As if the UL Ragin’ Cajuns didn’t have enough of a chip on their shoulders, the All-Sun Belt team — notably light on Cajuns players — was released on Monday.
Still angry, bitter and disillusioned from the Sun Belt Conference championship game being canceled, No. 16-ranked UL (9-1) learned two days after that game was supposed to be played that only two Cajuns were voted onto the All-Sun Belt first team.
Those two players were running back Elijah Mitchell and return specialist Chris Smith.
By comparison, 10 spots on the first team were filled by Coastal Carolina players, followed by Appalachian State with four, Troy with three and two each for Arkansas State, South Alabama, Georgia State and Georgia Southern.
“I would have hoped that we’d have more guys than just two, you know?” the diplomatic senior linebacker Joe Dillon responded.
For the record, the Cajuns did have seven players selected to the second team.
Redshirt junior center Shane Vallot's reaction was a little more pointed.
“The all-conference thing, it’s nothing new, man,” Vallot said. “Ever since I’ve been here, even before, we used to not get too many all-conference selections in the first two (teams). I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s a thing against us or what, but it is what it is.”
The UL Ragin’ Cajuns will be heading to the 10th bowl in school history to face Texas-San Antonio in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl in Dalla…
Coastal Carolina also took home most of the big honors, including Player of the Year and top freshman Grayson McCall, Defensive Player of the Year Tarron Jackson, Newcomer of the Year D’Jordan Strong and Coach of the Year Jamey Chadwell.
Not one UL defensive player was voted onto the first team.
“To see that we were probably going to be the conference champs and Coastal and App had guys all over the first team and we had one or two, if we even had that, it kind of hurts, because we’ve got guys on this team that really work hard,” Vallot said.
“There’s nothing we can do about it. It’s nothing new here.”
On second thought, Vallot — and theoretically a host of his teammates — thought otherwise.
“That’s what we’ve got to do,” he added. “We’ve got to go out and show everybody who we really are. That’s all we can do with that.”
Dillon was quick to point out that although players do worry about personal recognition, it’s really all about the team winning the game.
“You’ve got to love it at the end of the day,” he said. “Our record speaks for itself. We’ve just been having a fun season, no matter how the season has been going. That’s just another part. ... Of course, everybody takes that part seriously. We do. But at the end of the day, the main goal is the main goal, and that’s to win.”
With that said, it’s perfectly understandable why the Cajuns might be a little paranoid these days after getting the Sun Belt title game pulled out from under them after flying to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been caught off guard so badly.
Dillon described it as “mind-blowing.”
Vallot admitted it took much of the joy from Sunday’s bowl announcement that the Cajuns are headed to the First Responder Bowl to take on Texas-San Antonio at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
“It wasn’t like any bowl game in any other year where it was so exciting, because of what happened last week,” he said.
By the time UL lines up against the Roadrunners at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC, motivation to make a point will be at an all-time high.
“It’s big,” Dillon said. “We’re playing on ABC. Who in America can’t just click on the TV and turn it on ABC?
Upon learning of Army’s fate with no bowl to play in as a 9-2 team, Dillon said the Cajuns should appreciate the chance to finish the season on the field.
Practice for Saturday's bowl game begins in earnest Tuesday.
The reaction of UL athletic director Bryan Maggard upon learning of the decision to cancel the Sun Belt Conference football championship game …
There was other news that changed the perspectives of some Monday when UL released a statement that Napier is staying with the Cajuns, despite rumors of being a candidate at Auburn.
“We are very excited about the future of Ragin’ Cajuns Football under Coach Napier’s leadership,” UL director of athletics Bryan Maggard said Monday in a statement. “We will continue to invest in the program to ensure we maintain and grow our successes. We believe a successful football program elevates the profile of the entire university, and we know there is much more to accomplish.”
Still later in the day, UL released more good news when Chris Smith, Bralen Trahan and Zi’Yon Hill earned Pro Football Focus All-American recognition. Smith had a first-team spot, Trahan a second-team accolade and Hill was honorable mention.
No, as frustrating as the last five days have been for the program, all is not lost for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Now comes the chore of using this growing list of motivations to devour the unsuspecting Roadrunners in a manner that would make a coyote fulfilled.