When Skip Holtz began his first year as head coach at Louisiana Tech, he knew he had a special group of young players to help build the program.

Those young players grew into the winningest class of seniors in school history, and with a win in Saturday’s New Orleans Bowl against Arkansas State, the Bulldogs will achieve back-to-back bowl wins for the first time in school history.

“These guys have bought in, and for me it’s been a joy” Holtz said. “Our group of leaders have stood by all the pillars we’ve tried to build this program on, and they’ve been a special group.”

When Holtz took over as coach at Louisiana Tech in 2013, the Bulldogs lost 35 seniors from the previous year. Many of the team’s young players were thrown into prominent roles, and they stumbled their way to a 4-8 record.

Louisiana Tech came back the next season with a more experienced team and ended the year with a 9-5 record, capped off with a 35-18 win over Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

A win on Saturday will give the Bulldogs consecutive nine-win seasons for the first time since the 1970s and 31 wins over the past four years.

“I think we’re an up-and-coming program, and coach Holtz is a great coach,” Bulldogs senior running back Kenneth Dixon said. “From the first day we came in, we knew we had a goal to be one of the greatest groups to ever walk (the campus) at Louisiana Tech.”

Tabary returns home

James Tabary has spent the majority of the season as redshirt freshman following the lead of his older teammates.

But ever since Arkansas State arrived in New Orleans on Tuesday, Tabary has been the team’s go-to guy.

Tabary, a former Holy Cross standout, is the only player on the Red Wolves’ roster from New Orleans and one of the few players on the team who has ever been to the city.

Tabary will be the backup quarterback for Saturday’s game, but he showed he was capable of stepping in and making plays for the team earlier in the season.

When starting quarterback Fredi Knighten went down with and injury in the second game of the season, Tabary started three games and had a 2-1 record, throwing for 666 yards and four touchdowns.

“I don’t think people give him enough credit for winning two games when (Knighten) went down,” Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson said. “Those snaps were huge for us and huge for him in his growth.”

Ruston’s hometown kid

Don’t be surprised if the Louisiana Tech fans cheer a little bit louder for every big play Kentrell Brice makes in Saturday’s game.

The senior safety is one of two players on the Bulldogs roster from Ruston, and he said it’s good to be the “hometown guy.”

“A lot of people know you in the stands and they root for you,” Brice said. “They don’t even know you, but they cheer for you because they’ve heard of you and they think of you as one of them.”

As one of the 26 seniors on the team, Brice said he will be extra motivated to go out with a win to help solidify the his fellow seniors as the most successful class in school history.

“We set a goal when we came in, and we want to make the program a top-notch program,” he said.

Red Wolves’ shutdown corner

Arkansas State cornerback Rocky Hayes said the most important thing about being a good cornerback has nothing to do with speed or athleticism.

The senior said that the most important part of his game is his mental approach.

“It takes a tremendous amount of focus,” Hayes said. “Playing on an island as much as I am, bad things are going to happen — it’s football. But you just have to overcome adversity.”

The senior has 10 career interceptions, including six this season, and was named first-team All-Sun Belt Conference.

Anderson said having a cornerback like Hayes allows the team to be the team to be more aggressive, knowing he will be able to cover his side of the field.

“There’s a lot of one-on-one situations for the cornerbacks with the style we play,” he said. “To have a guy like (Hayes), it gives you a lot of comfort to know you don’t have to give him a lot of help.

“He creates a lot of opportunities for us on defense to do a lot of other things and attack teams in certain areas.”