LAFAYETTE — Tre’maine Lightfoot was angry, embarrassed and ashamed.
While recovering from a torn ACL back in 2013, Lightfoot was forced to watch from afar as Louisiana-Lafayette defeated Tulane inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the New Orleans Bowl.
Despite not dressing for a game that season, by the standards of the school and the NCAA, Lightfoot was still officially a member of the football team.
That meant that the Patterson High graduate was still subjected to drug tests. And even though he knew better, Lightfoot failed a drug test for smoking marijuana in the days after the bowl, and in an instance had jeopardized his collegiate career.
“I really felt stupid,” Tre’maine said. “I had teammates even warn me that I needed not to smoke. That I hadn’t been playing so I was probably going to be drug-tested because I was under the radar. I should have been a better teammate and son at that time. My mom was upset, my dad was upset, my coaches were upset and most of all I was upset with myself. It was just stupid.”
With a humbling detour that included stops at a junior college and then the Cajuns scout team, Lightfoot decided he wouldn't let one mistake define him.
The 6-foot, 235-pound senior linebacker is now second on the team in tackles (23) and tackles for loss (three) and has become one of the leaders of the defense.
“That is one of those victories you get as coach but don’t always read about,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “As a coach, that is something you are the most proud about. To see a young man come in raw and immature and then see his development throughout his career, and to now see him as a family man, taking care of his child and taking school serious, is pretty rewarding.”
Lightfoot signed with the Cajuns 2012 after coming off a senior season in which he made 134 tackles, earning all-state and District MVP honors.
That first season, though, Lightfoot was relegated to the team’s scout team.
Lightfoot's injury the following season prevented him from making an impact in games but that disappointment paled in comparison of his failed drug test, not only on himself but his parents, Norman and Sharese Lightfoot.
“That was tough on him and on us,” Sharese said. “I know he was in a depression over what happened.”
He was hurt by the choices that he made that forced him to leave the school. As his mother, I tried to be encouraging and tell that this would pass.”
Instead of staying around on campus and serving what was initially a full-season suspension (later reduced to four games), Lightfoot said he felt he had failed his teammates, that his roster spot was, in his words, “a wasted scholarship.”
Shortly after the failed test, Lightfoot left Louisiana-Lafayette.
“I basically suspended myself and kicked myself off the team,” Tre’maine said. “I made a terrible decision and I was not useful to this team. I was just a good football player that was just here not doing anything.
“I had to learn a big lesson in life. I had to learn how to not make decisions on what you want right now but what you want for the future.”
Lightfoot left his home state and spent that spring at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.
“It was a different experience going out to a place that I haven’t been before,” Tre’maine said. “It humbled me a lot. It made focus back on football and on my schoolwork, but I didn’t think I was going to be coming back to UL. I thought I was going to be a JUCO football player.”
His father, Norman, who adopted him at 3 years old, said he taught Tre'maine to not give up on anythiing.
“I always told him that you can always do better and to keep your head up and never sell yourself short for no reason," Norman said. "I told him, ‘If you got air in your body then you can do good.' ”
After wrapping up his spring semester in Kansas, Lightfoot decided he wasn’t going to give up on his dream of playing for Louisiana-Lafayette, a school he chose over Louisiana Tech and Arizona State out of high school.
But there wasn’t a scholarship available.
That summer, he returned to Louisiana, passed two classes at L.E. Fletcher Technical Community College in Houma, then re-enrolled in Lafayette for the fall.
“We did support it,” Sharese said. “It took a lot financially for us to do it. The tuition and books and everything had to come out of our pocket. It put a financial strain on our family, but we were going to whatever it took to help him reach his goals.”
Lightfoot walked on to the football team, which welcomed him back, and he patiently waited to once again play for the Cajuns. Lightfoot missed the first six games because of the previous suspension, but he made his debut in a nationally televised game against Arkansas State. Lightfoot made four starts that season and eventually earned a scholarship.
“When I came back, I was the most hungry I have ever been to play football,” Tre’maine said. “For me, it was a chance to show everyone that I was mature enough to play for the team, and to finally come back and show everyone that I was ready to ball.
“I was too excited,” he said of that first game against Arkansas State. “That first tackle was something else. I was celebrating the tackle over the next 15 snaps in the game. I was just so happy to be out there and playing.”
Earlier this year, Lightfoot was celebrating a different kind of achievement — fatherhood. The joy of being a father to his five-month-old daughter, Teal Lightfoot, has brought his life more into focus.
Lightfoot left the noisy dorms and found an apartment that he, his fiancée and daughter could live in. He had to buy his first car as well, and he is now set on graduating in December.
“I was there at the birth of his daughter,” Sharese said. “To watch him go through this entire process and to hear the words 'this is the best day of my life' come out of his mouth when she was born was amazing. He has made sacrifices to make sure his daughter will be taken care of. Tre’maine is going to make an excellent father.”
Tre'maine added: “It slowed me down. It put me into a whole new reality of life. I am striving for them and get us started on our journey. I grew up a lot in a year.”
Lightfoot’s life has changed in the nearly three years since he failed that fateful test. The once immature underclassman is a veteran leader on and off the field, and is more than happy to share his life lessons with younger teammates.
“If I continued to smoke, then I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am at today,” Tre’maine said. “That decision to put drugs down changed my life.
“I tell the younger guys, ‘Look at me,’ ” Tre'maine said. “I make plays for the team. I start for (the Cajuns), but they still kicked me off (the team). If they kicked me off, then I promise you that they will kick you off. You don’t want to put your career in jeopardy just for a smoke at night.”