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UL offensive coordinator Rob Sale, left, admitted he's going to have to lean on his team to help in the grieving process after the loss of close friend and coaching colleague D.J. Looney, center, last Saturday.

Like so many teams across the nation, the UL Ragin’ Cajuns are planning on playing football in 2020 but still aren’t 100% sure of their schedule.

On Friday, the Big Sky Conference pushed its football season to the spring and is asking other FCS leagues to do the same in order to preserve the FCS playoffs.

McNeese State postponed the start of its football training camp Thursday. The Cowboys are scheduled to open their season against UL on Sept. 5 at Cajun Field.

Meanwhile, the Cajuns’ Sept. 12 opponent is Wyoming of the Mountain West Conference. Earlier this week, the Mountain West announced a 10-game scheduling model with eight league games plus two non-conference foes.

Wyoming already lost Utah of the conference-only Pac-12 and has now lost Weber State of the Big Sky Conference. The Cowboys’ other two non-league foes are UL on Sept. 12 and Ball State on Sept. 26.

It remains to be seen if Wyoming will pick up more regional opponents to fill out its schedule, much like Tulane announced Thursday the additions of Southern Miss and South Alabama.

The Cajuns also have to replace their originally scheduled Nov. 21 game against Missouri from the conference-only SEC.

Meanwhile, Troy of the Sun Belt will reportedly play Middle Tennessee twice this season to help fill the voids in their schedules.

Dealing with grief

In some ways, UL offensive coordinator Rob Sale hasn’t had nearly enough time to grieve the sudden loss of his friend and coaching colleague D.J. Looney with fall camp starting six days later.

In another way, Sale feels the business of practice will actually help.

“It’s good to be back,” Sale said at Thursday’s zoom media days press conference. “More than anybody, I need a schedule. I need to be around the players, and players need to be around me.”

As an ex-offensive lineman at LSU, Sale worked especially close with Looney each day. Being part of the team’s family atmosphere will aid in his emotional strife.

“We say it from day one, we’ve got a great ‘culture’ around here,” Sale said. “Man, it’s not just lip service, it is. If you’ve been around this program, you feel it.

“Ready to be back. Excited to get started. There will be bridges we’ll have to cross throughout the day that are going to be a little bit different. I’m not going to lie.”

Sale said he’s also gotten help from UL’s team leader, quarterback Levi Lewis.

“He’s a guy who picked up the phone and called me, checked on me and I appreciate that,” Sale said.

“It was tough,” redshirt junior center Shane Vallot said. “Just being by each other, being with our teammates, being with the O-line, is getting us through this right now. That’s the biggest thing right now — being there for each other.”

Successful summer

Vallot said Thursday he doesn’t feel too far behind as the Ragin’ Cajuns begin fall camp.

“I don’t think we’re behind at all,” Vallot insisted. “With the time we had, I think we made the most of it.”

Vallot added the work done during the summer wasn’t drastically different than in the past. It was just done in smaller groups and never as a full team.

“I’ve been impressed with the creativity of our staff,” coach Billy Napier said.

“The biggest thing is wearing the mask,” Vallot said. “It’s hard to breathe in.

“And not everybody can be in the locker room at once. We’ve had to get used to those things.”

UL strength coach Mark Hocke said it’s about attitude overcoming the potential frustrations with the coronavirus protocols.

“I think now more than ever, excuses are there for the taking,” Hocke said. “I think it’s really easy to come up with some excuses why you’re not going to be able to have success.”

Defensive line attention

Senior Bennie Higgins is gone, and now sophomore Kendall Wilkerson is out for the season because of an offseason automobile accident.

So when the Cajuns' defensive staff opened fall camp Friday, one of the most critical areas of development comes on the defensive line.

"That’s one of the areas where there’s lot of roles to be earned over the next couple of weeks," Napier said. 

The good news is the defensive line has been a major priority in recruiting over the past two seasons.

"We’ve got good players in that room,' Napier said. "That’s one of the areas of our team we’ve made drastic improvement."

In addition to veterans like Zi'Yon Hill and Andre Jones, the Cajuns sport second-year performers Ja'Quane Nelson and Dalvin Hutchinson, as well as redshirt senior transfer Tayland Humphrey and redshirt junior Andre Landry.

That doesn't include the promising freshmen class of Sonny Hazard, Jordan Lawson, Mason Narcisse and Dominique Ratcliff. Also, former Kaplan High standout Quintland Cobb is now eligible.


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.