LAFAYETTE – When the dust had settled and the 24 newest members of the Ragin’ Cajuns football program had officially signed their letters of intent, a weary Reed Stringer allowed himself a pat on the back.
“This is the best signing class we’ve signed since we’ve been here, and I can easily say that because this is my fifth signing class as recruiting coordinator,” Stringer said. “I can tell you that on paper … and based on who we battled with and beat for these kids, it should be the best class.”
The Cajuns hauled in an impressive group of players on Wednesday’s national signing day. The earliest evaluation from 247Sports.com ranked the Cajuns’ class as the best in the Sun Belt Conference.
The strength of the class may be on the offensive line, where the Cajuns hauled in skilled mammoths in Kevin Dotson (6-4, 311), Robert Hunt (6-5, 315), Rico Robinson (6-5, 290), Ken Marks (6-4, 287) and Cole Prudhomme (6-3, 280). Coach Mark Hudspeth said the group’s size alone marks how far the program has come.
“Our first couple of years we couldn’t get in the living room of some of the top linemen we wanted to recruit, so we had to sign what may be a developmental kid,” said Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth. “… If you look at the guys we signed this year, we might have to take a little weight off them.”
If necessary, coaches said a couple of this year’s crop of offensive linemen could play right away. The Cajuns are hoping they won’t have to with Hunt, who flew under the radar playing at a small school in Texas but wowed the Cajuns with his natural gifts.
The Cajuns hope they’re able to use a redshirt year to allow Hunt to reach his true potential, however high it may be.
“I don’t know what his ceiling is, I don’t know how high it is,” Stringer said. “It is so through the roof. I have never have a kid in 13 years of camp as big as he is and athletic as he is do what I saw this kid do.”
As enamored as the staff was with its big boys, the signing class was also loaded at the skill positions. The Cajuns fended off some big-name schools to sign a handful of those skill players, including jitterbug slot receiver Gary Haynes of Manvel, Texas.
“He does things you just can’t coach and you don’t want to coach,” Stringer said. “He just creates magic, that’s a Harry Peoples or Elijah McGuire type of trait.”
The Cajuns also secured signatures from receivers Keenan Barnes (6-3, 200) and Ja’Marcus Bradley (6-1, 180), who were both being pursued by schools from Power-Five conferences.
Bradley racked up 56 total touchdowns in his senior year alone as a dual-threat quarterback for his Choctaw County High School team and recently went on an official visit to Cal. Barnes chose the Cajuns over offers from Louisville, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
With Christian Ringo and Justin Hamilton graduated, the Cajuns went into signing day hoping to land a couple big-time replacements on the defensive line.
“We set our sights very high on the defensive line because we had a couple kids we red-shirted,” Stringer said. “We didn’t have an immediate need where we had to go replenish.”
The Cajuns only signed one defensive lineman Wednesday, but they made sure to get a good one in Mario Osborne, who held offers from multiple Southeastern Conference schools.
Perhaps pairing with Osborne as the best pass-rusher in the class is linebacker prospect Joe Dillon, who the Cajuns are convinced was a steal.
“Joe Dillon is the best defensive player in Mississippi,” Stringer said. “I know there are other linebackers and other players that got more pub, but if you asked any college coach in the state of Mississippi and they answered truthfully, they would tell you he’s the best.
“And he’s coming here. He’s going to be a special, special guy.”
Beating out big-name schools for recruits like Osborne, Barnes and Bradley speaks to the upward momentum of the Cajuns program, Hudspeth said.
“I think they see the direction of our program – not just the success we’ve had in the last four years, but I think they see the future of our program, and that’s being built right outside,” Hudspeth said, referring to the construction Athletics Performance Center.
It didn’t all go according to plan Wednesday. The Cajuns lost out on one of their primary targets in junior college corner back Treston DeCoud, who opted to sign with Oregon State.
DeCoud told the Cajuns on numerous occasions he would sign with them.
“He told us (Tuesday) night at the 12th hour that he was coming,” Stringer said.
But the one that got away wasn’t dampening the Cajuns spirits Wednesday, not when they saw what the future signing classes could potentially hold.
“We’re not going to win all those battles and we understand that,” Stringer said. “But four years ago we weren’t in those battles. Now we’re in them and winning our share.
“We’re going to win some, lose some and we’re not going to let the ones we lose deter us from going after those kids next year.”