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UL running back Chris Smith (21) gives all the credit for his All-American recognition to his coaches and teammates.

UL football coach Billy Napier would have preferred a more precise practice from his No. 16-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns on Wednesday.

But Napier said he’s pleased with how his team has recovered from the disappointment of not getting to play for the Sun Belt Conference championship last weekend.

“I do think there is a leadership challenge that comes with that,” said Napier, whose team plays UTSA at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the SERVEPRO First Responder Bowl in Dallas. “It was more difficult the couple days right after that. I do think our kids have regrouped. I do think we’ve had good focus and energy.

“Overall, I do like what I see from the attitude perspective.”

Despite missing out on the chance of winning the Sun Belt title, the team’s leaders have the squad pointed in the right direction.

“Overall, I don’t see it being a problem,” Napier said. “This group is a little different, man. We get great leadership and ownership from the players. They take a lot of pride in what we’ve accomplished and certainly want to go out the right way.”

Senior linebacker Joe Dillon said the team is eager to hit an opponent.

“It’s just all about we haven’t been able to hit on anybody in a long time — just hit on each other,” Dillon said. “We were just looking forward to playing Coastal one more time. So we’re just looking forward to actually being able to play again for what feels like a long time. We basically haven’t played this whole month.”

Napier said the Cajuns will be without offensive tackle Zach Robertson for the bowl game.

Smith credits teammates

Running back and return specialist Chris Smith was honored as a first-team All-American kick returner by CBS Sports and 247Sports on Wednesday.

His sophomore season started with a bang with a kickoff return for a touchdown in UL’s 31-14 upset of Iowa State.

“It’s pretty good, but I’ve got to give most of it to my coaches and to my teammates, because without them I wouldn’t be able to run and score and get big yards for the team and get us in good field position,” Smith said.

Smith had 572 return yards and two TDs, also returning one against UAB.

“I feel like I did my job,” he said. “No matter if it’s running back or kick returner, I’m going to do my job and help the team out. I just want to give praise to my teammates and coaches for helping me get this opportunity. Without them, I wouldn’t have it.”

Napier not thrilled

Asked about his thoughts on the results of the All-Sun Belt Conference football team, Napier said just enough to get his point across.

Despite his team going 9-1 and winning the Sun Belt West, only two Cajuns — running back Elijah Mitchell and Smith — were honored on the first team, compared to 10 for East champion Coastal Carolina.

“I think that those are outside opinions,” Napier said. “I think we all know who can play on our team and who has been very productive for us. That’s a good question. I don’t know that I felt great about it to be honest with you. I think we probably got more that deserve recognition in my opinion just to be honest.

“I tell you this, we get one more opportunity to play this week and we’re going to make the most of that opportunity.”

Familiar face

One standout on UTSA’s roster familiar to Napier and his coaching staff is sophomore safety Rashad Wisdom.

Wisdom has four interceptions and is the Roadrunners’ leading tackler with 82 stops.

“The way they’re put together, the boundary safety is a big part of the run fits,” Napier said of Wisdom. “And certainly a guy that we’ve got a lot of respect for. We evaluated him and recruited him coming out of high school. It’s not surprise to me that he’s a good player. He was a heck of a player in high school.”

Wisdom, from Converse, Texas, returned one interception for a touchdown and has also forced two fumbles.


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.