There were things seen and not seen at UL’s unusual annual spring game Saturday in the Moncla Indoor Facility.
For the coaches, players and big donors, perhaps very little that took place in the Vermilion team’s last-play, 34-31 comeback win over the White squad looked different than what they’ve witnessed throughout the spring.
“I thought I probably had a pretty good pulse for our team even before today in terms of what we need to do to make improvement,” UL coach Billy Napier insisted after Saturday’s suspenseful finish.
For the rest of us, it remains a matter of putting the pieces together.
For starters, there were so many offensive stars in the indoor scrimmage, including a few great stories to keep in mind for the fall.
Red-shirt sophomore quarterback Jai’ave Magalei certainly created a lot of buzz after throwing for 270 yards and two touchdowns on 17-of-23 passing with one interception.
“He’s a unique story,” Napier said. “The guy didn’t play football last year. He was working at a Nissan dealership washing cars. We trusted our evaluation. No scholarship offers. We were his only offer, his only visit.
“He’s got three years to play, maybe four. Very, very bright young man. He’s 6-2, 228 pounds with arm talent. Very accurate, good decision-maker. I’ll be excited to watch him as he progresses going forward.”
Look folks, he’s only been on campus for five weeks and still can’t be touched recovering from his ACL surgery, but Magalei certainly looked composed and capable Saturday.
Perhaps another two-quarterback system is possible after all.
In the life of UL red-shirt sophomore linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill, he’s had some great examples to follow in his dream of being a great succe…
Then there’s 6-4, 214-pound red-shirt junior wide receiver Brian Smith from Barbe High. He’s another find only UL offered. On Saturday, he showed strength and enough speed, catching nine passes for 165 yards and a score.
“We just kind of followed our protocol, trusted what we saw — a big long guy who had great ball skills in high school,” Napier said. “What I like about Brian is he’s a tough kid, he plays well without the ball, he’s done a really nice job on special teams and you can see he’s a big man. He’s tough to cover. He’s got some ability to run after the catch as well.”
Fellow receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley’s success should never surprise anyone, but Calif Gossett stole the show with eight catches for 159 yards and two scores, and Jamal Bell added four catches for 50 yards.
Playing the spring game in the Moncla Indoor Facility was certainly something new for the UL football program.
For Gossett and Bell, this spring was about improving mentally.
“I feel like my mental intensity has increased, just as far as knowing what I’m supposed to do fast, getting lined up and just playing the next play,” Gossett said. “If something bad happens, let that move. Just being mentally tough.”
Bell only had six catches for 38 yards in nine games last season.
“When I first got here, the coaches were always hard on me,” Bell said. “I took it as coaching and not them criticizing me and my performance, but coaching me to be better.
“Coach Napier has always talked to me and let me know the things I was doing wrong and what I needed to do to get better. From the beginning of spring to today’s game, I feel like I made tremendous progress.”
And yet with all those fancy offensive numbers posted Saturday, Napier mentioned several times how pleased he was with the defense’s improvement during the spring.
One explanation to clear that up is injuries. So many of the defense’s leaders – from safety Deuce Wallace to defensive linemen Bennie Higgins and Zi'Yon Hill — sat out the spring game.
Then there's the limited play of standouts like pass rusher Joe Dillon, who played 10 plays in both halves, and the fact quarterbacks can't be hit certainly aids the offense.
Another could be schematic issues hard to see when trying to follow the ball in an indoor facility setting.
“The fact that we’re able to play more post safety,” Napier said. “We loaded up the box, played with an extra guy in the box a lot and survived in coverage for the most part. There’s a few plays here or there. In general, I’m proud of the improvement we’ve made.
“We’ve got lots of work to do. It’s no where near a finished product out here. But we’re growing up. I like our energy. I like the intangibles we have. We’re much more able to handle the ups and downs of a game.”