You can see it on his face.
You can see it in his smile.
You can hear it in his responses to questions.
UL redshirt sophomore center Shane Vallot is having the time of his life.
And why not?
When the Cajuns’ 2018 season ended, the former walk-on from Comeaux High School was a backup offensive lineman with no real idea if he’d ever become a starter at UL.
When it comes to Xs and Os, I can only hold a conversation with a football coach for so long.
Then came the news senior center Cole Prudhomme was out — possibly for the season — with a late-spring knee injury, and Vallot was getting the first chance to fill that void.
As October began, Vallot now has five starts under his belt for his hometown team that’s off to a 4-1 start and about to play undefeated Sun Belt Conference powerhouse Appalachian State on national television at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“It’s fun right now,” the 6-foot, 281-pound Vallot laughed.
For many reasons.
In addition to the team's success, there’s the personal accomplishments.
From the day he walked on to the Cajuns, he had no expectations he’d be starting games so soon in his career.
“I figured I’d have to work my way up,” he said. “I didn’t expect it to be this quick as a redshirt sophomore.”
Just because the promotion may have surprised him a bit doesn’t mean his expectations are low. Actually, Vallot kicked it into overdrive in a hurry.
“When Cole went down, I was in the film room 24-7, trying to get better on everything I do to make sure that not only that we don’t miss a beat with Cole not there, but even better,” Vallot said. “I didn’t want it to be, ‘Well, Cole’s not there, so the O-line went down.’ I wanted it to be even better.”
The UL Ragin’ Cajuns are off to an encouraging 4-1 start.
Also making this season special for Vallot is how his teammates responded to him.
“All the guys around me trusted in me,” Vallot said. “We’re all tied into it.”
Topping that list are senior linemen Robert Hunt and Kevin Dotson.
“They’ve helped me a lot,” Vallot said. “They came in with Cole and they’ve all been here the same amount of time. Cole’s been playing with them since they came in. When I first went (in), I thought it would be kind of rough a little bit because they wouldn’t trust in me. But when I got in, they trusted in me. They believed in me. They treated me just like I was Cole.”
That duo’s leadership was critical in Vallot’s mind because of their stature on the team.
“They motivated me,” he said. “If something bad happens in the game or at practice, they always say, ‘Shane, keep your head up. The other guys are watching you. Do that or do this.’ So they motivated me a lot.
“Seeing those guys Robert Hunt and Kevin Dotson — I mean everybody on the team wants to be like them — so there’s motivation to be like them. So if they do something at practice, we know we’ve got to do it, because they’re the standard.”
Speaking of teammates, this season has also been a joy for Vallot with true freshman O’Cyrus Torrence playing left guard next to him.
At first glance, the biggest question marks for the UL Ragin’ Cajuns can be found on special teams.
“That guy is a freak,” Vallot said of Torrence. “When he came in, I was like, ‘He’s going to be a good football player,’ but I wasn’t expecting him to go ahead and step up that quick honestly. O’Cyrus is an all-conference player, no doubt. He’s a freak. I’ve ever seen somebody as big as him. I have some big hands, but his hands are two of mine put together.”
Like Vallot, Torrence lost weight upon arriving on campus. Still, his physique amazes Vallot.
“When he came in, he was heavier than he is now,” Vallot said. “He lost a lot of weight to play here. The guy can move. There’s not much he can’t do. The guy weighs 330 maybe and he has 22 percent body fat. I mean, I have 21 percent body fat and I’m 280. When they told me that, that kind of surprised me.
“He’s got a lot of muscle. He’s just a player.”
Then there’s another aspect of this season bringing even more fulfillment to Vallot’s life these days.
His long-term goal in the sport is to be a coach. So now that he’s in the middle of UL’s offensive schemes as the quarterback of the line, Vallot is achieving two life-altering goals.
He’s relishing his playing days, while preparing for his occupation once his career ends.
It’s a typical response from a player in a team sport when discussing an individual honor.
“Everything I do now, I do it as a player and as if I was a coach,” Vallot said. “I try to understand, not just the defensive front. I try to understand everything — the secondary. I want to understand everything now so when I become a coach after I get done playing football, I already have a good understanding of it.
“So I look at things different than maybe our guards might just look at a three-technique in front of them. I look at the three-technique, I look at the backers, I look at the safeties, I try to see everything for our guys and for when I become a coach.”
It’s all almost too good for this south Louisiana native to believe sometimes.
“I’m glad I stayed here at home,” Vallot said. “I’ve got so many people who come watch our games. First of all, I love the state of the Louisiana. I’ve been to a couple of other places and I still think this is the best state.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing at Cajun Field. I was actually going through my Facebook the other day and I saw some pictures of me and David Hudson coming to some UL games when we were in middle school. It’s fun. I love playing here and I think we can do some big things.”