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UL's Billy Napier said his football program continues to have no positive tests and he's not concerned about the recent spike of COVID tests in Ames, Iowa, or that Iowa State won't have any fans at their game on Sept. 12.

UL coach Billy Napier said his football team remains free of any positive tests just a few days before the first game week of the 2020 football season begins.

“We’re completely healthy across the board,” said Napier, who Ragin’ Cajuns are set to open the season at 11 a.m. Sept. 13 at No. 23 Iowa State on ESPN.

“I’m very proud of our guys and how they’ve showed great discipline relative to their choices and decisions away from the building. It makes me feel really good about our plan within the building in how we’re operating in meetings, in walk-throughs, in practice. Then certainly their commitment to our team and their loyalty has been impressive.”

Napier said he’s not concerned about the news this week that Ames, Iowa, is one of the two biggest hot spots in the nation for positive COVID-19 tests.

“We’re not going to worry about anything we don’t control,” Napier said. “We play at a certain time at a certain local, regardless of how many people are there and what’s going on in their community.

“We’ve got a very specific plan. Our guys are going to take the necessary precautions. We’re going to wear our masks, wash our hands, practice really good hygiene, avoid crowds and social distance when we can.”

Plus, Napier added, “At one point maybe Louisiana was one of the worst in the country, so this will just be another day at the office for us.”

WR depth hit again

Senior wide receiver Brian Smith, Jr. suffered a broken hip falling on a 50-50 ball in practice last Friday.

“It’s very unfortunate, because he had really began to take a step forward and had been impressive for a couple of days,” Napier said.

Earlier in camp, Cassius Allen’s name left the depth chart, having knee surgery Wednesday.

So even more than before, the spotlight continues to shine in the newcomers at wide receiver in support of projected starters Jalen Williams and Peter LeBlanc.

“It just makes these young players and their role even more important,” Napier said. “It’s going to create opportunities. It’s great that we signed these guys. We told them when we recruited them that there would be a lot of opportunity as young players and that’s how it’s worked out.”

East St. John product Dontae Fleming continues to shine brightly as a true freshman.

“Certainly, Dontae Fleming is a guy that’s really emerged as a consistent, very mature, unbelievable attitude and approach, humble, smart and has been productive in practice,” Napier said. “You’re going to see him have a pretty big role early on because of the injuries.”

Napier said the team would likely play six each game, so Kyren Lacy, Errol Rogers, Dalen Cambre, Devon Pauley, Jake Bernard, Golden Eke and Kaleb Carter are among the group fighting for spots.

Safety injury as well

Recently put on scholarship after entering the program as a walk-on, third-year sophomore Brandon Bishop suffered a broken leg in Saturday’s scrimmage. Napier said he may be able to rejoin the team late in the season.

In the meantime, another spot opens up at the star position, but really in the overall secondary.

“In general, it’s always about who are the best 15 defensive backs?” Napier said. “We usually travel about that many. Those are the pool of players that will be competing and really those roles are determined more on special teams than they are on defense.”

Among the players battling for more playing time in that area are Patrick Mensah, Bobby Holmes, Tyree Skipper, Blair Brooks, Trey Amos, Caleb Anderson and Courtline Flowers.

Other than Bishop’s injury, Napier was pleased with the scrimmage.

“In general, I was just pleased with the overall intangibles — the effort, the energy, we played with a lot more discipline and poise,” Napier said. “We played through the adversity better. I thought fundamentally we took a step forward. It was just a lot better football.”

Offensive line status

During the spring last year, senior center Cole Prudhomme suffered a season-ending injury.

Earlier in training camp this year, Prudhomme began experiencing “some residual affects from that surgery,” limiting his ability to fully compete with Shane Vallot for the starting center spot.

“He’s figuring out how to manage that knee,” Napier said. “As the year goes, I think he’ll get better as the knee gets accustomed to that kind of work load.”

Consequently, all signs point toward the starting offensive line including graduate transfer Zach Robertson at left tackle, Ken Marks at left guard, Vallot at center, O’Cyrus Torrence at right guard and Max Mitchell at right tackle.


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.