Glen Cuiellette didn't have time to think before his first pass of the season Saturday night against East Carolina.
Cuiellette just ran on the field and threw a perfect strike to wide receiver Darnell Mooney on a fake punt that may have been the most important play in Tulane’s streak-busting 31-24 overtime victory.
“It happened real fast,” Cuiellette said. “Coach (Willie Fritz) notified me while they were signaling a play on third down, and as soon as the ball was incomplete I had to rush over and get my helmet. I knew we had (the first down) based on the structure. I knew it was going to work out.”
It was his first big moment in a season of disappointment he has handled as well as anyone could possibly imagine.
Cuiellette, a redshirt junior from Mandeville who started 10 games at quarterback for Tulane last year, was fifth string by the end of the first week of preseason camp in August.
He was not a good fit for Fritz’ offense in 2016, completing 42.6 percent of his passes while struggling to run the read option. Still, no one expects to fall that far, that fast.
“It’s been a really big learning experience for me,” Cuiellette said. “We’re not all going to have everything we want and sometimes we have to take a step back and take a different role. I feel like I’ve done a really good job of it because I’ve been in different roles my whole life and I’m not really a ‘me’ kind of guy. I’m all about the team. I care about and love these guys a lot, so that makes it easy, too.”
It was hard watching not only junior college transfer Jonathan Brantley and sophomore Johnathan Brantley practice ahead of him in the preseason, but also true freshmen Khalil McClain and Dane Ledford. Cuiellette’s chance to retain his job ended before it could even start.
Yet, he did not complain or stop being a good teammate. He knew his only role would be holding for kicks.
“(The coaches) notified me before (camp),” he said. “All they said was we’re trying to go a different direction and the reason they brought Banks in. I understood. I don’t blame them.”
Fritz acknowledged Cuiellette’s positive attitude by naming him a team captain for one of Tulane’s games in September.
“His attitude’s been fantastic,” Fritz said. “When I named him a (game) captain, one of the reasons was, ‘Hey, guys, some of you think you have a reason to complain. This guy really can feel like he does, and he does not complain.’ He’s a team player. It’s a real lesson for our guys.”
Cuiellette’s pass against East Carolina might not be his last. For one of the first times this year, he took regular reps at quarterback in preparation for Houston this week.
If Tulane falls behind, and Banks gets hurt, Cuiellette could be the next-best option against the Cougars, who are dominant against the run. He set career highs for attempts (42), completions (21) and yards (241) while tossing two touchdown passes in a 30-18 loss at Houston a year ago when the Wave outgained the Cougars 341-287.
“It’s good to be out there again, but it feels like second nature,” he said. “I feel like I didn’t miss a beat. Being away helped me restore a little bit physically. I’m not as worn down as some guys, so I feel good when I’m running around.”
He still has a year of eligibility left and could play anywhere he was wanted in 2018 as a graduate transfer, but he's not focusing on his future yet. Tulane (4-6, 2-4 American Athletic Conference) has two games left and can become bowl-eligible if it wins them.
The best-case scenario against Houston (6-3, 4-2) is Banks remaining healthy and going all the way. If that happens, Cuiellette will have to be content with the pass he threw on the fake punt, a play Tulane had practiced for five weeks before using it.
“People were telling me that it was a game-changer, but it didn't really dawn on me until the end,” he said. “I just had to go out and execute a play we had been working on. I really didn’t think much of it afterward.”
Freshman defensive end Cameron Sample practiced Thursday and has been cleared to play against Houston, backing up senior Robert Kennedy. … Senior nickelback Jarrod Franklin, who injured an elbow at East Carolina, is practicing with a brace on his left arm and will start for the 35th consecutive time. … Fritz said junior offensive tackle John Leglue, who left the ECU game with an injury, would be back, too.