LAFAYETTE — There weren’t many seconds of silence when UL-Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth met with his staff the day before the Ragin’ Cajuns opened preseason camp, but one lasted long enough that Hudspeth could discern the muted patter of precipitation above his head.
“Is that rain?” he asked.
The pause didn’t last a blink before it was back to business. For a Cajuns program that enters 2014 with expectations aplenty, there are plenty of rumbles about what the team could be lined up to accomplish. But on the eve of the first day of camp, there is no indication that any of the outside attention is even on Hudspeth’s radar.
The day before his team runs through its first practice, Hudspeth is locked in. He sits down at the head of the long rectangular table in a staff meeting room where he discusses the season with his assistant coaches, graduate assistants — anyone who will have a role with his players. And then he gave them the signal.
“All right guys,” Hudspeth said. “Let’s rock and roll.”
Staff meeting, 1:45-4:15 p.m.
All eyes focused on Hudspeth as he took his seat at the head of the table and laid the foundation for the season.
Hudspeth was dressed in black slacks and a form-fitting red button-down shirt, his biceps straining against his sleeves. It’s roughly 18 hours until his team takes the field for the first time, and while he appeared completely calm and in control above the table, his legs gave away his restless energy. His posture was attentive, his eyes locked on whichever assistant coach had the floor, but below the table, his feet tapped and bounced like a perpetual motion machine.
Ten coaches squeezed in at the table, and the graduate assistants lined the walls as Hudspeth went over his plan for the season. Three of the room’s four walls were lined with white boards: one wall containing a set of six offensive formations with writing a casual observer couldn’t distinguish from gibberish, another with a large automated projection display screen that drops over it and a third that featured a preliminary depth chart.
Hudspeth could’ve launched into a sermon about how this was the team’s year, about the great players the Cajuns have coming back or some motivational speech ripped off from a great historic figure. Instead, he focused on the little things, like picking up any trash they found lying around or ironing out practice schedules and which uniforms to wear.
It might have seemed like minutiae, but after sitting through a couple minutes of it, the message was clear: Do the little things right, and the rest will fall into place. If his meaning wasn’t clear, Hudspeth made sure to emphasize his point, popping his fist against his notebook with each word as he said that this year must be “the best coaching job we’ve ever done.”
After going over the main points in the meeting, Hudspeth dismissed his staff in segments, first releasing the graduate assistants, then a few coaches. Each time, he left them with a four-word sentence: “Let’s rock and roll.”
But even with the season less than a month away, Hudspeth and his assistants did the necessary work on future teams.
Assistant coaches Reed Stringer, Jorge Munoz and Jay Johnson stayed with Hudspeth in the meeting room as the lights were shut off, the projector screen was lowered and recruiting film was fired up. As he watched film from high school fields and Cajuns camps, Hudspeth paused and rewound the game tape, stopping to point out things he liked and things he thought needed work on each recruit, while the assistants offered their opinions.
There were some players who would definitely require more attention, and with the Cajuns’ odd schedule — four Saturdays without games — Hudspeth and his staff would be able to make some appearances.
The lights flicked on, and they snapped back from the program’s future to its present.
The players were ready.
Player orientation, 4:30 p.m.
Hudspeth got behind the wheel of his black Cadillac Escalade, his visage hidden by his heavily tinted windows, and jetted across campus to meet his players. As before, he exercised control over the minutiae.
He made his way into the dimly lit auditorium before his players and started directing which lights he wanted to come on and when, instructing the assistants to practice flipping switches to get it just right. His choice of music reflected the first words to the coaches earlier that afternoon.
After a couple of minutes of preparation, the speakers in the room crackled as Hudspeth flew the doors of the auditorium open to usher in another year of UL-Lafayette football. The players strode into the room and took their seats as AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)” blared at what had to be maximum volume.
The music faded as Hudspeth addressed his team, that restless energy from before channeled into a high-volume performance.
It’s time to rock and roll.