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UL head coach Billy Napier unveiled a new program standard at Wednesday's press conference, saying that all football players on scholarship must now give back by joining the RCAF.

UL football coach Billy Napier unveiled a new team initiative in his normal mid-week August camp press conference Wednesday.

[UPDATE: UL walks back football coach Billy Napier's mandate that players donate to athletic fund]

Starting with the beginning of this school year, all scholarship UL football players will be encouraged to be a minimal level $50 member of the Ragin' Cajun Athletic Foundation. The move will be optional for walk-on members of the squad.

“It’s all about gratitude,” Napier said.

New RCAF executive director Lee De Leon addressed the team Wednesday morning, detailing the inner workings of the RCAF fundraising process and how it impacts the student-athlete experience.

“That’s probably a little bit unheard of and a little bit unique, but I think this is a place where that would be appreciated,” Napier said of the initiative. “I think it’s part of the type of program that we want to have. We want our players to be educated and understand the benefits that come with being a student-athlete and that is not something that should be taken lightly — the effort and time and investment that the people that support athletes at UL have put in into this program.”

Napier originally said joining the RCAF was required for scholarship players, but after the press conference UL assistant AD for communications and digital strategy Patrick Crawford issued the following statement to clarify that the initiative is not mandatory.

"The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Department of Athletics is thrilled that head coach Billy Napier’s football program and its student-athletes expressed their collective desire to give back and show gratitude to the Ragin’ Cajuns Athletic Foundation. Members of the football program have started an initiative to demonstrate their appreciation to the RCAF, including its board of directors, staff and investors, when they are able to do so.

"Additionally, student-athletes will be encouraged to join the RCAF at the introductory level during their college careers, an initiative the program and its coaching staff supports in order to give back to the foundation that has done so much to support the Louisiana football team and the department of athletics."

In addition to influencing the players’ perspective now, the athletic department is hoping the rule establishes a longterm bond with the university.

“We’re trying to create a scenario where five or 10 years from now these are guys who will give back and continue to be a part of the program and realize what this place did for them,” Napier said. “I think we got that message across this morning and certainly that was a good thing.”

Some relief for players

Napier believes the second week is “the most grueling part” of August camp.

“They are nicked up and bruised up and tired,” he said. “There are things that go with that. I also think it’s an opportunity to build an identity and a personality relative to how we compete when we get put in those difficult situations.”

One bit of relief for the Cajuns anyway is the ability to practice in the evening. That’s mostly because the way the 2019 schedule worked out.

UL opens indoors against Mississippi State on Aug. 31 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans and then two 6:30 p.m. home games, before facing Ohio on the road on Sept. 21.

“That schedule has worked out well for our players and has allowed us to get out of that heat for a little bit,” Napier said. “I think that’s a huge deal these days relative to the health of the players.

“We practice in the evening. That gives us an opportunity to kind of avoid some of those things. If we were a team that played in the Southeastern Conference and played in that 2:30 central CBS prime time spot, we wouldn’t be able to do that. We’d have to prepared for that.”

No longer about measurables

When the UL coaching staff is involved in the recruiting process, it is all about heights, weights, verticals, speed and weight room exploits.

Once the roster is set and it’s time to practice in preparation for an actual season, Napier said those aspects suddenly become the furthest thing from his mind.

“The most important thing for me and our staff right now is building ownership and building leadership,” Napier said. “Vocal players who will take the bull by the horns when the coaches are on the sidelines and it’s their show. It’s 11 players out there and they’ve got to communicate and compete at a very, very high level.”

In effect, it’s the coaches’ on-field version of children leaving home for college.

“We’re starting to get away from the team periods when the coaches are on the field,” Napier said. “That’s really what I’m the most concerned with right now, the intangibles of our team. What type of self-discipline do you have? What type of togetherness and chemistry do we have as a team? Do we practice with effort? Do we practice with not only physical toughness but mental toughness?”

Napier said the Cajuns have a “core group of players doing those things, but we want more” to emerge before the season opener.

“Elite football teams have lots of players who are 10 out of 10 relative to the intangibles,” Napier said.

Emerging freshmen

To no one’s surprise, the depth chart isn’t close to being finalized with it just being the second week of camp.

But that does not mean there aren’t a group of freshman already competing to eventually be placed on the two-deep depth chart come game time.

Napier didn’t remember the entire list, but did offer up some rookie names that potentially could see the field this fall for the Cajuns.

That list includes: offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence of St. Helena Central, offensive lineman Jax Harrington of Erath, tight end Neal Johnson from Mesquite, Texas, wide receiver Cassius Allen from Pelham, Georgia and Tyler Guidry from Southern Lab.

“There’s no question we’re getting those guys ready to play and there’s probably a handful more,” Napier said.

Certainly there are definite starters – returning standouts like Trey Ragas, Kevin Dotson and Robert Hunt – but most of the roster is still jockeying for position.

“I think we see that we have some very specific ones – guys we would consider starters – and then we have guys who are maybe that are bracketed that are first and second-string bracketed-type guys,” Napier said.

“Then we’ve got some second and third guys that were bracketed to work with both teams in each practice. Then we reward what we see relative to their production, accountability and dependability.”

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.