BATON ROUGE, La. – TJ Finley’s first game as a starter was the best debut for a freshman quarterback in LSU history, breaking offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger’s record for most passing yards in a true freshmen’s first start.
“Coach E came in and told him the other day. He said ‘okay TJ I got you. You beat my record.’ TJ just laughed and said ‘coach you called the game,'” TJ’s father David Finley said.
Finley’s 265 passing yards against South Carolina earned their place in the Tiger record books, but his parents David and Dr. Shannon Finley weren’t surprised with their son’s early success.
“I knew he was going to have a great game. I knew he was ready. Honestly, if you ask his coach, Coach Hank, he’s been a college player playing high school ball since his sophomore year,” David said of TJ’s high school head coach at Ponchatoula High School.
Finley’s abilities on the field became evident, but Dr. Shannon and David have been proud of TJ’s character as a leader, which he developed during his time with the Greenwave.
“His first three years in Ponchatoula was very horrific. His class that came up with a lot of them were in trouble–juvenile detention, dropped out of school. His senior year, it was just him and one other guy left in that whole group. Go look at Ponchatoula now. TJ’s handprint is all over that team,” David said.
“That’s what we tell him all the time. It’s a gift that God has given you that comes so naturally so it’s effortlessly because it’s in you to harness on that gift and to allow it to broaden. He’s really taken ownership of his leadership. He gets stronger and stronger at it, and he’s actually enjoying it,” Dr. Shannon said.
TJ’s success started in the offseason, when he dropped close to 30 pounds. Finley arrived on campus weighing nearly 270, but his teammates gave him some motivation to lose weight.
“A lot of the guys messed with me and said I’d move to D-Tackle so I kind of took that to heart,” Finley said.
“He locked in, and he was waking up early in the morning. He was doing two-a-days. He was eating more healthy. He was watching what he was putting in even beverage wise so he actually clicked in himself. There was nothing extra we needed to do,” his mother said.
TJ’s last start was a loss against Auburn, where he committed three turnovers, but the Finleys are are confident their son won’t repeat his performance.
“What I want him to do is control his mistakes. Don’t hurt the team yourself. Like I tell people, like I tell (Dr. Shannon), leave my son alone, he’s freshman in college. He’ll never have that bad of a game,” his father said.
“We pray not,” TJ’s parents said laughingly.
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