Even though the football coaches are a new group, with only one full-time holdover from former UL-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth’s staff, it’s pretty much business as usual for the Ragin’ Cajuns for Wednesday’s traditional opening of spring national letter of intent signings.
That’s because the Cajuns were one of the few schools, if not the only one, that didn’t sign any high school or transfer players during December’s new NCAA early signing period.
Many schools signed almost their full allotment Dec. 20-22, when players had the option to end their recruitment process and sign early or hold off on a final decision until the period that begins Wednesday and runs through April 1.
For new coach Billy Napier, who was officially announced only five days before that December period began, it was a no-brainer for the players and his new program to wait.
“This is a huge level of commitment,” Napier said. “For us to sign someone that quickly, I would equate it to marrying a girl that you’ve never met before. I want these young men to feel comfortable about our staff and about me as a person.”
When the early period began, Napier had named only two of 10 coaching staff members: offensive coordinator Rob Sale, who had coached with Napier in his last stop at Arizona State, and Michael Desormeaux, the only staff holdover (and the acting director of the football program between Hudspeth’s firing and Napier’s hiring).
Napier said that any early signees likely never would have met him face to face, and would be signing without knowing who his position coach would be.
“If I’ve got any substance at all to me,” he said, “how can I allow a young man and his family to commit their entire career to someone they’ve never met and to a staff we didn’t have? I’d never shook their hand or looked them in the eye.
“It was just a little premature. If we’d had seven days, 10 days, to get out on the road, meet and greet and get a feel for these young men, it might have been different.”
Another factor was that UL-Lafayette has only 18 scholarships to award in the signing period, due to numerous blue-shirt signees added to last season’s scholarship rolls by the previous staff. Those counted forward into this year’s numbers.
“If we had 25 (scholarships) to give, we might be scrambling a little more right now,” Desormeaux said.
Napier said his target was 16 scholarship signees, allowing him to hold a couple of available spots for late signees or graduate transfers. There are two known graduate transfers already on campus, former St. Thomas More standout Kendall Johnson Jr. (Nevada) and defensive lineman and former Covington standout Garrald McDowell (Ole Miss).
The Cajuns have 17 likely commitments going into signing day, with former commit and offensive lineman Chris Heiskell of Cy Woods (Cypress, Texas) now on the preferred walk-on roll. The group is heavy on the offensive line and the areas behind the defensive front, with five offensive linemen, four linebackers and three defensive backs.
Napier said he and his staff did their best to identify specific needs through looking at video and through physical evaluations of the current roster.
“For a lot of our staff, we had no clue what we had,” he said. “We made profile tapes of each player to evaluate, but before we sent our guys on the road to recruit we wanted to evaluate what we have and make sure if we have deficiencies, that we get that taken care of with the recruiting class.”
With the shortage of time and numbers, Napier’s first class won’t have the local and Louisiana connections he hopes will become a staple. The only known new local face in the signee list is Johnson, and there are only four in-state prep commitments: the Plaquemine duo of wide receiver and holdover commitment Percy Butler and linebacker Andre Riley, Kinder linebacker Jordan Cordova and offensive lineman Max Mitchell of Monroe-Neville. The group includes four commitments each from Texas and Mississippi and two from Alabama.
“We’re behind and everybody understands that to some degree,” Napier said. “Now that we have our staff together and going forward, we’re going to have a very specific plan in this state, and we’ll execute that plan.”