LAFAYETTE – The Louisiana-Lafayette football team wanted to use Wednesday’s signing class to bolster the back end of its defense, but it also needed to replace rising junior Tracy Walker.
That’s because Walker has found a new home of sorts. After starting 18 games the last two seasons at safety, Walker is switching to linebacker this offseason.
“He’s a guy that can run, tackle, strike,” said coach Mark Hudspeth. “(Defensive coordinator Melvin) Smith said he’s always got his eyes in the backfield, even when he’s not supposed to. This allows him to do that all the time and go tackle the ball.
“I think it’s going to be a good fit for him.”
Walker finished second on the team with 74 tackles a year ago, an improvement of more than 30 from his redshirt freshman season. Fifty-four of those tackles were solo tackles, a figure that led the team.
He also made five tackles for loss and intercepted a pass last season.
Walker played at right around 200 pounds last season, but Hudspeth said he’s done an impressive job bulking up to make the position switch.
“He’s 225 (pounds) — you haven’t seen him in a while,” Hudspeth said. “He’s added a little weight, he looks really good. He’ll be an outside guy, sort of like that nickel guy that we use. He’s going to fit nicely back there.”
The Cajuns signed six defensive backs in their 2016 class, joining the 15 returning from last year’s team. Only two of those returning players – Dominick Jones and Travis Crawford — have extensive experience at safety.
The addition of Mike Lucas to the coaching staff last season paid dividends on the recruiting trail during this recruiting cycle.
Lucas has several connections to the fertile recruiting ground of east Texas, and the Cajuns reaped an impressive haul from the Lone Star state in the 2016 signing class with tight end Cody Mitchell, linebacker Tanner Holmes and safety Edward Hayes among the five players the Cajuns pulled from Texas.
“We went over to east Texas and really had a lot of success,” Hudspeth said.
That offset the fact that, for the first time in Hudspeth’s tenure, the Mississippi native did not sign a single high school prospect from Mississippi, though the coach did reel in four Mississippi junior college products.
“I can see us still staying over there in east Texas, although Mississippi with coach (Reed) Stringer, coach Smith and myself — will still be a big part of it,” Hudspeth said. “But this year it was more of the junior college route in Mississippi than it was the high school.”
Ten members of the 22-man signing class hailed from Louisiana, including three from the Acadiana area in Cecilia’s Raymond Calais, Ascension Episcopal’s Jake Arceneaux and Breaux Bridge’s Korey Louis.
Hudspeth said it’s important for his team to continue to have a presence on the Acadiana recruiting trail.
“It’s hard to sign every local player, but we try to do our best and be very thorough in our evaluations,” Hudspeth said. “There’s a lot of good players in this area, a lot of good high school coaches, so they’re very prepared here.
“We’re very fortunate to have a fertile ground, and this year we were able to land some of those. I’d like to land even more in the future.”
New digs paid off
When Hudspeth detailed his signing class to the local media, he did so from the auditorium of the Cajuns Student Athlete Performance Center, a place that hosted many a meeting with prospective recruits.
The new facility, which includes a state of the art locker room and training facility, was completed in September of last year and had an impact on the Cajuns signing class.
“I think it definitely didn’t hurt, that’s for sure,” Hudspeth said. “When we brought our kids in and they saw just the theater … kids want to go to a place that’s got great facilities. Everybody we talked to, every kid that came in here was blown away and said it was the best facilities of any trip they’ve been on.”