third nationally in with 312.0 yards per game. He threw for a school record-tying 31 touchdowns while rushing for 10 more. His 3,600 yards in total offense was the best in the SWAC and second in the nation. Twice last season Therriault threw for five touchdowns and had seven 300-yard passing games. Additionally, he led the FCS in points responsible for with 23.1 points per game. The season culminated in his being selected 2010 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year -- he’s picked to win it again this year -- SWAC Newcomer of the Year, first team All-SWAC, a 2010 SBN All-American, 2010 Walter Payton Award and Conerly Trophy finalist.

What’s a guy to do for an encore?

“I don’t know,” Therriault said. “I planned for [success], but I really didn’t expect it. When you train and you work hard to have that kind of success on the field.

“As a team we had the best record we’ve had in 11 years. It was good to win some games. My philosophy is go in prepared to win the games and the stats will happen. I kind of just let that fall into place and this is what happened.”

Therriault’s arrival, however, was absent the attendant fanfare befitting a player so supremely gifted. The most plausible answer to the muted response is owed to his wholly unique personal narrative of redemption.

THE THERRIAULT FILE
Name: Casey Therriault
Birthdate: June 20, 1989
Major: Education
A bit more: Father was an All-American JUCO football player

After he starred at Wyoming Park High in suburban Grand Rapids, Mich., Therriault began his collegiate career as a backup at College of the Sequoias, a junior college in California’s San Joaquin Valley. That first year was nothing to write home about, but it would represent the closest thing to normalcy for him for some time.

While home on Christmas break in 2008, Therriault and a group of friends got involved in a bar fight in Grand Rapids. During the fight, he threw a punch, then left. His friends then beat Jonathon Krystiniak so severely, the young man lapsed into a coma from which he would never emerge. Krystiniak died two weeks later. Therriault, charged with second-degree murder, plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and received a six-month sentence

He finished his sentence in June 2009 and was looking for a place to play football again. With a huge assist from his father, Therriault got another chance at Grand Rapids Community College, where his father was an All-American in 1975.

It was a perfect fit. Therriault threw for more than 2,000 yards, 24 touchdowns and six interceptions and led GRCC to a 9-2 record and a No. 6 ranking in the final NJCAA national poll. 

Still, no one would touch him. The coaches and recruiters who were so enamored with his ability a few years earlier, didn’t dare take a risk on him. The only person willing to take a chance was Jackson State’s offensive coordinator, Earnest Wilson. He remembered Therriault from when he was on New Mexico State’s coaching staff. When he took the job in Jackson, Miss., Wilson knew he needed a quarterback to lead the wide-open offense he planned to install, and Therriault was his guy.

“I knew he had the leadership skills, and that’s what we needed in order to be successful,” Wilson said. “Is he the best quarterback JSU has ever had? I hope, after this year, he is. As the offensive coordinator, I certainly hope he is.

“I’m just glad we got him. I think a lot of people knew about him. JSU did a great job of doing their homework. ... I think we didn’t steal him. We worked for him. You had to have been in some of those meetings. We definitely worked for him.”

Therriault more than held up his end of the deal. He came in and went to work to turn his life -- and by extension the Tigers’ program -- around.

“When I came down, I tried to get acclimated as fast as I could,” said Therriault, affectionately nicknamed “White Tiger.” “To come in and just try to get comfortable with my teammates and everything. It all came together pretty fast for me.

“The transition [on the field], it was just football again to me. The biggest transition [overall] was new teammates and a new offense. That all happened pretty quick, probably the first week of camp. Kind of getting used to each other and it started to make sense. It wasn’t really a tough transition football-wise.”

To be fair, Jackson State had nothing to lose signing Therriault. The program was a mere shell of itself having gone 3-7 in 2009. Wilson said it is more to it than just improving the Tigers on the field; helping Therriault trumped reviving the school’s moribund program.

That’s what HBCUs have always been about -- giving people chances.
--  JSU offensive coordinator Earnest Wilson

“You know, people were worried [about his background],” Wilson said. “At the end of the day, after we studied everything, we found out he is a great kid who did something crazy.

“I don’t know what you did in college, but you may have had a fight in college. Everybody has done something crazy, but you never saw what it resulted in. That’s what people have to remember -- you have to remember both ways. That’s what HBCUs have always been about -- giving people chances.”

There is one chance Therriault and Jackson State won’t be given this season and that is a shot at the SWAC title. Because of low APR scores the NCAA banned the Tigers and Southern from postseason play, and the conference banned them both from competing for the conference title. The timing could not be worse for Therriault. He’s a senior and will be leading a team that media reps have picked to win the East Division and make it to the title game. But if he is upset, he is not showing it. 

“It’s something we will have to deal with game by game,” Therriault said. “They didn’t cancel our season. We’re all still competitors. We still have games to play.

“And I’m not looking at the 12th game. I’m looking at the first game. It’s there, but it’s not like we didn’t expect that to happen.”

Given where he’s come from not playing in a championship game is of little consequence. He is more interested in putting the past comfortably in his rear view mirror and in seizing the opportunity to play a second season at Jackson State.

“I think we have a great thing going on,” Therriault said. “I think we’ll be better than last year. I think we’re working harder and more focused than last year.

“Nothing’s ever really been a distraction anyway, to me. It just feels good to be back here for my senior year. Being comfortable. Having that last year behind us. Just ready to play and focus on school. That’s it.”

 

So can he duplicate or surpass his first season? Is there a Payton Award in his future? Therriault isn’t interested in making any kind of predictions. He has a year of SWAC football to draw from and he intends to use it to make his team better.

“There are no more question marks about how games go, and what to expect and what not to expect,” Therriault said. “We’re more comfortable, and I feel like it shows during camp and during practice. We’re more able to meshing together when it comes to the season.

“As for me, there’s always room for improvement. I look at films and see a lot of things I can do better. And when you get the awards, it’s something that you’re just blessed to get at the end of the year. But the in the new year you have to play up to that potential, and you have to continue to play well to earn those awards. So it’s something I look forward to. It’s a slight motivation in getting those awards.”