Ragin' Cajuns' Nick Byrne working to make next step at tight end _lowres

Photo by Brad Kemp/RaginCajuns.com -- UL-Lafayette tight end Nick Byrne, center, runs a route against Otha Peters, right, during practice Friday in Lafayette.

LAFAYETTE — Even though University of Louisiana at Lafayette tight end Nick Byrne is still a student of the game, his daily study plan has gradually changed during the past couple of years.

Byrne, a junior from Rogers, Arkansas, spent his first couple of seasons contributing to the Cajuns’ cause as a special teams member and as an understudy for the starting tight ends. Now, he is looking for those experiences to help him move into a bigger role.

“I have had two years of seeing the field, and I know the atmosphere, and I got to play against big teams like Kansas State and Arkansas,” Byrne said. “It helped me gain my confidence and become a better player.”

In 26 games, Byrne has six receptions for 33 yards. Much of his work has been aimed at learning the blocking skills and other duties that associate head coach/offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said make the tight ends a critical component of the Cajuns offense.

“The MVPs of our offense, which I say every year, are the tight ends,” Johnson said. “What we ask them to do in the run and pass game is phenomenal. We have had some good ones here in the past. With Nick, I really look for him to take a step.”

When Byrne was coming out of Har-Ber High, where he had 72 catches for 1,182 yards and 17 touchdowns over his junior and senior seasons, he was on the radars of the Cajuns’ conference foes Arkansas State and UL-Monroe. He bypassed those opportunities to immerse himself in a two-year process that led to this point.

“You know the routine. You know what to expect,” Byrne said. “You can mentally prepare yourself — and physically. I’m so much further along than when I came in (as a freshman). Instead of trying to learn everything, you are perfecting it.”

That includes figuring out tendencies of teammates. Will a specific running back tend to stay between the tackles or try to bounce outside to the perimeter? Who waits a beat for a block to develop? Who is ready to hit the hole immediately?

“You watch a ton of film and go through practices, and you understand what they are going to do,” Byrne said.

Byrne’s early understanding of the sport was passed down by his brother, Jake, who played tight end for Wisconsin before he played in seven games for the NFL’s Houston Texans in 2013.

“My older brother played for Wisconsin and played in the league,” Byrne said. “So that is who I have always looked up to, and I wanted to do the same thing.”

Just like Wisconsin has become accustomed to making trips to bowl games and competing for conference championships, Byrne said the current four-year run of New Orleans Bowl wins by the Cajuns has made the challenging parts of summer and fall workouts more exciting.

“It’s a huge factor,” Byrne said. “It’s never fun playing for a losing team. Having the success we have had makes the everyday grind so much more worth it.”