Longtime LSU fans are no strangers to the name Wickersham.
Former LSU quarterback Jeff Wickersham walked the sidelines in Tiger Stadium almost 40 years ago, from 1982-85, and his daughter Shelby will make her Tiger Park debut for the LSU softball team in 2019.
Growing up in Metairie, La., just outside of New Orleans, she has seen first-hand the spectrum of love the entire state has for its flagship university and has been a part of it long before she stepped on campus as a student-athlete.
But Shelby’s special connection to LSU made that love even stronger and the decision to attend LSU even easier.
“Ever since I was little, I grew up coming to the games with my family and LSU has always just been like a home to me,” Shelby says. “It’s always been my dream school. When they offered me, I obviously was like ‘Yes!’ right on the spot.”
To have his daughter attend his alma mater and compete for the Tigers was like a dream come true for both Jeff and Shelby, who was recruited by other schools in the south like Alabama, Ole Miss and South Alabama.
Because he was an athlete himself, Jeff tries to encourage Shelby, and her younger siblings, Kyle and Lindsey, as much as he can without influencing them too heavily.
“He always let us make our own decisions and just do what we wanted to do and loved,” Shelby says. “He knows what it’s like, so he’s never been super tough on us. He’s always looked at the positive side of things.”
“I was so happy she made the decision,” Jeff says. “I didn’t really want to try and influence her at all because I wanted her to be happy with her decision. She was pretty close to going to Alabama, and then LSU started coming on pretty strong with the recruiting and we kind of talked about both schools and thankfully she picked LSU.”
LSU has had one of the most successful softball programs in the nation in recent years, which includes four Women’s College World Series appearances in Beth Torina’s seven seasons as head coach.
In high school, Shelby would attend pitching lessons and LSU camps with Torina. That’s when Shelby first took a liking to LSU as a program and not just a fan.
But it was more than softball that made her not even have to think about accepting an offer from LSU.
“I think it was the traditions of the entire school of LSU, as well as the softball program,” Jeff explains. “There’s programs that are really nice, that have great facilities and good traditions, but all in all, if you take everything into account, there’s just nothing better than LSU. I think she realized that.”
“She really liked working with coach Beth,” Jeff adds. “She made a huge impact on Shelby as a pitching coach. All of those things combined really helped push her in that direction.
Shelby always loved LSU, but she did not realize just how much until she came on her official visit during her freshman year of high school. During that visit, she was blown away by not only the softball aspects, but the sense of family that surrounds the program and the university.
Jeff says that family atmosphere goes back to the early 1980s when he was being recruited by then-head coach Jerry Stovall. It was one of the main reasons he came to LSU from Merritt Island, Fla.
“The fans were always so great,” Jeff says. “We used to go watch the Tangerine Bowl every year and LSU ended up playing in that quite often. I would go watch the games and walk around the parking lot and see the LSU fans cooking gumbo and and jambalaya. They were super nice and super crazy. When I took my official visit to LSU, it was the same thing.”
He continues: “And of course when you come out on the field at LSU, there’s no other place in the country. Nothing even came close to having that thrill. The people and the fans are just so inviting. It’s just a great place to be.”
While Shelby admits that she and her siblings do not know too much about their father’s career, they knows it was successful.
She’s not wrong. Jeff led LSU to Orange, Sugar and Liberty Bowls during his three seasons starting for the Tigers. He completed 58.4 percent of his career passes for 6,921 yards, both of which were third in Southeastern Conference history at the time.
He was the first quarterback in LSU history to pass for over 5,000 career yards, to throw for over 2,000 yards in three different seasons, to throw for over 2,500 yards in a season (1983) and to throw for over 350 yards in a game (368 yards vs. Mississippi State in 1983).
Jeff joked that he might still hold the interception record, too, but he actually did set an SEC record for both the lowest percentage of interceptions per pass attempt and highest number of passing interceptions in a season (13 in 1984), neither of which are still standing.
Shelby’s career, while not at the collegiate level yet, has already shown the flashes of greatness that her father had — like nine perfect games in her club and high school careers.
In her junior season of high school alone, Shelby earned The Advocate’s All-Metro MVP honor, along with LSCA All-State 5A Pitcher, Times-Picayune All-Metro MVP/Pitcher of the Year and District 9-5A MVP. In route to a state championship, she finished the years with a 19-3 record, 0.85 ERA, three no-hitters and 192 strikeouts.
Even with those accomplishments, both Shelby and Jeff think she has even more to offer to an already accomplished LSU softball team.
“I think with her work ethic, Shelby still has a lot of upside,” Jeff explains. “I think her hard work in high school definitely paid off and rewarded her with a really nice high school career that she’s really happy with, but she’s really looking forward to buckling down and getting to work with [Torina] and the team and hopefully contribute to LSU’s future success.”
While her father is a huge role model, and she admires everything he did as player, Shelby feels no pressure to live up to his legacy during her first season.
Shelby simply wants to help the team return to the WCWS and compete for a national championship. Everything else comes secondary.
“I hope she can fulfill her potential and be the best ball player she can be,” Jeff says. “I’m sure that’s going to happen with Coach Beth. Wherever that takes her, I’d be satisfied. I think she can help the LSU team win some games and contribute to the program, and if breaking records comes with it — great!”
Playing college softball was always a dream for Shelby, but playing college softball at LSU, where her dad broke all those records so many years ago, means so much more.
“I definitely think that makes it even more special to be able to follow in his footsteps,” Shelby says, “and hopefully I can create a legacy like he did.”