Five years ago, Ryan Perrilloux had it all.
As a senior at East St. John (Reserve, La.), the signal-caller was rated among the top high school football recruits in the Class of 2005 with the likes of Mark Sanchez and Ndamukong Suh. He was named USA Today Offensive Player of the Year as a senior after passing for 3,546 yards, rushing for 1,460 yards and accounting for 67 total touchdowns.
After high school, Perrilloux decided to stay home by committing to LSU. He shined for the Tigers as a redshirt sophomore and played a key role in the leading LSU to both the SEC championship and BCS national title during the 2007 season.
But his success with the Tigers was short-lived. He was suspended three times at LSU and was eventually dismissed by the team in the spring of 2008.
Perrilloux eventually landed at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, where he turned his career and life around. This past season, he was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award (given to the top player in the Football Championship Subdivision) and finished the year throwing for 2,350 yards with 23 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Perrilloux is now a prospect for this April's NFL draft, but more importantly, he's learned that even if you're a top-ranked recruit, that number goes out the window once you get to college. And that's something he'd like to impress upon members of the Class of 2010 as they get set to sign their national letters of intent.
ESPN RISE: Describe what it felt like being a top high school recruit.
Ryan Perrilloux: It definitely was a great feeling just to be one of the best players in the country. I enjoyed every bit of it.
ER: How did being a top recruit impact you during and after high school?
RP: Just being put up on a pedestal and always having eyes on you was overwhelming sometimes. In high school, you're a young kid and everyone knew your name and everyone wanted to meet you. It was a great feeling. In college, it was the same thing, but you're playing in front of 90,000 fans. The pressure took form. Being from Louisiana, football is life down there. When you're so highly recruited, the pressure that comes with it to perform is not like high school. Living up to the expectations was the pressure.
ER: Did you ever feel you just rested on your natural talent?
RP: No sir. I love the game and always put in the most effort. The things that came with the game -- living up to the hype -- was the most pressure. When you're in college, you have to start over. You have to put high school behind you. In my situation, I wasn't ready for all of that at one time. A lot is expected of that person once they set foot on that campus.
ER: Where do you think it started to go wrong for you, and do you think it a result of all the attention you received as a high school senior?
RP: Where it went wrong for me was having to live up to the expectations of being a college quarterback and being a high-profile athlete in general. You can't go out and do the stuff the average person does. You have to surround yourself with good people and focus on the task at hand. I got too caught up in the stuff surrounding the game.
ER: What would you describe as your lowest point during the past few years?
RP: When I was dismissed. It definitely let me know I wasn't bigger than the program. When I got kicked out of school, I realized all the hype I had wasn't there. I had to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate myself. It humbled me a whole lot. It made me realize no player is bigger than the team or the program. I realized things I did didn't just affect me, they affected my team, family, friends and fans. I needed to get better as a player and as a person. I not only let myself down. I let my family, teammates and fans down at LSU and I'm sorry about that.
ER: Do you ever look at guys you were ranked with in the Class of 2005 like Mark Sanchez and Ndamukong Suh and think about what could have been?
RP: I realize if I was more focused on and off the field, things would have turned out differently. When I say turn out differently, I wouldn't have been at Jacksonville State. I would have been at LSU and graduated at the school I went to. My biggest downfall was listening to the outside influences. I neglected my teammates off the field.
ER: How has Jacksonville State helped you get back on track?
RP: Jacksonville State supported me for two years with everything that went on. I started out with a clean slate. They gave me the opportunity to be the leader of their football team. Coach (Jack) Crowe has been a great mentor for me and Jacksonville State has been a great program for me. I just want to thank them for letting me represent their university.
ER: How are you preparing for the NFL draft, and have you heard anything yet about where you're being projected?
RP: I've been working out, under the radar and ready to go. A lot of people are still thinking about the stuff that happened at LSU and I don't blame them. I'm just going to try to prove that I've turned the corner. I'm ready to be a leader and ready to take it to the next level.
ER: After all you've learned, what advice would you give to any recruit who's in the same position now that you were in five years ago?
RP: Stay focused at the task at hand. Stay true to yourself and watch for outside influences. Once you graduate high school, leave it where it's at. My momma always said, "When you're a child, act like a child. When you're a man, you have to act like a man." Don't get caught up in what you left behind -- the glitz and the glamour of being a top high school recruit. Once you leave that, it's gone.