LAFAYETTE — New Guy No. 1 takes a snap from New Guy No. 2 and rifles a pass to New Guy No. 3, who burns New Guy No. 4 on a deep post in the shadows of a training facility that’s newer than all of them. New Coach No. 1 seethes on the sideline and explains New Coverage Technique No. 1 over again.
That’s a yet-to-be-written excerpt from my practice notebook, which is sure to be filled with misspellings and question marks as I start to acquaint myself with all of these new faces on the Louisiana-Lafayette football team.
Seriously, have you thought about how much upheaval this steady program has undergone since it won its fourth straight New Orleans Bowl on the heels of its fourth straight 9-4 season?
The experience the Cajuns lost to graduation is vast. Take a look:
Quarterback Terrance Broadway, 34 career starts. Running back Alonzo Harris, 37 career starts. Guard Daniel Quave, 52 career starts. Center Terry Johnson, 26 career starts. Wide receiver James Butler, 20 career starts. Tight end Larry Pettis, 13 career starts.
Oh, and that was just on offense.
Defensive lineman Justin Hamilton, 36 career starts. Defensive lineman Christian Ringo, 31 career starts. Cornerback Corey Trim, 26 career starts. Cornerback Trevence Patt, 27 career starts. Safety Sean Thomas, 20 career starts. Linebacker Jake Molbert, 18 career starts. Linebacker Trae Johnson, 16 career starts. Linebacker Boris Anyama, 12 career starts.
For the mathematically challenged, those 14 players accounted for 368 career starts, taking an average of two years of starting experience apiece to somewhere other than the Cajuns’ practice fields this season.
Also gone is the entire defensive coaching staff that spent the past two years together, replaced by three coaches who last appeared at a Southeastern Conference school (Melvin Smith, Charlie Harbison and Levorn Harbin) and one who was Northwestern State’s defensive coordinator (Mike Lucas).
About the only people keeping these Cajuns from being unrecognizable from their 9-4 New Orleans Bowl-winnin’ forebearers are coach Mark Hudspeth, running back Elijah McGuire and wide receiver Jamal Robinson.
With the exception of Hudspeth being lured away to a lucrative opportunity elsewhere, this is about as close as the Cajuns can get to a clean slate. And you know what? That might be a good thing.
Some fresh blood can’t hurt after the Cajuns spent four straight years doing the exact same thing. There’s nothing wrong with 9-4 and a bowl win; the Cajuns will be the first to tell you they are one of just three teams in all of college football that can say it has done that each of the past four years.
But you can’t help but feel there’s work that still needs to be accomplished. And while these new faces — some of whom have been around for a little while — are not necessarily experienced, count me among the people who think they can reach those higher goals.
Experience, while important, can be outweighed by talent, and this has a chance to be the most talented starting 22 Hudspeth has fielded in his time here.
Hudspeth will deploy a mix of proven offensive veterans like McGuire, Robinson and lineman Mykhael Quave with promising youngsters who have waited for their opportunity. The defense lost Ringo and Hamilton but adds a pair of players in linebacker Otha Peters and defensive back Jeryl Brazil who were once ticketed for big things at SEC schools.
And while it would be foolish to look past the continuity the Cajuns have enjoyed from a coaching standpoint the past four years, it’d be just as foolish to think this year’s staff isn’t an upgrade over previous groups.
Three of those coaches were on the sideline for a national championship two years ago, and the other was a defensive coordinator who brings more than three decades of experience in college football to the Cajuns.
Change is constant at the college level. It’s not always as sweeping as the change the Cajuns underwent this offseason, and it’s not always for the better.
Which side of the good or bad spectrum of change the Cajuns fall on won’t be determined until the games are played. But for now, bet on things being better — even if it takes you a while to get used to the names.