LAFAYETTE — Christian Sager knows there are nine in his group, but he needs a little help jogging his memory.
He pulls his phone out of his pocket and looks at one of the latest pictures in it. There they are, in all their glory — the Bustle Era, the last remaining players recruited by former coach Rickey Bustle.
It’s sort of a badge of honor. They are the remnants of a bygone era in UL-Lafayette history.
“We’ve got 105 guys, and only nine of us weren’t recruited by Hud,” Sager said, referring to Mark Hudspeth.
And of those nine, Sager stands out again. He’s the only one that is not on scholarship.
Five years ago, he joined Bustle’s team as a preferred walk-on. Through more down than up, he’s stuck with it. Though nothing was promised to him, though a new coach showed up who didn’t need to show any loyalty to the kid who walked on under the previous regime, Sager showed up ready to work every day.
“You’ve constantly got people brought in to replace you and you’re just a scout dummy,” said kicker Hunter Stover, one of Sager’s friends and a fellow member of the Bustle Era. “You’re just something for people to block, people to hit for four years. He didn’t complain.”
Life’s not easy as a walk-on. For the most part, a walk-on’s role is to be meat. To give the coaches a look at how their starters understand an opponent’s defensive scheme.
So Sager had to do everything he could just to be noticed.
“You have to work harder. You have to bring it every day to practice to try to improve your game and keep up with everybody else,” Sager said. “Recently, I’ve been sprinting around and trying to beat everybody to the next station.
“Try to be the first person. Try to stand out. Make them see that you care, that you want it bad.”
It’s worked. Heading into his final game at Cajun Field, Sager is a starter on all of the Cajuns special-teams units.
“Some people don’t take special teams seriously,” Sager said. “I had to take it seriously. That was my spot on the bus.”
Sager’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed — especially not for the coach who took Bustle’s seat at the head of the table. Hudspeth even made Sager, a Monroe native, a captain for last week’s game against ULM.
“That kid is a kid you really appreciate, because he comes to practice every day with such a great attitude,” Hudspeth said. “He attacks life.”
He won’t be the one everybody remembers when thinking back on the winningest senior class in Cajuns history, but he and his teammates will be able to point back on his career knowing that he made the most of the hand dealt to him.
“It’s refreshing to see that you can actually have the opportunity if you put the work in,” Stover said. “You have so much respect for teammates like that.
“Those are the guys that are so easy to root for.”