LAFAYETTE — Things couldn’t have started more fittingly for a football team recruiting players to Ragin’ Cajuns country: The first two signees for the Louisiana-Lafayette football program on Wednesday’s national signing day were a kid named Boudreaux and a kid from Thibodaux.
The rest of the day didn’t go too badly, either.
The Cajuns signed all 19 of the players who were publicly committed to them before the day started, then added a few more for a 22-player class that coach Mark Hudspeth feels addressed both immediate needs and future potential.
“We felt like we really hit the mark on what we needed to address in terms of maybe immediate needs at some positions, then also some positions where we feel like we’ve got time to develop some players, too,” Hudspeth said.
Holy Cross linebacker Jacques Boudreaux was the first player to send his signed national letter of intent, and Thibodaux safety Blair Brooks was the second. Beyond the Cajun names, it marked the beginning of a day defined by a defensive focus.
Fourteen of the players the Cajuns signed likely will play on defense, including all five of the junior-college prospects. This was part long-term planning and part brought on by what Hudspeth and the staff saw on the field last season.
“It starts before the season, because you sort of know the needs,” he said. “But during the season your questions are sometimes solidified. What you’re thinking you need, you find out, ‘Yep, you’re right; we do need this part.’ ”
The 2015 Cajuns struggled to put pressure on the quarterback without sending a healthy amount of blitzers. They also had issues in the man coverage schemes implemented by new co-defensive coordinators Melvin Smith and Charlie Harbison. They sought to rectify both problems with Wednesday’s signing class.
Nearly half of the class was devoted to the defensive front and defensive secondary, and half of that number was filled by junior-college players whom Hudspeth hopes can come in and make an immediate impact.
Three of the four defensive linemen signed were junior-college products, including Mississippi Delta Community College defensive end Jarvis Jeffries, whom Hudspeth said should help with the pass rush.
“That’s what these (junior-college) guys will help us do,” Hudspeth said. “The guys we got we feel like are very active guys with high motors. So we feel real good about those guys moving forward. I think we helped our football team today.”
The Cajuns signed six defensive backs, including a pair of junior-college transfers in Artez Williams and Denarius Howard. Again, the idea was to fortify the unit immediately while also providing some freshman talent, like safety Edward Hayes and cornerbacks Dontrell Allen and Damar’ren Mitchell, that should pay off in the future.
But the day wasn’t entirely ruled by defensive players. In fact, the Cajuns’ biggest news might’ve been when Archbishop Shaw running back Trey Ragas faxed his letter of intent around 8:30 a.m.
Ragas held offers from several “Power Five” conference schools and had been drawing some late interest from Ole Miss, but the Cajuns had been pursuing him hard, and their diligence paid off.
“Trey had a lot of action the whole way. It was a struggle,” Hudspeth said. “But at the end of the day, you’re proud to land a guy like Trey. He came from a great program, one heck of a football player who fits our mold as a running back. He had a lot of late push last night (and) this morning, but I think he was pretty pleased with his visit here and what we had to offer him, especially with the success our backs have had.”
The Cajuns also had to fend off some potential suitors for Jasper, Texas, tight end Cody Mitchell, whom Hudspeth said was receiving interest from schools in Texas and Oklahoma in the weeks leading up to signing day.
The Cajuns had an ace in their pocket. Not only had Mitchell developed a good relationship with linebackers coach Mike Lucas, who is responsible for recruiting east Texas, but his close friend Tanner Holmes also signed with the Cajuns.
After Mitchell signed, Cajuns tight end coach/recruiting coordinator Reed Stringer tweeted that the Cajuns signed the No. 1 tight end on their board “and one of the best in the country.”
“He’s going to fit in to what we do,” Hudspeth said. “He’s a long, very athletic tight end that can really stretch the field. For what we’re going to do with the tight end, that’s the mold that we were looking for.”
With Wednesday in the books, the Cajuns can officially turn their attention toward the 2016 season. Now, Hudspeth said, is when the work starts.
“This is the recruiting process up to today. When the players report in June, that’s what you call the derecruiting process. That’s the truth. Now, we’re not going to be holding their hand and they’re not going to be escorted around campus. They’re going to have expectations to be places on their own and they’re going to be held accountable at that time.
“They know why they come here, and that’s to play football. It’s what they love to do. That’s why we like signing guys that love the game. In our evaluation process, that’s one of the biggest things we look for.”