- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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JACKSONVILLE, Ala. -- It didn't take Ryan Perrilloux very long to figure out whether his tarnished reputation followed him nearly 500 miles from LSU to Jacksonville State.
Perrilloux, who was kicked off LSU's football team on May 2 following a series of off-field transgressions, said he was stopped by police three times during his first two weeks at Jacksonville State.
Apparently, Perrilloux was an easy target in Jacksonville, a town of about 8,400 residents, which is nestled near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in northern Alabama.
"It felt like I was being watched," Perrilloux said.
Perrilloux, a junior from LaPlace, La., is under a microscope after transferring to Jacksonville State only 10 days after he was dismissed by LSU coach Les Miles. During his third day on the JSU campus, Perrilloux said, Jacksonville police pulled him over as he was driving home from a barber shop.
"I don't know what they were up to," Perrilloux said. "They said they just wanted to meet me."
Perrilloux said he was pulled over two more times in May, the last stop for speeding on Alabama Highway 21 near the JSU campus. The police officer told Perrilloux he was driving 42 mph in a 25 mph zone. Perrilloux said the officer didn't record his speed on a radar gun, though.
The next morning, Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe ordered Perrilloux to his office.
"Give me your keys," Crowe told his new quarterback. "You're walking."
Perrilloux wasn't walking for long. The following week, Perrilloux's stepfather flew to Birmingham from California. Perrilloux traded his Ford Excursion truck for a less noticeable Dodge Charger.
"He got pulled over three times because he was driving a car that said, 'Look at me!'" Crowe said. "Now he has a car that looks like 40 others driving around here."
Perrilloux also made sure his new car had an Alabama license plate, which he hoped would make him less of a target.
"I'm from Alabama now," Perrilloux said. "I'm not from Louisiana anymore."
If only it were that easy for Perrilloux to erase his troubled past. On Thursday night, he leads the Division I-AA Gamecocks into their opener against Georgia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. If Perrilloux hadn't blown a golden opportunity at LSU, he would probably be the starting quarterback for the defending national champion Tigers.
"I'm just grateful to have an opportunity to be back on the field," Perrilloux said. "I'm just excited to be back at this level."
Even if Perrilloux is starting all over again in an attempt to save his football career.
He was named the country's No. 1 prospect by ESPN.com during his senior season at East St. John High School in 2004. Perrilloux initially committed to play at Texas, but changed his mind and signed with the in-state Tigers.
Perrilloux was redshirted in 2005 and played sparingly in 2006, when he saw mop-up duty behind starter JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 pick by the Oakland Raiders in the 2007 NFL draft. Even after Russell left LSU before the 2007 season, Perrilloux was unable to beat out senior Matt Flynn for the starting job.
Despite his great size, arm strength and scrambling ability, Perrilloux was unable to convince Miles he was mature enough to lead the Tigers. Perrilloux was suspended from the LSU team during the summer of 2007 and again this past spring for a myriad of problems.
Perrilloux was on the fringe of a counterfeiting investigation and was caught trying to enter a casino in Baton Rouge, La., with a fake ID. He also was involved in a fight at a nightclub in November, which caused him to be suspended from playing in LSU's 41-34 victory over Alabama last season.
In February, Miles suspended Perrilloux from spring practice after the quarterback missed a team meeting and classes, and was late for conditioning workouts. Miles finally dismissed Perrilloux after he reportedly failed a drug test, although Perrilloux and Crowe insist the failed drug test was caused by painkillers he was taking for a back injury.
"There wasn't anything major, but it was a list of things as long as your arm," Crowe said. "It eventually wears on you."
Perrilloux said his numerous off-field problems were caused by immaturity more than anything else.
"I think it was a maturity issue and nothing else," Perrilloux said. "The problems at LSU were about doing what I'm supposed to be doing and being where I was supposed to be. That's not hard to fix. It's just about focusing on what's important. Football is my life and that's what I do for a living. I play football and go to school. Once I realized that, I grew up and became a man."
Perrilloux, 21, is working hard to restore his image. He attended the Gamecocks' news conference on Monday wearing a dress shirt and sport coat. He said all the right things to reporters and insists his problems are behind him.
"I'm not a kid who came from a bad background, like people make it out to be," Perrilloux said. "I'm just a kid who made mistakes. I came from a good background, but made some mistakes."
Crowe has put a tight leash on his new quarterback, hoping Perrilloux won't make the same mistakes again. Crowe required Perrilloux to live in an on-campus dormitory and undergo random drug testing. Crowe said Perrilloux did well during summer school, making As in two of his four courses.
"We're managing accountability very tightly just to make sure it doesn't get away from us," Crowe said. "I know within five minutes if he's not where he's supposed to be."
Perrilloux believes Jacksonville State is just what he needed. The quaint town square a few blocks from campus includes a coffee shop, Chinese restaurant and little else. The closest shopping mall is nearly 20 miles away. The nightclubs that contributed to his downfall in Baton Rouge are nowhere to be found.
"It's very different," Perrilloux said. "It's basically slow pace and an environment where you can slow down and reflect. That's why I like it here. It's a place where I can gather my thoughts and just focus."
And stay out of trouble.
Is environment going to make a difference? That's the only thing that changed. That and the fact he's going to be the starting quarterback. I promise you that was a very frustrated young man. He didn't go to LSU to sit three years.
-- Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe on Ryan Perrilloux
"Is environment going to make a difference?" Crowe asked. "That's the only thing that changed. That and the fact he's going to be the starting quarterback. I promise you that was a very frustrated young man. He didn't go to LSU to sit three years."
Gamecocks senior offensive lineman Keith Gergel said Perrilloux hasn't acted the way he expected him to be.
"We all heard stories about him," Gergel said. "But when he got here, he was the perfect teammate. He's a great leader and a great guy. He fit in perfectly with our team."
Crowe hopes the Gamecocks and Perrilloux prove to be a perfect match. On the field, Crowe is convinced Perrilloux is a future NFL quarterback. So much so that Crowe believes the Gamecocks are capable of beating the Yellow Jackets because of their quarterback.
"That's why I say, 'Buy a ticket,'" Crowe said. "There's no way I'd make that statement without Ryan Perrilloux. Is he going to make a difference? Buy a ticket. He was the No. 1 recruited player in the country. Sometimes that's a bust. This is not a bust."
Nearly nine months ago, Perrilloux played in a game that was the hottest ticket in Atlanta, helping LSU beat Tennessee 21-14 in the Dec. 1 SEC championship game at the Georgia Dome. Starting for the injured Flynn, Perrilloux completed 20 of 30 passes for 243 yards with one touchdown and was named the game's MVP. He played sparingly in LSU's 38-24 win over Ohio State in the BCS Championship Game, running once for four yards.
On Thursday night, Perrilloux will be back in Atlanta, albeit on a much smaller stage.
"I think it's not where you're at -- it's what you do," Perrilloux said. "I'm just going to go out and play hard and try to win a championship."
Crowe and nearly everyone else in this small Southern town will be watching Perrilloux closely.
"Do I wonder what I don't know?" Crowe said. "Every day. I don't think I'm naive, and I know I'm at risk. But everything I was told about the kid is what I've seen everyday."
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1dKevin Stone, ESPN.com