There must be times during UL’s 2019 August training camp that UL senior linebacker Jacques Boudreaux has to stop and pinch himself to make sure it’s real.

When he arrived in Lafayette after a stellar high school career at Holy Cross, the Cajuns were just one season removed from four consecutive New Orleans Bowl victories, so he had high hopes for team success.

After two straight losing seasons, Boudreaux was part of a skeleton crew left standing when coach Billy Napier’s staff took over prior to his junior season.

These days, however, Boudreaux is now a leader of a much deeper linebacking corps and a much more talented defense, not to mention being on a team picked to repeat as Sun Belt West division champions.

“I think the defense is in a good spot right now,” the 6-foot-1, 229-pound Boudreaux said. “If you look at us from last year compared to how we were then, I think we’ve taken tremendous leaps and bounds.

“We haven’t had a whole lot of depth in the past. We had to bring people from different positions back and forth. Now we don’t really have that problem. Now we have quality depths in the positions we have.”

Boudreaux enters his senior season as one of the team leaders, playing alongside fellow senior Ferrod Gardner. But more than that, he’s got quality reserve inside linebackers in Jourdan Quibodeaux and Lorenzo McCaskill.

Joe Dillon and Chauncey Manac return and Kris Moncrief adds depth on the edge.

“Those speed rushers, we’re in coverage, it’s hard to hold everybody for as long as you want to,” Boudreaux said. “Their speed rush will help us play better coverage. They can get a coverage sack in a sense, or a speed rush sack in a sense. We showed glimpses of it, but I don’t think we were ever consistent in what we did.

“That’s something we’re trying to do this offseason is being consistent in our pass rushes and speed rushes on our outside guys and our interior.”

Perhaps the only question is the possibility the defense may have to count on some newcomers upfront.

“For me, if you’re meant to be here, you’re here for a reason,” Boudreaux said. “They obviously brought a lot of defensive linemen in here for a reason. I think that’s something we’re going to see. Hopefully, everything works out with Joe and he can be healthy. If so, sky can be the limit for us.”

A year ago, Boudreaux contributed 93 tackles, 5.5 stops behind the line, two sacks and three pass breakups.

Napier sees his understanding of the game as a big reason to expect a huge senior season from Boudreaux.

“I’m very impressed with Jacques,” Napier said. “He’s always been productive — makes tons of tackles. But I think he’s taking another step forward just in terms of football IQ. I think his communication, his understanding of where he fits in gap control and where he fits from a protection standpoint.

“Jacques has a no-nonsense, business-like approach. I think his coaches all respect him. I think he’s gotten bigger, faster, stronger and I think he’s position to have one heck of a year.”

If it all goes as planned, Boudreaux may be able to leave the program even better than he found it.

“It’s the last year … in a sense it’s kind of bittersweet,” he said. “It’s my last fall camp. I’ve been doing it for a while. Obviously, we have something to prove as a team.

“This team is really ready to showcase the ability that we have going against a great opponent as Mississippi State.”

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.