Cajuns preseason camp previews: Secondary moves from trouble spot to source of strength _lowres

Advocate photo by LEE CELANO -- Safety Tracy Walker makes an interception against tight end Mathew Barnes during the team's 2014 spring game.

LAFAYETTE — During Louisiana-Lafayette’s four-game winning streak, much of the team’s success can be attributed to the defense.

The line has old stalwarts holding down the fort in seniors Justin Hamilton and Christian Ringo, but the secondary has been dismantled by injuries, allowing freshmen like Tracy Walker to emerge.

“(Senior Trevence Patt) has been slowed by injuries most of the year,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “Not necessarily something that keeps him from playing, but he’s had an ankle (injury) that has lingered and he hasn’t been able to be himself or be effective.

“You have to have speed on the field, and I think he has been very disappointed that he can’t perform at the level he’s used to. It’s been hard on him. He had such high expectations.”

Hudspeth said Patt does his best, but his misfortunes have forced the Cajuns to move on and allowed the next man up to have a chance.

Enter Walker, who redshirted last year and has cemented his place this year in the starting lineup. Walker will start when the Cajuns face New Mexico State at 7 p.m. Saturday in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Hudspeth said the redshirt year was a huge benefit for Walker.

“Some players are able to pick things up quicker than others,” Hudspeth said. “(Cornerback) is a little harder, and you’d like to redshirt all your guys because that means you’re playing with older guys once they become seniors.”

Walker said the redshirt season not only helped him hone his skills on the field, but he became mentally tough and gained a better grasp of the system. He also said he bulked up.

“I got bigger and stronger and faster and I learned the game better,” he said. “I have a better understanding of my position and how the defense works. It was a big improvement for me.”

Walker said Patt and other seniors have been supportive in his transition to the starting lineup. He said once he earned their trust through his play, there was no animosity.

“They trust me and believe in me,” Walker said. “We back each other up, and those guys want to win as much as I do. It’s important for them to go out in the senior season as winners.”

Hudspeth said he has been pleased with Walker’s play, and that was a big contributor to Patt’s absence in the lineup. He said he knows a senior is going to be upset with having his playing time diminished, but Patt has shown no signs of a bad attitude.

“Anybody who is competitive is disappointed,” Hudspeth said.

“Anyone who wouldn’t be, I would think something is wrong with them. As far as coming out with a good attitude and pulling for their teammates, that hasn’t wavered. And when you win four in a row, it is hard to have a lot of grief.”

Hudspeth said Walker has picked up the system well in his second year in the program.

“He is long and, when you’re tall, you can cover a lot of ground,” Hudspeth said. “He is picking up the system well. He is bright, and he has a really bright future here. I have been pleased.”

Walker said he doesn’t focus on personal accolades or even trying to live up to a long history of successful defensive backs that have come through Cajun Field.

“That is a high goal to push towards,” he said, “but I am playing for a championship. I am focused on this team and team goals. I don’t worry about personal goals. They will come as long we accomplish the team goals.”