AMES, Iowa — Normally when head coaches start dividing out credit for a great victory by mentioning the administration and all the behind-the-scenes help groups within the athletic department, my pen takes a pause from writing.
It’s not that those statements are necessarily inaccurate, but this is about football — football players, coaches, plays and strategies.
When UL coach Billy Napier did that after Saturday’s historic 31-14 road win over No. 23 Iowa State, however, he couldn’t have been more on point.
1. Special teams deliver in huge way
The Cajuns delivered the program’s first road win over a Top 25 team because of how well the entire university handled the coronavirus shutdown. Period.
OWN A PIECE OF HISTORY: Buy a poster to commemorate the big win
“You’re talking about completely erasing the dry-erase board and starting over,” Napier said. “On March 13, we were told to send them home and then it was so fluid each and every day, each and every week from that point forward.”
While so much of the country was looking for every way and every reason not to play football, Bryan Maggard’s athletic department determined the best way to stay healthy and still fulfill its goals.
Health professionals told them what to do and the football team executed. Obviously, it was a much more complicated process than that but, essentially, that’s what happened.
During June and July, there was only a small number of positive tests within the program. Napier said there weren't any during training camp in August. That didn't happen by accident.
“You’ve got to give our university leadership their due here,” Napier said. “They allowed us the opportunity and resources to put together a plan. It took us a week or 10 days to adjust, but we made the most of that three-month quarantine.”
The Cajuns got to work. They worked at staying healthy. They worked at football. They worked at building good team chemistry, even when apart.
“We did a ton of work,” Napier said. “I think our players and the culture that we’ve built over the last two years really paid off. I can only imagine if I was in my first year with this staff, what that would have been like.
“I think we’ve got unbelievable people — not only leadership among our players but really close, tight-knit relationships throughout the entire organization. I think that paid off.”
They worked and then they overcame.
UL football coach Billy Napier was emotional when speaking to ESPN reporters in the moments shortly after leading his team to its biggest win …
In the middle of all the obstacles, the team had to endure agonizing pain when arguably the most popular coach on the entire staff — offensive line coach D.J. Looney — died suddenly of a heart attack during a mini-camp workout Aug. 1.
“Certainly when you lose a member of your team and a member of your family with D.J. Looney passing in the middle of mini-camp at 31 years old,” Napier said. “I can’t help but think that my man D.J. is up there smiling right now.”
Then August ended with Hurricane Laura devastating the southwest part of our state.
One week before Saturday's trip to Iowa, more than 50 players and coaches were in Lake Charles unloading a huge truckload of cleaning supplies and food for that community.
They worked, they overcame and they helped.
“For our players to go see that gave them great perspective,” Napier said. “They’re grateful for the things we have.”
Talk about a truly special victory for the University of Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns.
And yes, as unpopular as the march was in the minds of many in our community, in the team’s hearts and minds, they were trying to advance the social justice issues in our country.
Because of all of those factors, the 2020 UL Ragin’ Cajuns football season began with arguably the biggest victory in the program’s history.
The goal of going undefeated is in tact.
And while Napier fittingly reminded everyone that losing the next two games would erase how special Saturday’s win was, there will always be something impressively unique about it.
If there ever was a university win, it was Saturday in Ames.
“It’s been a heck of a journey,” Napier said.
And now it’s really only just begun.