Sal Palermo had been waiting for an opportunity to throw the ball around. He just wasn’t expecting it to come so soon as it did in collegiate career.
The freshman at Louisiana College, which finished 3-7, came into his first season as a backup but was elevated to a starter’s role, making his debut in his team’s third game of the year against Hardin-Simmons.
For the season, Palermo wound up completing 135 of 256 passes for 1,794 yards with 11 interceptions and 12 touchdowns.
But those numbers only tell half the story.
Since he first saw mop-up duty in the season opener against Stetson where he went 9-of-21 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown, Palermo adapted well to the college game and picked up a great deal of confidence along the way.
“I was a backup at that time, and rightfully so,” said Palermo, a former two-sport standout at Live Oak High School. “I didn’t have the full grasp of the playbook and wasn’t doing as good a job of managing the offense and moving the ball up and down the field. But I stuck with it and kept my head down and kept working. I got a little more of a shot a few games later and took advantage of it.”
In a win against McMurray he shined bright, completing 21 passes on 33 attempts for 374 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I just gradually got better and better,” Palermo said. “Week by week I slowly picked more stuff up that I may not even realize. I think I’ve done pretty well for the most part. Obviously, there are a couple of throws I’d like to have back, but overall, I think I did well. I’m just staying focused on building off every good performance and throw.”
As it happens, Palermo already owns a conference record.
After the Wildcats intercepted a McMurray pass at their own one yard-line, Palermo noticed the defense playing press man coverage. He took a shot on a go route and connected on a 99-yard touchdown to Micah Dunn, setting a record for longest pass.
“That was really special,” Palermo said.
Part of what makes Palermo’s emergence as a freshman so impressive is that while at Live Oak, the run-oriented Eagles really didn’t throw the ball around.
Heading into Palermo’s senior year then LOHS coach Brett Beard opened the playbook some, but most of those passes came from play-action set up by the Eagles’ bruising running game led by Army commitment Kee Hawkins and Hagen Long.
In his last campaign at Live Oak, Palermo went 73-168 for 1,121 yards and nine touchdowns with seven interceptions.
“It’s been a blast,” Palermo said. “It’s something that I’ve always kind of been looking forward to, but it’s definitely been a bit of an adjustment. I came up here early this summer to get a head start on learning the playbook, but there’s also a lot of stuff I had to learn. Like coverages and defenses, more than I’ve ever really had to know because in the offense we ran in high school, it wasn’t really important for me to know all that. Now it is. But it’s been a blast having the ball in your hands every play and being able to throw it all over the yard.”
Even while he ran a different offense in high school, Palermo still gives credit to his high school coaches for teaching him adaptability.
“The toughness that you had to play with for coach Beard or (baseball) coach (Jesse) Cassard last year in baseball,” Palermo said. “Knowing that no matter the situation or how hard it was, you had to show up and you had to compete, and you had to bring it every day. If not, they were going to be all on you. Having that attitude and that mindset makes the adjustment to college so much easier.”