LAFAYETTE — Although both Jeryl Brazil and Otha Peters are more than a year removed from playing in the Southeastern Conference and those football chapters are closed, they can still remember the words of friends from a couple of years ago.
Peters, a junior linebacker, found a place on the SEC All-Freshman team at Arkansas in 2012 before injuries cut his sophomore season short. His transfer to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette meant he had to sit out last year.
As he listens to the Cajuns’ coaching staff, he adds their instructions to the record of what he heard from teammates and coaches at Arkansas.
“I’m building on some things I already learned at Arkansas,” Peters said. “The coaches taught me great things there and the coaches tell me great things here.”
The switch from the SEC to the Sun Belt Conference has been a good fit for Peters. Cajuns’ wide receiver Al Riles, who is from Mandeville, and Peters, from Covington, have been friends since they were both about 7 years old.
When Peters had some thoughts that he was ready to come be a Ragin’ Cajun, Riles received a call.
“He was the first person I called and I said ‘I might be coming here,’ ” Peters said.
Brazil’s calling card is the speed that enabled him to compete as a member of the Cajuns’ track team during the spring semester. He traded those track shoes for football cleats and a chance to help the football squad as a cornerback. Brazil, who played in one game for LSU in 2013 as a true freshman running back, has been handed the task of teaming up that speed with tackling ability. “I told Brazil he is really fast,” Cajuns’ defensive coordinator Melvin Smith said. “If speed tackles, it plays for me. If that speed goes to the ball and gets the guy on the ground, I’m going to find a place for him to play.”
Even though Brazil’s experience at LSU came on offense, he picked up some pointers that continue to help him as a defender. “When I got to LSU, I learned about offense, so I have a good idea and know about how play-action and double routes are used (against a defense). It’s about constantly working on those things.”
Smith feels the lessons Brazil and Peters learned in the SEC can be helpful to an extent, but there are new challenges to tackle today.
“If you go to an SEC school right out of high school and you lose that opportunity, you never get that back,” Smith said. “The next move if you play well in the SEC is the NFL. You don’t have an in-between stop. They are getting a second chance. I try to let them know, ‘Hey, man. It’s a new day. It’s about taking advantage of the opportunity you have right now.’ I use past experiences, but I don’t beat them over the head with it.”
Before either player experiences road trips when the Cajuns tangle with conference foes Arkansas State, Georgia State or South Alabama, there is the matter of the season opener — a reminder of the SEC atmosphere when UL-Lafayette goes to Lexington to face Kentucky. “I have been out of football for a year,” Peters said. “People think the SEC is the best conference. It’s a big first game.”