The men poised to line up to Donovan Williams’ left and right have been here before, a few of them multiple times.
On the offensive line alone, Louisiana-Lafayette have seven New Orleans Bowl starts — not appearances, starts — under their belts. Daniel Quave has started three, his younger brother Mykhael has started two, center Terry Johnson and right tackle Octravian Anderson each started in last year’s New Orleans Bowl.
But this is a first for Williams, who joined the Cajuns in part because of their success on the Mercedes-Benz Superdome turf.
“I’m not nervous,” Williams said. “I know they’ve got my back.”
Williams is one of the few Cajuns regulars poised to play in his first bowl. Of the team’s 24 projected starters, including specialists, 19 have either started or played significant roles in past bowl games.
On an experience-laden team, the first-timers have leaned on the veterans for tips ranging from how to handle the bowl atmosphere to what to do with a sudden excess of free time.
Though the crowd isn’t expected to approach last year’s record attendance of more than 55,000, redshirt freshman safety Tracy Walker is still expecting to have to calm his nerves in the moments before kickoff.
“They say it’s going to be scary at first,” Walker said. “They say the crowd is going to get you into it, you just have to calm down and it’s going to be cake from there. I’m just going to depend on them, and they’re going to pick me up if I need it.”
But the players experiencing bowl week for the first time must also acquaint themselves with everything that happens in the days leading up to the game.
Junior tight end Evan Tatford was ineligible last year, having to sit out the season after transferring from Tulane. He joined the team the day of the game against his former squad.
This year, he’s getting to experience the real differences between the week leading up to a bowl game and a standard game week.
“It’s definitely very different — not the everyday mundane going to class and practice,” Tatford said. “We’ve got a lot more stuff going on this week. … You’re starting to see some of the other perks of playing football now.”
The Cajuns took in a Pelicans game the night they arrived in New Orleans. They spent Wednesday night at the New Orleans Motorsports Park and will visit a children’s hospital Thursday.
“It’s a good opportunity to be together as a team, to get together and build more unity this last week being together,” said Walker, who, like others, called bowl week a “great experience.”
It’s also a barrage of events to keep the newbies’ thoughts occupied without the usual distraction of schoolwork.
“We’re not just sitting around twiddling our thumbs,” Tatford said. “Our days are just kind of packed with stuff. Now it’s almost more of a relief to not have to worry about school so we can just focus on football.”
For players, there’s a certain awe that comes with performing on the Superdome turf for the first time — especially for players from Louisiana.
But in coach Mark Hudspeth’s estimation, they’re getting that out of their system this week. When it comes to the football aspect, Hudspeth thinks his New Orleans Bowl rookies will be just fine.
“These guys get all the ‘first time in the Dome’ stuff out of them during the practices, during the week,” Hudspeth said. “Come game day, they’ll be used to it.”