Jumpin' Jambalaya: Dorsey A Legend In His Hometown

Dorsey has overtaken jambalaya as his hometown's biggest attraction

Jan. 6, 2008

GONZALES, La. (AP) - If you're wondering how this town of about 9,000 produced a legend as large as Glenn Dorsey, it must be the jambalaya.

This is the self-proclaimed Jambalaya Capital of the World, home to what locals insist is the tastiest version of the spicy Cajun dish. It's also the birthplace of the 6-foot-2, 303-pound Dorsey, LSU's star defensive tackle and potential No. 1 pick in next spring's NFL draft.

As the Tigers make a run at their second national title in four years, Dorsey has overtaken jambalaya as his hometown's biggest attraction.

"There's a lot of people walking around with his jersey on, just not as big as his," said Veronica Jackson as she served pastry at Cal's Bakery, which greeted visitors with a "Geaux Tigers" sign on Sunday morning.

Dorsey's real No. 72 jersey could serve as a tent at the annual Jambalaya Festival, which attracts more than 100 cooks in a contest held here each May. Past champions have prepared the dish for the U.S. president.

"I haven't tasted any better jambalaya," said Dorsey, speaking to reporters in New Orleans. "I love Baton Rouge, but it's not the same."

Dorsey is a walking advertisement for Gonzales, located about 60 miles West of New Orleans on dry land between the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain. He draws a crowd whenever he returns - most recently to serve as grand marshal in the holiday parade.

"They'll be waiting on him when he comes home," Dorsey's grandmother, Pearl Nabor, said in a telephone interview. "I mean, he just has people following him around. And he loves them.

"Sometimes I do have tears in my eyes, for him to come up from a place like this and become what he has," said the 75-year-old Nabor, who needs a wheelchair to get around.

Not everyone here knows Dorsey, but many feel as if they do. This is a place where few lock the doors on their cars or houses.



"I can go to the store, and I leave my car running half the time," Dorsey said. "That's just the type of environment it is. Everybody knows each other. Everybody lends a helping hand to each other. It's a real close-knit community. I'm thankful I'm from there."

Besides, who in his right mind is going to steal Glenn Dorsey's ride?

"Everybody here's really proud of him, I know that," 46-year-old native Michael Guedry said.

They're every bit as proud of their beloved Tigers, who face top-rated Ohio State in the BCS championship game on Monday night in the Superdome. Like many hamlets across Dixie, college football is a colorful thread in the fabric of life in Gonzales.

"It's almost like life and death here sometimes," Guedry said. "It just brings all walks of life together - white collar, blue collar, everybody."

Residents rally around Dorsey, who at age 3 wore heavy leg braces to correct bowleggedness. His persistence in the face of early adversity has bolstered his legend, and he's happy to share his story as a guest speaker at the local elementary school and YMCA.

"Gonzales is small, and a lot of times the kids, they start watching TV and they see guys from these big-time cities and these big-time states and they think, 'I've got to be from somewhere big to have a dream,' " Dorsey said. "I just try to tell them to dream big no matter what because I was in their shoes a couple of years ago."

When Dorsey hurt his knee and his tailbone this season, Gonzales school children sent him get-well cards.

Last fall, LSU coach Les Miles attended a football doubleheader between his sons' youth teams and those from Dorsey's area.

"I spent about 30 seconds with him because he was the pied piper," Miles said. "Just a wonderful man. I promise you, I signed three autographs that day. He signed 300. That's who he is."

Dorsey played his prep football at East Ascension High School, whose home field is ringed by a rusty barbed-wire fence and sits in the shadow of a blue water tower.

The tower sports two logos.

One is East Ascension's Spartan.

The other is a steaming pot of jambalaya.

Football and food. What else matters?

"The people around here, they don't need a reason to party," Guedry said.

But life isn't always a party in Ascension Parish. According to 2004 U.S. Census figures, 16.6 percent of parish residents under 18 live in poverty. The median income is $48,789.

Gonzales had a population of 8,156 in the 2000 census, but residents estimated that hundreds more have arrived since Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans but caused relatively little damage here.

Even with the recent growth, the pace remains slow. To handle what passed for a traffic jam on Sunday morning, police helped worshipers make left turns from First Baptist Church at one end of Burnside Avenue and St. Theresa's of Avila at the other end.

If you're driving along I-10, don't blink at the Gonzales exit or you'll miss it.

"There it is," LSU offensive tackle Ciron Black said, "And there it goes."

One place that's usually hopping is The Jambalaya Shoppe on Airline Highway. It's a popular stopover for fans on the way to Tiger Stadium, about 30 minutes away.

Manager Barbie Allen, a native of Gonzales, said residents can identify with the Tigers, whose roster is heavily stocked with Louisianans.

"I guess it's because the people here know the guys who are playing," Allen said as she ladled out jambalaya for a visitor. "They play for the love of the game. When they go pro, it changes."

Allen said she expects a lot of business on Monday as Gonzales residents hunker down to watch the Tigers take on Ohio State.

Speaking of the Buckeyes, have any of their numerous legions made it Gonzales to sample the jambalaya?

Allen looked out from her takeout window and smiled.

"Actually haven't seen any," she said.