LAFAYETTE — It may seem like summer is an off time for football coaches and players alike, but for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette staff, that time is incredibly important for finding the next batch of athletes.
And with the sustained success the program has enjoyed in the past four years, those targeted athletes continue to be of a high caliber.
Cajuns tight end coach and recruiting coordinator Reed Stringer said the program had zero recruiting commitments before a series of summer camps and now stands at eight — six of which have been made public.
“We’re relying on these camps,” Stringer said. “All the kids that we’ve got committed now have been to camps, we’ve seen them and we’ve worked with them, so we know exactly what we’re getting.”
The camps have become increasingly important for the Cajuns staff. Since their first recruiting class, which had to be put together in a short amount of time after the staff was assembled in December, the number of signees who have been to a Cajuns camp has increased every year until last year, when more than 90 percent of the Cajuns 2015 signing class attended a camp.
“Last year, 22 out of the 24 guys that we signed came to our summer camps, and that’s the best signing class we’ve ever had,” Stringer said. “We can tell that watching the guys work out over the last two months. … It’s come to the point now where we want to take kids that come to camp, we want to know what we’re getting.”
So what are the Cajuns targeting in camps this year? Big men, particularly on the defensive line.
Of the six players to publicly commit to the Cajuns so far, two — Ponchatoula’s Jahaziel Lee, of Ponchatoula, and Brett Granger, of Helena, Alabama — are defensive linemen, though Granger could project as a linebacker.
The Cajuns signed only one defensive lineman in their 2015 class — Mario Osborne, of Daphne, Alabama — and will rely heavily on upperclassmen this season.
“Osborne’s going to be a really special player, but we only signed one, so you start thinking ahead,” Stringer said. “You’ve got to address immediate needs, the holes in your team, but for the most part you’re thinking, ‘Where are you two, three, four years down the road?’
“That’s going to be a huge point of emphasis. We need to get some D-linemen in here to go through our program for a year to get them ready to play.”
Stringer also listed tight end as an area where the Cajuns could add depth. They signed one tight end last year in Carlos Robinson. But UL-Lafayette will lose both Nick Byrne and Evan Tatford to graduation, and Matt Barnes will be coming off a season-ending injury.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Davis’ younger brother, Austin, has already committed to the Cajuns.
Four consecutive nine-win seasons that ended in a New Orleans Bowl championship, plus the upgrades to the facilities, have helped Cajuns coaches close a gap on the recruiting trail that was much wider when they started four years ago.
“We used to always say that we’re going into a gunfight with a stick sometimes,” Stringer said. “But we’re bringing our own gun to the gunfight now.”
But it hasn’t made things easier, Stringer said, because with the added visibility and accessibility, the Cajuns have set their targets on higher-profile recruits.
“We’re not going to back down or concede to anybody, especially out-of-state schools, for any of these kids,” Stringer said. “It’s not gotten easier, because we’re going to continue to push the limits and continue to recruit better players. We’re going head-to-head with Power 5 schools, and we’ve won our fair share, but we’re also going to lose some.
“That’s part of it, but we’re not going to concede.”
UL-LAFAYETTE 2016 COMMITMENTS
Jake Arceneaux, quarterback, Ascension Episcopal
Austin Davis, tight end, Klein Oak (Texas)
Edward Hayes, safety, Coldspring Oakhurst (Texas)
Jahaziel Lee, defensive end, Ponchatoula
Calif Gossett, wide receiver, Pensacola (Florida)
Brett Granger, defensive end, Helena (Alabama)