LAFAYETTE — University of Louisiana at Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth wants to see his team’s brightest stars earn their label.
In particular, Hudspeth publicly laid down the gauntlet for wide receiver Jamal Robinson and running back Elijah McGuire. The mission: Elevate your performance.
“Jamal is still getting back in stride, we need him to raise his game,” Hudspeth said. “I need Eli to raise his game a little bit. All the guys that get all the credit, and all the superstar terms, they need to start playing and practicing like superstars if that’s the term they get all the time.”
Certainly Hudspeth was referring to their production on the field. Robinson has gotten off to a slow start as he returns from a pair of injuries that ended his 2014 season after a terrific start. McGuire, while still very productive in total this season, has been a relative nonfactor in both of the Cajuns’ losses.
But when the two players heard the challenge, they each ran a different way with it.
There’s more than one way to earn a superstar label.
McGuire said: “I just took it as being a leader and getting these guys going. Playing Cajuns football.”
Robinson said: “I’ve been a little vocal as far as to my receivers. But being vocal to my team, I have not been. I’ve just been, I guess, selfish and worried about the receivers. But I have been getting vocal with the rest of the team.”
This was an interesting development. The players responded to the playmaking challenge by committing themselves to be better leaders.
Not only better leaders, but more vocal leaders. While it seems like a foregone conclusion that the most productive players on the team would always have their teammates ears, taking charge was perhaps one of the hardest things for McGuire and Robinson to get used to. It required them to get out of their comfort zone.
Loud football they can do, loud leadership is another animal entirely.
“Me and Jamal, we’re both not very vocal at all,” McGuire said. “But coach Hud puts that in our head every time to be more vocal, and I guess we’ve got to step up and take on the task and speak our minds and how we feel.
“We really have a hard time of doing that, especially me. I’m not very vocal. I like to lead by example. But I think it’s time for me to put my foot down, take on that task and be a leader of this team.”
There isn’t always congruence between leadership and on-field performance. But that isn’t necessarily the goal. Hudspeth, as quoted earlier, is looking not only for gameday superstars, but everyday superstars.
That starts on the practice field and maybe can permeate through the rest of the roster if the aforementioned superstars are practicing like they’re capable of playing.
Hudspeth made it clear that his team had a bad week of practice leading up to the Akron game. A bad week of practice leads to a bad performance on the field.
Tuesday, in their first full practice preparing for Louisiana Tech, Hudspeth said the team had one of its best practices of the year. The energy was up, and the music was blaring.
Maybe the newly vocal leaders had a role in that.
“Just do what the bossman says,” Robinson said. “Tell everybody to get their stuff together, let’s practice harder. … Be ready for the next game, forget about the past and move on to the future.
“I’m just pushing every player to practice full speed, 100 percent. I don’t care if you’re tired or not, give your all.”
Ultimately, Robinson and McGuire’s production will be the true gauge to how successful the Cajuns are on the field. Perhaps through working a part of their game that hadn’t been used before, they’ll get there.