LAFAYETTE — It’s been a long road to the starting lineup for Louisiana-Lafayette linebacker Tre’maine Lightfoot.

The sophomore began the season serving what would have been a season-long suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules. On Oct. 16, the suspension was reduced, and Lightfoot was eligible to play immediately.

With his role being reduced to scout-team duties during the suspension, Lightfoot said he wasn’t enjoying football much, but he never stopped working toward his goal of being in the starting lineup.

“Being on scout team, you know, that’s not where it is,” Lightfoot said. “It’s not fun, but I’m going to help the team regardless. I was going hard on scout team and giving it the best look I could. When I heard I would come back and play, it really sparked me up. God came through for me.”

Lightfoot played against Arkansas State the following Tuesday, notching his first two tackles in the Cajuns’ 55-40 win. He said the transition was difficult, but he worked with his coaches to get better prepared to contribute.

“I wasn’t in game shape,” he said. “I started out at 240 (pounds), but now I’m at 220. I’m running well. It did a lot for me to be on scout team and lift weights. It got me stronger and conditioned myself and losing all this weight.”

In just his second game after the suspension, Lightfoot earned his spot in the starting lineup. Coach Mark Hudspeth said his staff had Lightfoot penciled in as a starter in the spring, but he just needed to get some things straightened out.

“Once he got cleared, he has become the player we felt like he could be all along,” Hudspeth said. “He is on top of his game. He is in a good spot in his life, and I am really proud of him.”

When times were tough, Lightfoot admitted to thinking it wouldn’t work out for him in the program. He attributed the bounce back in his personal life and his football life to defensive coordinator James Willis.

“Coach Willis walked me through it, kept me on my P’s and Q’s and really made me feel like I was wanted,” Lightfoot said. “He made me feel like I had to be here. He kept me on top of stuff. I know he loves me. He will do anything for me. He looks after me like I’m his son.”

Hudspeth said Willis is a mentor for Lightfoot and the rest of team. He said the relationships between Willis and his players speak volumes to the important of continuity on the staff.

“We get to know these kids in a way you just don’t if you have a revolving door of coaches,” Hudspeth said. “(Willis) is a great example for those guys. He works them hard, but they know he cares for them.”

With all the tribulations far behind him, Lightfoot said it feels good to be back on the field, especially during the Cajuns’ current six-game winning streak. But he said he isn’t done getting better — and he isn’t done winning.

“I just need to keep building and get the attitude of ‘See ball, hit ball,’ ” Lightfoot said. “Everyone on the team has to want to hit. We can’t have anyone out there scared to play football. I want to be a leader and lead this team.

“I don’t like losing. My main thing is to win.”