The late hiring of head football coach Billy Napier put a kink in UL-Lafayette’s plans for the NCAA’s new early signing period for high school prospects.
In fact, it’s a big enough kink that Napier said Tuesday the Ragin’ Cajuns wouldn’t sign any players during the newly-created 72-hour national letter signing window that begins Wednesday.
“I would equate it to marrying a girl that you’ve never met before,” Napier said Tuesday. “I think it’s a huge level of commitment, not only for me, but I want those young men to feel comfortable about our staff and about me as a person.”
Napier, whose hiring as the 26th coach in Ragin’ Cajuns' history was announced Friday, had said in an introductory news conference Monday that the early signing period was not going to be a heavy one for his program. On Tuesday, he said all 2018 signees would come in February’s traditional signing period.
“If I’ve got any substance at all to me,” he said, “how can I allow a young man and his family to sign a piece of paper that commits their entire career to our staff, if I’ve never met them? I’ve never shook their hand, never looked them in the eye. It’s just a little premature.”
The Cajuns had five known commitments for this year’s signing class who were expected to sign during the early period. Those included three linemen: Texas-based offensive linemen Luke Junkunc (6-4, 270) of Houston-Strake Jesuit Prep and Chris Heiskell (6-5, 285) of Houston-Cy Woods and defensive lineman Jaylen Whitaker (6-5, 237) of St. Aloysius in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
UL-Lafayette also had commitments from two defensive backs, Plaquemine’s Percy Butler (6-1, 180) and Daniel Beard (6-0, 190) of St. Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile, Alabama.
Napier said he has spoken to all of those commitments during the past two days.
“I have had some great phone conversations with some guys,” he said. “If we’d had seven days, 10 days, to get out on the road, meet and greet, and get a feel for these young men, it might be different. Right now, I just think, we only need to sign 18 players in February, and I know we’re not going to have that problem.”
“I think college football coaches in general are trying to figure out what approach should we take with the Dec. 20 signing date.”
UL-Lafayette athletic director Bryan Maggard said at the beginning of the hiring process he wanted to have a coach hired before the opening of the early signing period, but that was not a hard-and-fast deadline.
“That really had little or no impact with me,” Maggard said Monday. “As a barometer, I did want to have a coach named before the 20th, and we met that objective. But had we not, it was more about getting the right person, and I wasn’t going to rush that for early signing.”
At least two players who had given previous commitments — defensive lineman Darrian McMillan of Mobile and Butler (Kan.) Community College, and defensive back Jeremiah Davis of Lufkin (Texas) High — backed away from those commitments during the two weeks between UL-Lafayette’s Dec. 3 firing of seven-year coach Mark Hudspeth and Napier’s hiring.
“We’re behind, and I think everybody understands that to some degree,” Napier said. “As we put our staff together, we’ll have a very specific plan, and we’ll execute that plan. We spent a lot of the last two days evaluating some of the key guys that we already have in position.”
Napier said that staff would start to solidify itself this week, including the addition of likely offensive coordinator Rob Sale, who coached with Napier at Arizona State. Social media posts Tuesday also said assistant coach and former Cajuns quarterback Michael Desormeaux was going to be retained on the staff, as will director of football operations Troy Wingerter.
Maggard had named Desormeaux as acting director of the football program from Dec. 3 until a new coach was named.
“We’re going to keep a handful of people around here that have a pulse on where our football team is,” Napier said. “I’m going to listen to them, get their insight and where our critical needs are. This is just the beginning, and we don’t want to make any mistakes.”