Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 6, 2010



They called him “The Black Stallion.” He was a violent runner bigger than most defenders, yet with enough wiggle to get loose for sideline-to-sideline, highlight reel touchdown runs. Whether at Godchaux High or LSU, all who attended the games in which he played remembered the name Leroy Labat.

62 years after playing his last down in Reserve, his name may have faded from the local public’s consciousness.

This Wednesday, at 7 p.m., East St. John will attempt to rectify that.

On that night, Labat’s No. 22 jersey will be retired at the school’s annual football banquet. He will join Ryan Perrilloux as the only athletes to ever have the honor bestowed upon them at the school.

It’s the latest accomplishment in a lifetime full of them.



“As a running back,” says Steve Delaneuville, who played and coached at Reserve, “Leroy Labat was agile, mobile and hostile. He was a ferocious running back.”

Labat, now 79, played at Godchaux from 1945 to 1948, then at LSU for the four years after that. It didn’t take long for a legacy to form. When sportswriter Bud Monet took a trip down to the River Parishes to see Labat play, he saw his dark complexion and 18-inch calves and immediately dubbed him “The Black Stallion.”

The legend grew from there.

“The Black Stallion” led Godchaux to its first undefeated and untied regular season in 1948. Godchaux would fall to Bossier City in the state championship game. It would fall 21-0 but Labat and his team certainly had its cheering section. A train was specially scheduled to take people from LaPlace and Reserve to Bossier City for the game.

That senior season was Labat’s finest as a prep athlete, cementing his legend in the River Region. He scored 31 touchdowns — the state’s leading scorer — as a back and returnman, over half coming from over 50 yards.

“Leroy was 188 pounds and back then was bigger than even the lineman,” said Delaneuville. “But the thing about his touchdowns, they weren’t straight line runs. He’d zig and zag. He’d break to the left sideline, then the right, then right down the left sideline again. Back and forth.

“He was a big, powerful man, but also fast and quick. He had it all.”

After that season, he played in two All-Star games, including the very first prep All-American game. Labat was named MVP, but with a twist — his honor came as a linebacker, as he was an accomplished defensive player as well.

“I don’t remember the individual things as much as I do the friends I had on the team,” said Labat.

“Those were some fantastic friendships. And when I ran, those guys blocked for me as my friends.”


When the lights were brightest, that’s when Labat seemed to play his best.

He recalls one game against Redemptorist in which he said his team heard talk they wouldn’t be able to handle a physical game played at that level.

“I remember the newspaper saying that we weren’t ready for a team like that,” said Labat.

So much for that notion. Godchaux banked a 51-7 win over the Rams, Labat vindicating his squad with a 314 yard rushing effort, including scoring runs of 56, 70, 72 and 82 yards.

Even when teams had success against Labat, it wouldn’t last. Godchaux’s biggest rival at the time was Lutcher, and until Labat’s senior season, his teams had never defeated the Bulldogs. In fact, Lutcher held Labat to negative yardage in each game.

When the chips were down, it was rare for him to come up so empty.

“They were archrivals. It was called a ‘little LSU/Tulane game,’” said Delaneuville. “Joe Keller graduated LSU and coached Godchaux while Norman Buckner was a Tulane guy on the Lutcher sideline.”

It seemed Labat’s struggles would continue early in his final game against the Bulldogs, with two touchdown runs negated by penalty.

But his next six would count. Labat scored six times to lead Godchaux to a 42-6 win.

Harold Keller saw it all while on the Godchaux sideline — he was the team’s mascot, and as such saw as much of Labat as anyone.

He doesn’t mince words when describing him.

“He was the most exciting high school athlete of his time,” Keller says.



All of this caused Labat to be highly sought after by college recruiters. LSU, Tulane, and Ole Miss were among those that came calling.

Though he loved Tulane as well, he would call LSU home for the next four years.

“My heart was at LSU,” Labat said. “And I’d have so many good times there. Those were special years.”

As chants of “We want Labat!” echoed throughout LSU’s stands – Labat had a large cheering section each week of commuters who chartered buses from his home area – he played some of his best football. In 1954, Labat led the Tigers in rushing with 574 yards and was named an All-American.

His senior season was hampered by injury, but he managed to lead LSU to a 16-0 win over rival Tulane — once again playing big in a rivalry affair.

Once again, Labat finished a four-year run with an MVP performance in an All-Star game, snatching those honors in the annual Blue-Gray game.

Then he’d be drafted by the NFL’s Baltimore Colts. But he’d never make it to Baltimore, not after another draft secured his services. Labat was drafted into the Marine Corps to serve in the Korean Conflict.

Once his tour of duty was through, he’d become a successful businessman. After leaving Shell Oil, where he worked for 10 years, Labat sold insurance for three and then entered into the mobile home business where he carved out his living until retirement.



“Young people looked up to Leroy,” said Delaneuville. “He was an inspiration. Now many people from our school at the time went off to college.

“As great a player as he was, he was gentleman and really well-liked by those in the community.”

Perhaps next week “The Black Stallion” will inspire another generation as he collects yet another honor.

“I was quite surprised and impressed when Coach Dauterive told me they were going to retire my jersey,” said Labat. “You don’t think people today remember somebody that played so long ago. I’m honored.”