It hasn’t been as bad as some of the high school football teams around the Acadiana area which have awaken in the morning not really sure if they’re playing a game that evening or not.
But still life has been pretty crazy for the No. 21-ranked UL Ragin’ Cajuns football team this season.
First was the cancellation of all four non-conference games. Then came a ton of national attention due to an historic road upset of Iowa State.
After escaping much of the COVID-19 difficulties in August, it finally hit UL’s depth chart over the next two games, producing a thrilling overtime road win at Georgia State and a last-second, 53-yard field goal triumph over Georgia Southern.
That set up the game of the year at Appalachian State – only to have it postponed due to COVID issues with the Mountaineers … leading to pushing up the Coastal Carolina game to Oct. 10, only to have Hurricane Delta push that contest back to Oct. 14.
Somehow in 2020, it all makes sense.
“I think in general, it’s just another week,” said UL coach Billy Napier, whose Cajuns will host Coastal Carolina at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Cajun Field on ESPN. “You kind of present the plan as you go.
“All of these changes may present adversity, but these kids are resilient. They show up and work and we’re thankful that our kids having that attitude.”
That long list of potential obstacles to a team’s focus doesn’t even include the constant COVID-19 tests necessary that could produce heavy damage to the starting lineup multiple times each week.
Think about our lives outside of football, all the major curve balls can be a mind-numbing process.
“I think we’ve lived and learned a lot through some of the things we’ve been through, whether that’s contact tracing or actual positives,” Napier said. “In general, I think education relative to COVID-19 is a huge part of what we’re doing each and every day with our players.”
After a summer of being warned what the 2020 season could bring, apparently the players have just accepted having to roll with the punches.
“We kept going,” UL junior tight end Johnny Lumpkin said of the recent schedule changes. “We kept pushing. It doesn’t matter on our opponent. We have to focus on ourselves. We have to execute at a high level no matter the opponent.
“So once the App. State game was canceled, we stayed focused, we stayed locked in, we stayed disciplined, no matter the opponent or where we’re playing them at. We just have to make sure as a Ragin’ Cajun football team that we’re ready to execute.”
As crazy as this season has been, newcomer graduate transfer offensive tackle Zach Robertson isn’t shocked Napier’s program has displayed the organizational skills and depth to effectively dealt with the scheduling adversity.
“My impressions especially from camp, I could see from a mile away that we had, for one depth, and I could see that we had a lot of talent on our team,” Robertson said. “We had a lot of physical guys. Not to knock any program, but we definitely had one of the best programs I’ve ever been around in terms of depth, in terms of how guys are playing on both sides of the ball and even special teams.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Napier and his coaching staff is thrilled with all of his team’s execution through the roller coaster ride.
“Obviously we’ve done a lot of in-house quality control about maybe where we can execute better, what players can play better,” Napier said. “We’ve had a unique set of circumstances relative to who we’ve played and who’s been available for the games. Then certainly our execution level. It’s part coaching and part just managing the situation you have week to week.”
Much of the expected improvement is on offense.
“I do think we have a ways to go to play offensively to our standard,” Napier said. “There’s no question about that. As an offensive group – players and staff – I know there’s a conscious effort to improve and play better and play much more efficiently. That’s what we’re focusing on. I don’t think we can sit around and worry about which players are available or who we were playing against and what we did.
“If it’s on the tape and it’s not up to standard and we’re not doing it well, then that’s coaching.”
While the details can’t be ignored, Napier continues to emphasize all the opportunities his team has seized to gain big-picture life perspective through all the chaos.
“And I think at times, we all need a big cup of perspective about the quality of life that we do have,” Napier said. “Some of these simple things that get taken away. I’ve tried to challenge myself to see this think from a big-picture standpoint and not get negative and not complain.
“And realize that even the life we’re living right now is pretty daggone special compared to a lot of people out there.”