Well, the list is now official.
Nine seniors will be returning to the UL Ragin’ Cajuns for an extra year of eligibility due to NCAA’s COVID-19 summer ruling.
The list includes: quarterback Levi Lewis, guard Ken Marks, wide receiver Jalen Williams, defensive tackle Tayland Humphrey, defensive end Chauncey Manac, linebacker Ferrod Gardner, placekicker Nate Snyder, defensive tackles Blair Brooks and Cameron Solomon.
“Those are some of the biggest recruits we signed this year truth be known,” UL coach Billy Napier said Wednesday on a zoom call.
“We’re pleased with the group that we’ve got coming back. It’s a unique group but one that I think will bring good leadership to our 2021 team for sure.”
Napier made it clear he appreciated the entire senior group from the No. 15-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns 2020.
“We’re very pleased with those young men and those decisions and certainly very proud of the young men,” he said. “Some are going to make a run at the National Football League and some are going to move on to their next stage in life.
“But this is a great group – some are going and some are staying.”
Even more special of the nine returning are those like Ken Marks, Ferrod Gardner and Blair Brooks who were part of the program prior to Napier’s arrival in 2018.
“I think as a whole we’re going to benefit a lot,” Napier said. “Certainly there’s some talent here. There’s some ability. They’ve been productive. They certainly have contributed in a lot of different ways. But probably more than anything what I value is these guys were here before we got here.
“They know what it was like. They’ve seen kind of the transformation. They’ve seen the work pay off. They value all the things that we’ve done to improve the player experience and they’ve been a big part of us turning it around.”
Of the seniors that elected not to return, Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas have left the biggest hole in the running back position.
Mitchell is preparing for the Senior Bowl on Jan. 30 in Mobile, Alabama, while Ragas was invited to the East-West Shrine Bowl. That game has been canceled, but Ragas will still get the opportunity to interview with all 32 teams.
Napier also addressed UL’s recent haul of graduate transfers as well, including TCU wide receiver John Stephens, Kansas State defensive back Tyrone Lewis, Nebraska offensive lineman Mathew Anderson, Iowa State defensive lineman Latrell Bankston and Kansas outside linebacker Clinton Anokwuru.
“What we’ve seen is the recruiting footprint that we’re in, we have prior relationships with these kids,” he explained. “I think that’s where the root of these relationships start. Maybe having recruited them coming out of high school or recruited them coming out of junior college.”
Napier was not ready to announce the two new additions to the coaching staff, however, including reports that former Alabama coach and player Wes Neighbors will fill one of the vacancies.
“We’re in the middle of figuring that puzzle out,” he said. “We’re halfway there.”
The other primary function of Wednesday’s zoom was to officially open up the Cajuns’ offseason.
Napier said the offseason begins Friday with the start of the ‘Foundation’ phase, which focuses on things like structure, routine, process, expectations and developing habits. That will last for 27 days.
The ‘Identity’ phase begins on Feb. 18 until March 16. Spring football starts on March 16 until the spring game, which is slated for Thursday evening on April 22.
“It’s time to move on, it’s time to move forward and turn the page,” Napier said.
It’s also a time when coaching cliches are in full force.
“It’s important that we hit the reset button, we completely erase the board and we start over in phase one Friday,” he said. “There’s no place for entitlement or complacency. Contentment is the enemy.”