When Nevada picked up its sixth win and became bowl-eligible Nov. 1, Ron Hudson wasn’t taking anything for granted.
Even after the Wolf Pack football squad drilled rival UNLV 49-27 to end November to take win No. 7, Hudson had to remind himself that there’s no such thing as a sure thing.
“I told people I’d been through this before,” he said, “and it didn’t turn out very good.”
Hudson, Nevada’s second-year offensive line coach, served six years on the Louisiana-Lafayette staff from 2005-10 — and four times during that run, the Ragin’ Cajuns were bowl-eligible. In 2005 the Cajuns won the Sun Belt Conference title, and in 2008 they went 5-2 in league play and had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers.
Each of those four years of eligibility, UL-Lafayette was left at the altar, consigned to the netherworld of bowl-eligible teams who didn’t get an invitation.
“That was tough,” Hudson said. “We finished above a bunch of teams that made it and we didn’t go. I watched teams go to bowls that took maybe 500 fans to their bowl game ... the folks there were so hungry for it, we’d have taken 30,000 to Mars.”
Hudson’s got his bowl trip this week — a first despite a coaching career that spans two decades — and there’s no small irony that it comes in Saturday’s New Orleans Bowl.
The jovial Hudson served as offensive line coach, offensive coordinator and assistant head coach under Rickey Bustle during that stint. He always had charge of the offensive front, and during that time the Cajuns set more than a handful of rushing and total offense records.
Tyrell Fenroy became UL-Lafayette’s all-time rusher, one of seven players in NCAA history to record four 1,000-yard seasons. Michael Desormeaux doubled up with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing and passing seasons before running quarterbacks became the norm. The 3,164 rush yards by the 2008 team still stands as a record, even though that team played 12 games and the past three UL-Lafayette squads played 13 with its first-ever Division I bowl appearances.
“It’s a shame that those kids were sitting at home during bowl games,” Hudson said. “That’s why I was still holding my breath when we got to seven last month. It shouldn’t have been like that, but you never know until it happens.”
After the 2010 season when UL-Lafayette went 3-9 and the program hired Mark Hudspeth as head coach, Hudson went to New Mexico for one year as offensive line coach and served one year as running game coordinator at UMass before going to Nevada prior to the 2013 season. Quickly, he brought former Cajuns offensive lineman Jonathan Decoster in as a graduate assistant and signed St. Thomas More standout receiver-defensive back Kendall Johnson in his first year.
“Kendall’s the kind of kid you want in a program,” Hudson said. “He’s well-grounded. We thought he’d redshirt, but we decided he was good enough to play now. He had a huge pick in the Washington State game (a 24-13 win in the second game of the season).”
Hudson took note early of the Mountain West Conference’s tie-in with the New Orleans Bowl this year, even before the season started and the Wolf Pack bolted out to a 3-1 start. Nevada’s only loss in September was 35-28 to an Arizona team that people realized was very good in the following month.
“I knew it (a bowl trip to New Orleans) was a possibility,” he said, “and I knew the Cajuns were probably going to have success again and the folks in New Orleans wanted them in their bowl game. But when it started getting closer, truthfully we thought the New Orleans Bowl was ruled out.”
That was before Oklahoma State upset Oklahoma on the final weekend of the season, getting bowl-eligible and setting loose a chain of events that allowed the Mountain West to fill its designated bowls — including the Crescent City.
Hudson actually heard more chatter about Nevada coming to New Orleans through his daughter Mackenzie, who is a sophomore at UL-Lafayette.
“She told me there was a lot of talk there about it,” Hudson said, “and when the news came out that Sunday, we were all jacked.”
Suddenly, Hudson became a source of information, at first about the area and soon afterward about his former employer.
“I enjoy that area so much, and the people down there were so good to me,” he said. “Immediately I started getting texts about places to go, good places to eat, where they could go for live music. The people that make the trip will have fun ... no matter what you want to do, you can do it there. It’s such a neat place.”
The realities of preparing for a football game weren’t far behind, but Hudson said he wasn’t complaining after Nevada had gone 4-8 the previous year.
“We immediately went to work, maybe 15 minutes after the announcement last Sunday,” Hudson said. “We’ve come from behind in almost every game we’ve been in. We’ve had some lumps that we had to swallow, but we came from behind and had some big wins against BYU (42-35). We had the last possession against Boise and didn’t get it done (a 51-46 loss), and we rallied like crazy and came back against Colorado State (a 31-24 loss).
“The character of the kids we’re playing with is great ... they just keep competing until they blow the whistle. That’s why this bowl game is special for us.”