PONCHATOULA (WVUE) - At first glance, T.J. Finley’s frame leaves you absolutely stunned. He’s 6′7″, 230 pounds - oh yeah, and he’s only 17 years old.
Add in that T.J. possesses a cannon for an arm. Well now you’re witnessing a transcendent talent.
A quarterback that is ingratiating himself with LSU fans after committing to the Tigers last year.
“Had all my family there. Had all my friends there. Actually before I committed, I just started busting out crying. I fell into my brother’s arms and just started crying. Because I realized how big of a decision this was,” said Ponchatoula quarterback T.J. Finley.
“He could’ve went anywhere. He was like, ‘home is where my heart is,' and I just wept,” said T.J.’s mother, Dr. Shannon Bagnet-Finley.
Finley’s sublime passing is galvanizing the Purple and Gold faithful and his legendary coach, Hank Tierney.
“He can make every throw. He’s mentally great. He understands the game completely. Very, very hard worker. Doesn’t take plays off. So it’s been interesting. Fun and interesting,” said Tierney.
Finley’s rare abilities shined in dramatic fashion in a performance of a lifetime. Against Denham Springs last season, the Ponchatoula QB threw for seven TDs and ran for two more, racking up an eye-popping 600-plus yards by air in a 64-63 victory.
"It was crazy. Each touchdown of our first three series was 60 yards or more. It was insane. We would score and they would score. Amazing thing, if they didn't have a bad snap they would've won the game. We scored and went for two, and threw it to T.J., two-point play to take the lead," said Tierney.
Turning heads is nothing new for Finley. His larger-than-life stature as a child made T.J.'s mother go to extreme lengths to prove eligibility, even when playing with older kids.
“He was playing travel football. We were on the outskirts of Baton Rouge, Reserve. I had to get a birth certificate card to carry around with me to show the parents he is the actual age he’s supposed to be. That’s when he was playing up,” said Bagnet-Finley.
T.J.'s height alone is a head-turner, but you add in his connection to the LSU program - well, that can get you rock star status.
“When we’re in airports in Vegas, Cali, Atlanta, Houston, Kansas, Dallas. T.J, it’s amazing, they know who he is. I’m like, he’s not even there yet. They taking pictures in the airport. People on the phone with their wives, ‘Is it really him? I wish I was there. Can you get him to take a picture with our son or something?'” said T.J.’s father, David Finley.
“It’s amazing because, me and my brother Kody can go down to the snowball stand and sit down and get snowballs. Fifty other cars pull up and they want to talk football. They want to congratulate me about committing to LSU. Being at home, and committing to a home school, it’s just a plus,” said Finley.
Finley committed to LSU a little less than a year ago. Early national signing day is in December, so the other big-time programs haven’t stopped their pursuit of T.J.
"They're still coming very, very hard. Alabama, Clemson, stay in contact. Oregon called me the other day to be on a visit. Kansas, Les Miles and I had a bond early in the eighth grade. He's a very good recruiter. It's amazing how many schools see the potential in me. See me as a three-year guy, straight to the league. They're just calling non-stop. I don't know what to say. They're going to keep calling until the pen hits the paper," said T.J.
"He's been to LSU a bunch. We've been up there this spring a bunch. He likes Coach (Steve) Ensminger, Joe Brady, the guy they just got from the Saints. They committed to throwing the ball, and in addition to running the ball like they've always done. The offense is conducive to what he can do. I think he's firmly committed to them, and he's given me no indication that he's not," said Tierney.
For now, Finley’s focused on delivering a playoff berth for Ponchatoula this fall and getting a diploma. His parents, well, they’re hoping for T.J.'s height to plate
“Guys can grow until they’re 21. I’ve seen guys hit another growth spurt in college. For quarterback sake, yeah 6′7” is enough. I hadn’t seen any 6′9″ quarterbacks. I think the highest is 6′8″. That’s strange a parent is saying that. They hope their kid is finished growing. Everybody else is like, ‘c’mon keep on growing some more!’ That’s enough, yeah," said David Finley.