By BRENT ST. GERMAIN, Written for the LSWA
Longtime south Louisiana prep football coach Laury Dupont has seen many outstanding high school players during his tenure on the sidelines.
There is one player that stands above the rest – Eric Andolsek.
Dupont coached Andolsek during the 1982 and 1983 seasons during his stint at Thibodaux High School. It didn’t take Dupont long to realize that Andolsek was a special football player.
“You can tell that Eric’s talent was above everyone else on the team,” Dupont said. “We predicted that Eric would be a Division I football player and could make it to the pros ever since he came to Thibodaux High. He was bigger and stronger than anyone else around. He was such an unbelievable player at such a young age.”
Dupont’s analysis proved to be correct as Andolsek would parlay his success at Thibodaux High to become a standout offensive guard at LSU and eventually in the NFL as an anchor along the Detroit Lions’ offensive line and blocking for future Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders.
However, Andolsek’s life was tragically cut short.
On June 23, 1992, Andolsek was killed when a flatbed truck veered off La. 1 and struck him while he was cutting the grass at his home in Thibodaux. He was 25.
Andolsek may be gone but is not forgotten, as his football legacy will live in the state he called home. Thirty years later, Andolsek will take his place among the state’s greatest athletes as a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s 2022 class.
Andolsek is among a 12-member group being enshrined in Natchitoches next weekend, June 23-25. For participation opportunities and information, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255.
It’s an honor that holds a special place for Andy Andolsek, Eric’s brother.
“I felt that Eric was certainly a qualified candidate based on the accolades that he compiled while prepping at Thibodaux High, playing at LSU along with a blossoming career in the NFL,” Andy Andolsek said. “I am fulfilled and grateful for Eric being chosen as a member of the (Louisiana Sports) Hall of Fame and to be part of that organization with others of similar stature.”
Renee Jennings said she is overwhelmed with excitement and pride knowing that her brother’s hard work and dedication to the game of football is being recognized with a spot in the Hall of Fame.
“His passion, work ethic and dedication to his sport was infectious to anyone who knew him,” she said. “He played such a prominent role in LSU’s history of strength training and leadership that many still recognize today. Even after 30 years since his death, we feel that this is just another testimony of our beloved Eric’s true legacy.”
Former LSU quarterback Tommy Hodson understands the joy the Andolsek family is feeling, as he was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.
Hodson said it’s a well-deserved honor for Andolsek, who helped protect the legendary LSU quarterback during the 1986 and 1987 seasons.
“I am so happy for Eric’s family and everyone in Lafourche Parish because so many people loved him,” Hodson said. “It’s great to see that he will be getting his just due by going into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. It gives everyone a chance to tell their kids how good of a person, player and teammate Eric Andolsek was.”
Perhaps the most compelling testimonial came on Twitter just last week from Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive guard Alan Faneca, a 2014 LSHOF inductee and another LSU great.
“One of the best to ever do it,” said Faneca, responding to a post of a story about Andolsek.
Andolsek’s football journey started at Thibodaux High where he earned all-state recognition and was named an Adidas Prep All-American after excelling along the offensive and defensive lines.
But it was at LSU where football fans across the country would discover something that people in Louisiana knew. Andolsek was a special football player.
After starting three games and playing both sides of the ball in the 1985 Sugar Bowl as a freshman, Andolsek started to assert himself as one of LSU’s top offensive linemen as a sophomore. The 6-foot-2, 286-pound guard would eventually become a three-year starter for the Tigers and was a team captain, two-time All-SEC selection in 1986 and 1987 and was ranked by Sporting News as the fourth best offensive guard in the nation his senior season.
Former LSU offensive tackle John Hazard said Andolsek’s intensity on the field helped make him one of the top guards in college football.
“Eric was by far the scariest offensive lineman that we had,” said Hazard, who played next to Andolsek along LSU’s offensive line for two seasons. “He was intense on how he approached the game because his plan was to maul the guy across from him. He had great technique, always made good calls and would beat up people.”
Andolsek’s intensity on the field paid dividends for LSU, as the Tigers had a successful four-year stretch during his tenure. LSU posted a 36-9-3 overall record and a 19-4-2 mark in SEC play, including two conference championships, in Andolsek’s four-year stay in Baton Rouge.
Hazard said LSU’s overall success could be attributed to Andolsek’s overall play on the field. Many of Andolsek’s LSU teammates fed off his energy and became better players because of it.
“Eric was always so locked in and intense on the field,” Hazard said. “He was the type of player that made everyone around him a much better player. He was such a fierce competitor that even the coaches didn’t want to upset him.”
While Andolsek was ferocious on the field, that all changed as soon as the pads were off.
“Eric was fierce and competitive, but you wouldn’t know from his exterior that he was really a teddy bear,” Hodson said. “He was a good guy and good pal to be around, and that’s the kind of guy that he was. I would say that he was my best teammate, but I know everyone would say the same thing about him.”
Andolsek’s dream of playing in the NFL became a reality when the Detroit Lions selected him in the fifth round (111th overall) of the 1988 NFL Draft.
Before he could settle in with the Lions, Andolsek had to make amends with a former rival – Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman.
Prior to the 1987 LSU vs. Ohio State game in Baton Rouge, the foes didn’t exactly hit it off right away. They were involved in an on-the-field skirmish during the coin flip.
But things changed after the Lions drafted them both in 1988.
After staring down one another on the team bus for mini-camp, they got to know one another and quickly became good friends.
“I went down to Thibodaux several times and got involved with the culture in south Louisiana with crawfish boils and all that good stuff,” Spielman said. “It was to be around him. He opened my eyes to a lot of things.”
Andolsek’s intensity and overall play along the offensive line would once again pay dividends, as the Lions would go from a struggling NFL franchise to a team that was one win away from Super Bowl XXVII.
During Andolsek’s final season in 1991, the Lions won the NFC Central division title and advanced to the NFC Championship game before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins.
Four years into his career, Andolsek was considered an up-and-coming NFL guard, a future All-Pro.
Jennings said the sky was the limit for her brother.
“I know he would have been a perennial Pro Bowler at his position and a team captain because of the leadership qualities he possessed,” she said.
While Andolsek enjoyed playing in Detroit, Louisiana was always his home, as he lived in Thibodaux during the offseason. Andolsek typically spent the offseason enjoying two of his other passions – hunting and fishing.
Andy Andolsek said his brother enjoyed playing for the Lions, but he knew Eric’s love of Louisiana would have eventually led him to the Saints.
“Eric did build a bond and friendships with his Lions teammates and did enjoy playing with them, which was evident since he was planning on re-signing with the team in 1992,” Andy Andolsek said. “However, he often spoke of returning home to play in New Orleans, which would have put him close to the family, friends and lifestyle that he very much treasured.”
While he made a name for himself at LSU and with the Lions, Dupont said Andolsek left a lasting legacy at Thibodaux High and throughout Lafourche Parish.
“Everybody loved him,” Dupont said. “No one was better than Eric on and off the field. Everybody still thinks about him because you don’t forget a legend like Eric Andolsek. Nobody was better than him.”
Artwork by CHRIS BROWN, Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame