It’s an easy scene to picture.
Through the tears that is.
It was the end of an early-season practice during coach Billy Napier’s first season at UL last fall.
During the post-practice team meeting, Napier announced redshirt freshman walk-on from Acadiana High, Jourdan Quibodeaux, would be put on scholarship.
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As the 6-foot-1, 220-pound linebacker turned around, the first thing he saw was his family there to celebrate with him. It was extra special for his father, Dale Thomas, who four decades before was a walk-on from Northside High with the Cajuns, only to earn a scholarship as a freshman.
“That was so touching,” Thomas said of the ceremony. “They filmed it and everything. I was just so proud of that young man. He worked hard and earned it by busting his tail.”
After his senior season at Acadiana, there was a time when Quibodeaux thought he might get a scholarship offer from the ULM Warhawks — being recruited by Tim Leger at the time — after a few visits to Monroe.
When that didn’t happen, Thomas convinced his son to walk on at UL. After all, that approach worked for him.
“I told him that being a walk-on, they’d put you on the scout squad, which was a good thing,” said Thomas, who played linebacker at Northside and moved to nose guard at UL. “When you’re on the scout squad, you’re going against the first-string guys. That’s when you bust your tail and show the coaches what you can do.”
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Quibodeaux took his father’s advice and joined the Cajuns during Mark Hudspeth’s final season in 2017.
“When I first got here, coach Hud was still the coach,” Quibodeaux remembered. “I got here in the middle of camp like we’re in right now and everything was so fast. It was just a new world from being in high school.
“I had to just get adjusted. From that moment, I just tried to keep my head down, work and put myself in position to at least get an opportunity to show anybody — somebody — what I knew I could do.”
It didn’t take him very long to Napier and his staff to notice Quibodeaux.
“I’ve been very impressed with Jourdan from the minute we got here,” Napier said. “It starts with the offseason program. His effort and toughness showed up right away in that first identity program where I don’t know anybody’s name. I’m evaluating athletic ability, attitude, body language, what type of toughness they have.
“This guy is a loose-hipped guy who can really run. He was a little bit undersized for a linebacker, but as he’s added weight, he’s become a very effective linebacker.”
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In other words, his father’s plan was playing out perfectly.
“He had a knack,” Napier said. “He started out as a look-squad guy on special teams and then quickly, as he won battles and kept flashing on tape, he got himself in position to where we said, ‘Hey, give him a shot.’”
Starting linebacker Jacques Boudreaux noticed it right away.
“Jourdan worked hard and the coaches saw it and they awarded him a scholarship,” Boudreaux said. “That was something he was truly meant to have. He was supposed to have that.
“He’s at a solid position at linebacker. The more reps he gets, the more comfortable he gets. He’ll be able to elevate his game the more comfortable he gets.”
These days, the former walk-on is running No. 2 alongside Lorenzo McCaskill behind Boudreaux and Ferrod Gardner at inside linebacker.
“We have good chemistry working together, backing up Jacques and Ferrod,” Quibodeaux said. “Those are two amazing players. They’ve both taught me so much. I’ll always be thankful to those guys, because they made it so easy. They’re both great leaders and great teachers.
“If I don’t get something that the coaches are saying in a meeting, I can go to either of them and I’ll leave knowing exactly what I need to know.”
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The move up the depth chart is something Quibodeaux hoped for all along, but didn’t want to take for granted.
“Going into spring, my main focus was just fully learning the defense,” he said. “I didn’t want to be caught in any position where I wasn’t prepared for it. I knew with this whole progress of it all that I had to be ready. Going into spring, I just tried to perfect what reps I was getting. I ended up having good competition with the players we have.”
By no means is Quibodeaux abandoning his old avenue to success in special teams.
“These are guys who are core game-changing guys,” Napier said. “Quibodeaux’s a guy who is a local kid and certainly I think it means more to him. He plays the way you’d like a guy to play on game day. He’s relentless and plays with absolutely no fear on some of these cover units. I’m excited that he’s back. I look forward to watching him play this year.”
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While earning the scholarship didn’t convince Quibodeaux into lowering his high-energy approach to the game, the post-practice announcement will be a memory he won’t soon forget.
In fact, Quibodeaux surprised Thomas with an oil painting of the father-son hugging photo from that day he was awarded the scholarship with Quibodeaux’s jersey No. 43 and Thomas’ jersey number No. 93 written in the sky.
“It was just a complete surprise to me when that happened,” Quibodeaux said. “My dad had played here in the past and it was an amazing moment for us.”