For Zeon Chriss, the moment of his first career start inside Cajun Field began long before this past Saturday night.
Chriss prepared for this stage early in his childhood with the help of his father, Kerry Gremillion, and eventually his high school coach, Landry Williams.
“Zeon was an active child,” Gremillion said. “He was into everything. He has always had a passion for football. I think it started with him watching me coach high school football. He would come with me to practice and try to run with the team. He started playing football when he was 5 years old and loved it from day one.”
It was that love of the game that would propel him to be where he is today: the starting quarterback for the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns.
As Chriss got older, however, other sports came into the picture: baseball, basketball, and even track. But it was football that always stayed at the top of the list.
“I played a lot of different sports,” Chriss said in an exclusive interview with ESPN Southwest Louisiana. “Football is my favorite, of course. But I played basketball, I ran track, and I played a little bit of baseball. I played those few sports but I was always good at all of them. And I mean, I knew football was my favorite sport, but I was kind of deciding if I wanted to play basketball, like growing up, but football was the way to go for me. You know, it was very easy. I played different positions as well. Linebacker, running back, and quarterback.”
It didn’t take very long for people to start realizing that Chriss was on his way to being a special talent.
“I knew he (Zeon) was going to be a special athlete early on,” Gremillion stated. “He loved sports and competed in everything. He used to make his own drills up in the yard. and he would always try to beat me in everything but of course, I would win. Still to this day, he is always trying to beat me at something, the only difference now is he is starting to win.”
That special ability was also seen by Williams early on when Chriss arrived at Madison Prep.
“He’s built for the moment,” Williams said. “I remember when he was in the ninth grade, I walked into the gym and he threw down a reverse windmill dunk. He’s such a special athlete and he’s worked to be that.”
Chriss was a very special athlete for the Chargers, winning state championships in football, basketball, and track. On the gridiron, he finished his career as a three-star prospect and the second-rated quarterback in the state behind St. Thomas More’s Walker Howard, who went on to LSU and is now with Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss. In his junior season, Chriss threw for 2,005 yards and 25 touchdowns while rushing for nearly 900 yards and 16 more touchdowns before leading Madison Prep to the LHSAA Class 3A State championship. Chriss was also named District 7-3A MVP and earned first-team all-state honors that season.
“He is a workaholic,” Williams said about Chriss. “He was always serious about his craft, doing more than what was expected of him and doing a lot of it privately. He’s a high character kid that was always doing the right thing.”
At one point during his high school career, Chriss was running track and decided he wanted to try his hand at throwing the javelin. After his second practice, he told Williams he would win state.
“I remember saying to him that there are guys that have been throwing javelin for years against him,” Williams recalled. However, Chriss went on to capture the javelin state title that spring.
The relationship that was created between Chriss and Williams is a special one.
“He’s not just a coach,” Chriss said of Williams. “He was like a father to me. I really do love Coach Landry (Williams). He’s always been there for me. He cares about us, like he came to my grandfather’s funeral. He and my dad are very close and I remember my dad told him a long time that I was going to play for him at Madison Prep. He’s a player’s coach, he helps his team and he didn’t just want to help the team win but he helped us become great leaders and great men.”
Williams shared a lot of the same sentiments about his former starting quarterback, summing it up by saying: “I don’t have any kids, but if I did, I’d want them to be just like him (Chriss)”.
Now with Louisiana, Chriss has been thrust into the spotlight due to an unfortunate injury to Ben Wooldridge. Chriss came into the UAB game on the team’s first offensive possession and was able to navigate it until the end of the quarter when a two-hour weather delay hit. This delay gave head coach Michael Desormeaux the opportunity to sit down with Chriss and the team’s other quarterback, Chandler Fields, to figure out what would work well for Chriss as the leader of the offense. Then, the Cajuns put on a show as they scored 41 points on the road to pick up a crucial 41-21 win over UAB.
Even before the 2023 season, Chriss showed what he was capable of doing with the Louisiana offense when he played against Texas State in the season finale and split reps in the Independence Bowl against Houston after Wooldridge went down with a torn ACL.
Now, in his redshirt freshman season, Chriss has shown why he was so highly recruited out of high school.
In two games so far for 2023, Chriss has completed 36-49 of his passes for 423 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has 186 yards on 18 carries and four touchdowns. Since he arrived on campus, he has been compared to Levi Lewis, the dual-threat record-setting quarterback that led the program to great successes under Billy Napier. However, Chriss doesn’t enjoy comparing himself to other players.
“I hate to compare myself to different players,” Chriss said. “But a lot of guys have a lot of similarities towards each other, especially the dual threat ability and being able to throw and make quick, smart decisions. I know we’re kind of similar in that area, but I like Levi a lot. I used to call him and ask some questions and we used to watch film together and go throw together. He’s taught me the ropes and shown me things I need to learn.”
Desormeaux, who helped recruit both Lewis and Chriss, said he has been impressed by what Zeon’s done.
“Zeon played really well,” Desormeaux said earlier this week. “I’m proud of him. He operated the offense much better this week than the week before just in terms of the pre snap penalties and things like that. I thought we had some stuff that he was really comfortable in running, even new stuff that we had in was simple. He also did an excellent job with the way he studied and prepared and he was really accurate as a passer after the first quarter.”
His running back, Jacob Kibodi, had big things to say after his quarterback following the team’s close win to Buffalo.
“He (Chriss) did a nice job of communicating,” Kibodi said after Chriss made his first collegiate start. “He handled himself well. Even when things didn’t go our way, he kept his head up, stayed positive, and I think he led us the right way tonight.”
The Zeon Chriss story at Louisiana may only be at the beginning, but the talented young man from Baton Rouge has never shied away from the big moment, and it doesn’t appear that he’s going to start now.