LAFAYETTE — It has been an interesting year on the recruiting trail for the the University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team.
Most of the time since last year’s signing day has been spent with an ongoing NCAA investigation into improprieties allegedly committed by former assistant coach David Saunders hanging over the program’s head. That information became public knowledge last fall and was resolved just last month with the NCAA Committee on Infractions’ official ruling.
“Once the NCAA released the punishment and everything came to a conclusion, we were really able to have intelligent and good conversations with our recruits, let them know exactly where we are going forward,” Cajuns tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Reed Stringer said. “This is over, this is what the final verdict was, and I think in the end that really helped us.
“It took away uncertainty, it took away opportunity for other schools to say what they thought the punishment would be without any facts.”
The penalties levied by the NCAA were mostly harmless concerning this year’s crop of recruits. The Cajuns will have three fewer scholarships to work with: 22 instead of the usual 25. Most importantly, the team will not face a postseason ban.
Everything else, including restrictions on where the Cajuns could recruit and limitations on official visits and communication with recruits, were self-imposed while the investigation was ongoing.
As soon as 7 a.m. hits on Wednesday’s national signing day, when recruits can officially begin faxing in their National Letters of Intent, it will start become clear whether the investigation adversely affected this year’s signing class.
“We feel really good going into the final hours,” Stringer said. “Now, we’re fighting some battles. Just like in years past, we’ve got some people that call in on a couple of our guys at the last second when you can’t go see them anymore.
“We feel really good about where we are, but we’re going to be fighting some battles up until (Wednesday) morning when they sign.”
The school currently has 19 public commitments from players mostly from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. There are also players who have privately pledged their commitment to the Cajuns, as well. Heading into signing day, the prevailing belief is that those commitments are solid.
Based on the commitments that are currently known, it’s clear the Cajuns put an emphasis on the defensive side of the ball this recruiting cycle.
“We had a good plan, we knew we were going to have to sign some defensive guys, and I think we’re going to sign a great defensive class,” Stringer said.
Of the 19 players currently committed to the Cajuns, 13 play on the defensive side of the ball. There are four defensive linemen, three linebackers and six defensive backs who have publicly committed to the Cajuns.
That’s a reversal from last year’s 24-man signing class, which featured 15 offensive players compared to seven defensive players and two specialists. Only one of the defensive players in last year’s class was a defensive lineman.
“We knew (the defensive line) was going to be a point of emphasis,” Stringer said.
Among the four players currently committed to play on the defensive line, two hail from junior colleges and two come from Louisiana high schools. The Cajuns also have a pair of commitments from junior-college cornerbacks.
“As you get going into the season, you start seeing some areas that you would like to have some older guys that have played against other college athletes at junior college, so we went that route a little bit,” Stringer said.
The Cajuns had another defensive lineman in the fold until a few weeks ago, when Ponchatoula defensive lineman Jahaziel Lee backed out of his commitment to pledge to Georgia Tech. The Cajuns might replace Lee by making a flip of their own.
Michael Robinson, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive end from Auburn High School in Alabama, has been committed to Sun Belt rival Troy since July of last year, but the Cajuns have been working hard to earn his signature Wednesday morning.
The Cajuns are also targeting some players who have yet to make a commitment.
One is Archbishop Shaw running back Trey Ragas, who earned New Orleans Advocate All-Metro honors after piling up 1,881 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior. The 205-pound Ragas also holds scholarship offers from Colorado State, Indiana, Kansas and ULM, according to the recruiting service 247Sports.
Another is three-star offensive lineman Randon Haynes of Waxahachie, Texas, a 6-foot-3, 310-pounder who has drawn interest from Baylor and Texas A&M.