The UL Ragin’ Cajuns quarterback situation officially got more crowded this weekend with the news from the NCAA that Brayden Hawkins is eligible immediately and will have four years of eligibility remaining.
“His waiver got approved," UL coach Billy Napier confirmed Friday. "We kind of anticipated maybe that, that would happen. That was a positive for him and certainly for our team. Brayden is a young quarterback that came over this summer. We’d been giving him maybe one rack a team and one rack of 7-on-7. Certainly we’ll increase his reps a little bit going forward.
"That’ll certainly increase the competition at that position, which I think will benefit our team. We look forward to working with him and seeing how good he can get."
Napier said Hawkins is currently in the battle for the No. 3 quarterback spot along with true freshmen Chandler Fields and Clifton McDowell.
Like most coaches, there's no denying UL coach Billy Napier fully grasps the significance of winning the turnover battle.
"All he can do and we can do is give him opportunities," Napier said of Hawkins' chances. "We’ll see where he’s at and we’ll evaluate him more and more as we go. He’s going to get reps, just like (freshman) Chandler (Fields) and just like Clifton (McDowell). That’s where the competition is at, who’s the three?"
Redshirt sophomore Jai'Ave Magalei is the clear-cut backup to starter Levi Lewis at this point. Napier said Magalei has been taking all the No. 2 reps throughout the summer and so far in the six fall camp practices.
"Right now, I think we’ve got a pretty clear one and two, if I was betting," Napier revealed. "But it’s early. Once we get into scrimmage situations and once we have more team settings, we’re going to find out more about Chandler Fields and we’re going to find out more about how much progress Clifton McDowell has made."
The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Hawkins originally signed with Texas-El Paso in February of 2018 during this senior season at Myers Park High in Charlotte, N.C.
Before the Miners even began August camp, however, Hawkins had transferred to Maryland as a blueshirt.
But before that school year ended, Hawkins transferred to Northwest Mississippi Community College. Instead of waiting to sign, Hawkins decided in May to not only commit to the Cajuns but also enroll in school in Lafayette right away, before knowing if he’d be immediately eligible this fall.
Don't forget McDowell
With Magalei shining in the spring game and all the publicity on Hawkins' transfer since May, McDowell might have gotten lost in the shuffle for some.
Napier advises against that.
"All three of those guys (competing for No. 3 spot) are in a little bit of a different place," Napier said. "Clifton who enrolled early, so he’s probably a little bit ahead. Chandler got here this summer. We knew he was going to be eligible, so he’s been taking more reps than Brayden."
McDowell, a Spring, Texas, native was a mid-semester graduate who participated in UL's spring game as a true freshman.
Like so many high school football stars over the year, UL redshirt sophomore Bralen Trahan did a little bit of everything in earning All-State…
"He’s showed in this training camp that he’s a legit contender to be the No. 3 guy," Napier said. "I’ve been very pleased with the progress that he’s made. We gave him specific feedback after spring practice and he had a really, really good summer. He’s processed well, he’s more accurate and he’s throwing a more catchable ball. I think his delivery has gotten more and more consistent. You can see that he’s exactly what we thought he was going to be in recruiting."
Napier said McDowell's combination of athletic ability and smarts makes him a viable option at some point.
"He’s a big, 6-2 and a half, 220-pound athlete that can take a run 50 yards to the house, but was going to be a developmental passer," Napier said. "We’re working hard on that each day. This is an extremely intelligent son of a coach, a polished kid who has a tremendous future in front of him at quarterback."
Saturday's practice is UL's first scrimmage of camp for Napier's Cajuns.
Napier said the team is further along than a year ago at this point, but the goals for this year's first scrimmage are essentially the same as 2018.
"We want to keep the calls on each side of the ball simple enough to where maybe it’s not pre-calculus out there," he explained. "Let’s keep it in that basic math/algebra one, so that we can evaluate the young players and see who actually can play when we put the ball down."
For the record, most of us have been mispronouncing his name over his four seasons in Cajun Country.
With that said, there's an extra dose of reality in scrimmages, especially when it comes to quarterbacks.
"I think there’s a little bit of that," Napier said. "I don’t think it’s going to make or break you, but I do think that there is something to a competitive environment. It is third down and we’re going to punt the ball if we don’t convert, right?
"I think you just see a little bit more about their communication, their awareness and really some of the instincts of just being out there and the coaches are completely removed."
Napier entered Friday's scheduled camp press conference with a huge smile on his face.
"Today’s a good day in that we’ve got eight guys graduating that played football here," he said. "All kind of finishing out their journey getting their education, which I think is a huge accomplishment. It’s something to celebrate."
The eight summer graduates were: Stevie Artigue, Kevin Dotson, Carlos Robinson, Jam Williams, Staten Wade, Gerald McDowell, Earnest Patterson and Dion Ray.