LAFAYETTE — The long-sleeved shirt is a relic, ratty and beat up, nothing like the fresh Adidas gear the young bucks get nowadays.
But Boris Anyama rocks the shirt anyway. It’s a reminder of where the Cajuns program was when he started, and how far its come in his short time on campus. The tattered rag is a sort of honor.
“I still have one of my cut up grey long-sleeved shirts I got when I first got here in 2010, because I know how times were back in the day,” Anyama said.
Pause it right here.
Before we carry on with the present, with the second hand inexorably moving toward oblivion, before we discuss what the future has in store for the Ragin’ Cajuns football, let’s go back to when this woebegone long-sleeved shirt was brand-new and cherished.
They were lean times in 2010, coach Rickey Bustle’s final year. The old coach told players on recruiting visits that his team was on the cusp of getting into a bowl game — which was true, they had reached bowl eligibility in four of the previous five years — they just needed help getting over the hump.
Then they went 3-9 that year and Bustle was fired. Nine players from that team remain, nine players who red-shirted during their miserable 3-9 true freshman season, then stuck with the new coaching staff led by Mark Hudspeth.
“We all knew how it felt to be at the losing end,” Anyama said. “We all had that hard-working mentality. You’ve got to grind and be successful to come out on top.”
And grind is what they did. Hudspeth made sure of that. The workouts became tougher than what the players were used to. Through the sweat, blood and injuries, the players followed orders.
“They trusted us when we were pushing them really hard,” Hudspeth said. “It wasn’t easy their first couple of years. It was a deal where they had to really you to go through what we were putting them through.”
Nothing much was expected from a team with a rookie head coach that went 3-9 the year before. But the players were starting to subscribe to the notion that they weren’t just a doormat.
Hudspeth was a dealer in hope.
“It was perfect timing that we all came together, and coach Hud came here and brought the motivation that we had lacked,” said Daniel Quave, one of the Bustle Nine. “It brought a sense of hope as well, and we took that momentum and made it what it is today.
“All that came with the hope. Everybody bought into the dream. We just decided to make that dream a reality.”
The Cajuns went 9-4, winning their first bowl game in 67 years.
They followed it up with another 9-4 season and another bowl game win. Then another one. Now, they might be poised to do it again, and maybe even do better. They’re doing it in fancy Adidas uniforms brought on by their athletic success (and by the success of their contemporaries in other sports).
The 2010 season seems like a distant memory, ancient history to those in the program that never lived it. So Anyama keeps the memory alive. He wears the beat up old shirt in lieu of the newer ones.
“These young cats always see me with this cut shirt and say, ‘Man, get a new one,’?” Anyama said. “I just say, ‘Man, if only you knew.’?”
The football program the 2014 senior class leaves behind is almost unrecognizable from the one it inherited. As they practiced Wednesday, working up their last bit of sweat equity toward the still achievable goal of the first 10-win season in program history, heavy machinery worked the earth just yards away. Only a chain link fence separates the players of the present from the future that’s rising out of the mud.
In some respects, a monument to those players’ successes is being erected in their shadows. It’s a new Athletic Performance Center, and it is scheduled to be completed in time for the beginning of next football season. It will be the physical embodiment of a legacy.
As the Cajuns’ 18 seniors prepare for their final game at Cajun Field — a Cajun Field that looks far different than it did the first time they played there — they’ve stolen a pinch of what little time they have left as college football players to contemplate their legacy, their lasting mark they leave on the program as the group who has been part of more wins (35 and counting) than any senior class in Cajuns history.
Monuments are being erected, and they can see their fingerprints all over them.
“I’m walking around campus seeing all the construction, and I’m like, ‘Dang, I had something to do with it,’?” Anyama said.