They used to be bitter District 3-5A rivals. They still play on opposite sides of the ball.
But former Acadiana High safety Jayrin Wilson and Barbe Buccaneers wide receiver Devon Pauley have one big thing in common these days. They’re both new names on the Cajuns’ depth chart after impressing the coaching staff during the long layoff since beating Arkansas State 37-20 on Oct. 17.
“They’ve had a really good 16 days I would say, relative to the opportunities that were presented to them,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “So we feel strongly enough to add them to the depth chart. They’re dependable.”
A redshirt sophomore cornerback, the 5-10, 170-pound Wilson is listed as a co-backup to starter Eric Garror along with senior Kamar Greenhouse.
Mid-major teams' often-wacky schedules can be tricky when it comes to conditioning around open weeks.
“Jayrin has made tons of progress,” Napier said of Wilson, who has two tackles and a pass breakup in seven games. “He got here in July. He’s a walk-on. He’s a guy that’s a local product. He’s kind of gotten incrementally better as a corner.
“He had no experience as a corner prior to this past year at junior college. We’re seeing he’s got the speed and instincts. He’s just getting more and more comfortable. Certainly I think you’ll see him play more as we go forward for sure.”
The 5-8, 174-pound Pauley, meanwhile, is listed as a backup to senior Jarrod Jackson at the ‘H’ receiver spot.
“He’s got really good quickness,” Napier said. “He can separate with tremendous route-running ability. He’s tough. He’s also been starting on some special teams. He’s a guy that’s got tremendous respect amongst his peers on the team. He makes plays every day.
“He’s kind of that guy who has created a buzz with his production (in practice). He may not look like a guy you’d draft, but all he does is show up and do his job consistently.”
McCaskill shining again
After getting five tackles in the win over Liberty in Week 2, redshirt sophomore inside linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill didn’t scratch the stat sheet in limited time against Texas Southern and didn’t make the trip to Ohio the following week.
That setback appears to be over, with the 6-0, 228-pounder contributing four tackles against Appalachian State and seven against Arkansas State.
“He is on an upswing again,” Napier said. “He’s on his way back. I’m proud of how he responded. We challenged him to go back to work and he’s done that. He’s really had a great attitude. He’s been a really good practice player and certainly been a good teammate here lately.
“A lot of it is experience, education, maturity and self-awareness of where he’s at and what needs to improve at. He’s another guy who the kids love. He’s a loyal guy. I’ll say that. He’s a loyal cat. You want him on your side.”
It obviously wasn’t a question UL coach Billy Napier wanted any part of answering.
For the season, McCaskill has 19 tackles and a pass breakup.
“He has a big ceiling, right,” Napier said. “Who could he be? He’s a sophomore and he’s got another whole seven games left and he’s got two more years. He’s really learning the game, fundamentally making improvement, speaking the language and processing quicker.
“Our football team needs him, not only in the second half of this season, but as our program continues to grow, he’s going to be very important (with two senior starters in front of him).”
Johnson improving at TE
The reception expectations for the tight end position dropped tremendously after that position lost its top two performers to injuries early in August camp.
But perhaps lost in the middle of UL’s 37-20 road win over Arkansas State was a two-catch, 23-yard performance from true freshman Neal Johnson.
“Neal has done well,” Napier said. “I think he’s really stepped up for a rookie. He kind of got thrown into the fire a little bit. He’s really done a good job. He’s a tremendous athlete.”
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While the 6-4, 238-pound Mesquite, Texas, native may look like a prototypical tight end, he’s actually not. He played wide receiver prior to his senior season, as well as quarterback. He played tight end in one spring practice.
“So when he got here, he had no experience playing the position,” Napier said. “He played receiver as a junior. But he is a size and speed athlete who has done really, really well for us. Certainly, he can play better at times, but also like many of our young players continues to get better.
“I think that comes with making mistakes and getting experience, but we’re very pleased with Neal.”
Napier has confirmed two key performers are officially listed as day-to-day heading into Saturday’s 4 p.m. homecoming contest against Texas State in both running back Trey Ragas and right tackle Robert Hunt.
“They’re day-to-day right now, and I think they’ll be game-time decisions,” Napier said. “We’ll kind of evaluate them in pregame type of deal.”
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On a more serious note, a pair of freshmen in defensive tackle Dalvin Hutchinson (knee) and offensive lineman Logan Newell (shoulder) will be undergoing season-ending surgeries soon.
“One was an open-date (injury) and the other one was a lingering issue that we’re going to commit to going ahead and getting fixed,” Napier said. “Both will be ready for spring practice.”
Hutchinson played in six games with nine tackles and a fumble recovery, while Newell played in one game.