It would be understandable if members of the UL Ragin’ Cajuns football team began looking ahead.
After all, the Cajuns just finished their most critical two-game Sun Belt Conference stretch of the season, have a 5-2 overall record and are tied for first place in the West at 2-1.
So with five games left, it’s easy to cast an eye to December and beyond.
Not under coach Billy Napier’s daily focus sessions, I’ve already done it.
The Cajuns will be favored in each of the five remaining games, so this season will likely be the first with 10 wins in school history. If Appalachian State wins out like many expect, then UL would travel to the Mountaineers for the Sun Belt championship game again.
If the Cajuns can finally beat Appalachian State, they would return to the New Orleans Bowl. If not, they’ll go to play a MAC team in the Mobile Bowl on Jan. 6.
How’s that for looking ahead?
(Please don’t tell Napier I wrote this in case he only reads the headline. Coaches hate anyone taking this much for granted.)
It’s precisely in this situation when Napier’s no-nonsense approach is valuable.
“I think that’s why we go about it the way we do,” said Napier, whose Cajuns' next game is homecoming against Texas State on Nov. 2. “We’re going to say right now we’re going to live in these three days, and this is what we’re trying to get accomplished, and then we’ll kind of turn the page. We met with them Sunday evening and gave them a big picture outlook for the next 14 days. ‘Hey, this is what this is going to look like.’ ”
As difficult as college football coaches can be to deal with in this new restricted-access era, it’s in these situations you understand the logic behind the strategy.
“I think it’s one of the most important things that we do is to try to compartmentalize it and break it up into chunks, and create, 'here’s the plan, here’s why, here’s where we’re headed and what we need to do,' ” Napier said. “And I think our kids have responded to that and I think we need to continue to do that well in the future.”
It’s only seven games.
The No. 1 thing on Napier’s mind isn’t the next game. It’s the next practice — or at least a series of practices this week with specific goals in mind.
“We’re also going to have some practices that are all good on good, competitive, and we’ll have a very specific agenda and objectives and goals for all these different areas,” Napier said. “We’re breaking it up into chunks. We’re going to practice three days and work on future opponents, then we’re going to have two days where we work on ourselves and have specific objectives and plans and goals for that. And then give the players two days off for the weekend and then come back and kind of turn the page to Texas State.”
In case you missed it, in the middle of that explanation about this week’s agenda to keep his players focused on the present, Napier and his staff will also be dabbling into the future.
“One of the things you’ve got to do is you’ve got to go put some reps and some planning in the bank and on the shelf so that you can pull that out when you get to that short turnaround,” he said.
In other words, instead of waiting until Monday to plan for a Nov. 7 road game at Coastal Carolina, the Cajuns will begin formulating their strategy against the Chanticleers during this extra time on a open week.
So, curiously, it’s not just us aggravating media members or the over-zealous fan that look past the next opponent.
In fact, senior right guard Kevin Dotson remembers his teammates participating in such activity to their detriment earlier in this career.
It wasn’t a description UL coach Billy Napier was convinced his Ragin’ Cajuns would earn coming into the season.
“I think most people who came in with me or a year after me, we know that we’ve been plagued with that — talking too fast and talking too early,” Dotson said. “Talking about, ‘Man, we’re good. Man, we’re really good. We have so many athletes and stuff like that.’ You can be good and still not win, so you don’t want to put that in everybody’s head that we don’t have to practice as hard, because we’re good.
“It’s a balancing act. You want to be humble, but at the same time you want to be able to celebrate and know that you are good. It’s just a balancing act every day.”
Senior safety Terik Miller said that won’t happen to this team.
“We’re still hungry,” Miller said. “It’s still the same goals. Our mission is still ahead of us. We still have a lot more to do.”
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