'We don't want that whoopin' anymore'

Cajuns football players say they've learned from recent missteps, grown closer

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser

Over the last several months, multiple missteps have set the UL football program back.

The most-recent was the April arrests of 13 Ragin’ Cajuns for conspiracy to commit felony theft from a campus dorm room, a charge later reduced to criminal mischief, a misdemeanor, with the chance it will be dropped entirely after completion of intervention program requirements.

UL coach Mark Hudspeth speaks Monday at Sun Belt Conference Media Day in New Orleans.

The incident occurred on the same day the alleged victim in the case, an ex-UL football player, was arrested on a charge of second-degree rape, which allegedly occurred while he was still a member of the program.

The 13 briefly were suspended, but rejoined the team in time for offseason workouts.

It’s possible one or more of them will be suspended for one game during the upcoming season, but none are expected to miss any more time than that.

And now, with his 2017 training camp opening Sunday, coach Mark Hudspeth feels his Cajuns are tighter because of all that’s happened.

“We’ve pulled together, become a closer-knit team,” he said earlier this week during the Sun Belt Conference’s Media Day in New Orleans.

UL — which has had back-to-back losing seasons, including one that ended last December with a New Orleans Bowl loss to Southern Mississippi — also received negative national publicity when a few players were caught on a video dancing in the locker room to a profane anti-Donald Trump video on the same day Trump was elected president of the United States.

More:2016 Cajuns defined by more than anti-Trump video

More:Sanctity of the UL locker room: How private is it?

Hudspeth was asked in New Orleans about what he’s learned over the last year.

“You know,” he said, “life is much different than the classroom.

“Life gives you the test first, and the lesson second. So, it has been a great learning experience. And these young men — I’ll tell you — have learned an awful lot. And I think they’re gonna be better men for it.

“I know our team is much better for it,” he added, “because we’ve come together.”

More:Maggard backs Hudspeth amid UL football program issues

More:Perspective needed in Hudspeth evaluation

Team leaders Tracy Walker and Grant Horst, who represented UL at the conference’s Media Day in New Orleans, seem to feel similarly.

“Coach Hud did a really good job handling that internally. … We’ve put that in the past,” said Horst, a senior offensive tackle.

UL's Grant Horst speaks Monday at Sun Belt Conference Media Day in New Orleans.

“We know we’re better than what happened and (what) we’ve done in the past, and we’re looking forward. It’s going to be off-to-the-races with us. We’re all full-steam-ahead looking forward to this season.”

Walker, a starting safety, also is heading into his senior season.

“I feel like we’re a lot closer,” he said, “because we’ve actually put that behind us and it actually made us grow closer — because we had to actually realize that we’re really one unit. One person, actually.”

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Over the last year or so in particular, Walker suggested, the Cajuns have learned the lesson of “the domino effect.”

“One person can cause a million dominoes to fall over. … That’s the standard we stand by as a team,” he said.

“If one person is out of their gap, or one person is not handling their responsibilities off the field, that’s a cancer on our team.

“After those few incidents, like I said, we put it behind us,” Walker added. “But those few incidents alone have bettered our program, all around, as far as being focused more as a team and not being self-centered with individualistic attitudes.”

Walker was asked how he feels about the Cajun locker room coming out of last season and the rough offseason.

“I feel like we definitely are in the right place right now,” he said, “because everybody on this team is looking forward to the bright future we have.

“The incidents off the field, with the 13 guys, and the video — those were mistakes that had gotten out in our program that we made, and, like I said, we learned from it, we grew from it.

“We know,” Walker added, “those are not the proper steps and proper ways to handle those situations.”

Much like during the aftermath of a lengthy NCAA investigation into the program, Walker suggested, all that was learned should not be forgotten.

Early in 2016, the NCAA handed down penalties — included probation and more than 20 victories vacated — stemming from an investigation into academic-related recruiting irregularities for which a former assistant coach was found responsible.

Although still bowl-eligible, the Cajuns remain on probation until Jan. 11, 2018.

More:UL, others forced to adjust as NCAA ends two-a-days

“That’s basically like your mom whoopin’ you,” Walker said. “You get that whooping, and she’ll tell you why she whooped you.

“Now you’re going to learn not to do that, or you gonna get a whoopin’ again. That’s how it is with us, as a program, for the Cajuns. We got a whoppin’ as far as the NCAA, and the national news, and the attention that was brought upon us.

UL's Tracy Walker speaks at last month's  Sun Belt Conference Media Day in New Orleans.

“With that being said, we don’t want that whoopin’ anymore,” Walker added. “So we’re basically taking every proper step that is necessary for us to continue to succeed.”

Horst knows the impact adversity can have on a team, and hopes that in this case it’s positive.

“If you never face adversity,” he said, “you don’t know how much more you can grow together.”

Walker anticipates the Cajuns, who went 4-8 in 2015 and 6-7 last season, will open camp as a wedge-free program.

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“We pretty much killed the cancer that was causing those problems,” he said.

“Now that they’re off the team, there’s a lot of team chemistry that was needed in the last two years that is finally there now.”

As a result of the anti-Trump video, the Cajuns served 1,000 hours of self-prescribed community service as a team.

The 13 players involved in the criminal mischief case, plus two others originally charged with a misdemeanor in the same matter, were required to perform community service as part of their diversion offer.

“Those players worked awfully hard, not only to show the community that ‘You know what? They’re really good guys, and they really made a mistake, and they’ve tried to improve,’ but they (also) wanted to show their teammates the same thing,” Hudspeth said.

“That was important for them, to gain their teammates’ respect back. So, they’ve worked awfully hard — whether it’s through a lot of community service, and other ways.

More:Ragin Cajuns oozing with optimism at Sun Belt Media Day

“They’ve worked hard, but it has pulled our team together and we’ve learned a lot from it,” the Cajun coach added. “I’ve learned a lot from it, and we’ve got a lot of measures in place moving forward.”

Hudspeth didn’t offers specifics, but did generalize.

He also suggested no announcement will be made regarding which players, if any, might miss a game as part of their punishment, and said it’s because “everything’s handled internally.”

“We’re putting many more resources into things to help develop our student-athletes throughout the year,” Hudspeth said.

“Character development. Social development. Things that we can do to help them become more successful off the field, just like the thousands and thousands resources we use to help them become successful on the field.”