Football and family: How the bond between Walker Howard and Jake Delhomme came to be
Delhomme, the formerULand NFL quarterback, has known Howard since they were in high school. He was at Teurlings Catholic while Howard was the quarterback at St. Thomas More. Howard went on to play at LSU.
But when Kathryn was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2016, the bond between the two and their families became even stronger.
"When my wife got sick, he was a really good friend to me," Howard said. "It just ramped up to another level."
"Well, I just think we're even closer now," Delhomme said.
Kathryn died in September 2018 after a two-year battle with the disease.
When she was sick, Howard would often call Delhomme to talk about life, family and sports. He was someone Howard could talk to and trust.
"I was probably, I guess, you could say the sounding board. I was his getaway," Delhomme said. "Maybe I was more of the release when he would call, because everything at that time and in their life was very stressful.
"I was the one if he needed to call and just kind of say, 'Man, it's not good,' and just kind of tell me and I would listen."
Delhomme understood the gravity and amount of stress his friend was going through.
"I knew I could call him and vent," Howard said. "Sometimes, some of the best things you can have when you're going through something like that is you don't really want a response, just somebody who can listen to you and get it out and you're done with it."
Their children often became a topic of discussion.
Both men have daughters of the same age, Hillary and Lindsey, who played multiple sports together and are still close friends. Meredyth and Allyson, Howard's other two daughters, also played sports.
And Howard's son Walker, a five-star quarterback at St. Thomas More, has been under Delhomme's tutelage since he was in fifth grade.
"We talked about sports, we talked about the kids, we talked about Walker with football. And I guess it was more of a release," Delhomme said. "It was just more so trying to find some normalcy, some normal talk, or to somehow, someway, divert his mind."
Howard said he had "a lot of friends" who helped him out during that time, Delhomme and his wife Keri certainly among them.
"I knew if I ever needed something with Walker or my girls, they would have been there along with lots of other friends," Howard said. "That's what made them really good friends is just knowing that they were there, because they're real people."
A young quarterback and his mentor
Howard remembers when Delhomme's mentorship of his son really took shape. Of course, the foundation was football.
"I can remember Jake walking up to the car and said 'Hey son, you've got a chance so just keep working at it,' " Howard said. "That's the first time I saw Walker really get excited about being a quarterback."
Walker has been working with Delhomme in some capacity ever since.
What the 46-year-old Delhomme has preached to Walker the most has been the importance of making him a passer. For Delhomme, there's a distinct difference between a quarterback who throws the football and a quarterback who passes it.
Take Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf for example.
Manning and Leaf were the top two selections in the 1998 NFL Draft and the debate between which quarterback should be No. 1 was the hot take of its time. But for Delhomme, there was one clear dissimilarity between the two.
"Ryan Leaf was a thrower of the football. This big old guy with a huge arm, he would just throw the football just going toward the target," said Delhomme, who was in the NFL for 14 years and led the Carolina Panthers to a Cinderella run through the playoffs and to Super Bowl XXXVIII. "Peyton Manning was a passer of the football. Peyton put the ball exactly where it was supposed to be, away from the defender. If the defender's on the inside shoulder, he's going to throw it to the outside shoulder and only where the receiver can catch it.
"Leaf was a thrower of the football, Peyton was a passer of the football."
Manning won two Super Bowls and will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Sunday, while Leaf threw 36 interceptions in 25 career appearances.
The distinction isn't the only reason why their careers paths were radically different. But the difference between throwing and passing is key for Delhomme, who uses it to help determine a quarterback's quality of play.
"That's the biggest thing, you want to get arc and pace on the ball," Delhomme said. "You're not going to be able to throw a line-drive football, many times you're going to have to throw it over linebackers and between safeties or over somebody playing in the flat when throwing a comeback route."
The drill, the skill and the will
Delhomme knew Walker had the arm strength to be a great quarterback, even before he was a teenager. But learning how to put touch – or as Delhomme puts it "massage" the football – was something Walker needed to add to his game in order to reach his potential.
"He'd always get mad at me for throwing the ball too hard at him," Walker said. "(While) warming up, he'd say to just be smooth with it. And he'd always get worked up about it, which was funny."
One drill Delhomme put Walker through to improve his touch was an exercise where the two would stand on opposite ends of the goal post, diagonally from each other, and loft the football back and forth through the up rights.
The drill would get on Walker's nerves.
"I know early on it would drive him nuts, some of these drills that we would do, because it took away the arm strength and was more about learning how to pass the football," Delhomme said.
Walker continued to develop his passing skills and touch to the point where by the time Delhomme did the goal post drill with him the winter after his freshman season, he could tell something had changed.
"When he did it, right then and there I'm like 'OK, this kid has been working on this for months,' " Delhomme said. "I mean, you could just see the improvement."
He's only gotten better since then. Walker is now the No. 1 quarterback in the nation according to the 247Sports Composite and led St. Thomas More to the Division II state championship in 2020.
Now a senior, Walker is playing at a level neither Delhomme or his dad believe they were at his age.
"I would say he's much more polished than I was," Delhomme said.
Walker hasn't worked with Delhomme as often recently. But when the two have reunited, they've mostly talked about the mental side of the game.
Before Walker left for the Elite 11 Finals at the end of June, he talked to Delhomme about specific offensive concepts he would be using at the camp.
"Just breaking it down with him and just talking ball with him was a really great experience," Walker said. "(Delhomme) got to play football for a living and he got to do what he loves. That's what would be unbelievable to do for me.
"That's what I want to do. I want to do that for a living."
Through football and family, the two families have remained close. The hours Walker has spent with Delhomme, through their time together and the relationship their families hold, has left an impression on him.
"I've always look up to him in everything he does," Walker said. "He's got the best family relationship. He's got all the best friends. You've got everyone in the world that respects him. That's why I really look up to him."
Since Kathryn's death, they've had dinners at each other's houses, attended each other's high school graduation parties and Delhomme and Howard take a pilates class together.
It's a relationship Delhomme doesn't take for granted.
"It's something I enjoy, I cherish," Delhomme said. "I'm proud of it. We stay very close."