No major recruiting worries in January? Cheers to that

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser

It’s Christmastime, and Ragin’ Cajun coaches can actually relax for a while.

How well-deserved. How much-needed after a season in which UL played 14 games, not the usual 12 or 13. And how different than in years past.

The rare break is thanks to the NCAA’s new early signing period, which took effect late last year and is in place again late this year.

Related:Cajuns fend off a few Power 5 schools to sign recruits

Cajuns Head Football Coach Billy Napier. Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018.

The upshot: A three-day early signing period that, in the case of 2018, opened Wednesday and closed last Friday, four days before opening the gifts Santa snuck through the chimney — and we’re not talking about the 300-plus-pound lineman who clogged up the chute.

Last year, after just getting hired a few days beforehand, UL coach Billy Napier did not take advantage of the early period.

Doing so would have been folly, even ill-advised.

He simply had not nearly enough time to evaluate recruits, extend offers and decide which of former coach Mark Hudspeth’s commits would be retained.

Heck, he was still assembling his staff.

This year, though, Napier and the Cajuns were all about signing early.

More:Ragin' Cajun recruiting bios

They inked 19 on Wednesday alone, including high school quarterbacks Chandler Fields and Clifton McDowell along with top Acadiana-area products Jax Harrington of Erath High, Kaplan High’s Quintlan Cobb and Peter LeBlanc from Catholic High of New Iberia.

The flurry of action, both by UL and most others nationally, essentially puts a damper on the big deal National Signing Day on the first Wednesday in February used to be, and all the hoopla that used to go with it.

With the Cajuns so busy with other more pressing matters earlier in the month — they played in the inaugural Sun Belt Conference championship game, losing 30-19 to Appalachian State on Dec. 1, then played at the Cure Bowl in Orlando, losing 41-24 to Tulane on Dec. 15 — they decided to not even host, on a day they signed 19, the fan gathering they usually do.

It’s typically a time to publicly introduce the future Cajuns and celebrate their signings.

Perhaps that — at least for this recruiting cycle — can wait until the traditional time, in February, or may simply get scratched.

Understandably so.

It really has been a busy time.

UL — along with Appalachian State, Middle Tennessee of Conference USA and Fresno State of the Mountain West — was one of just four FBS programs to play, before the early signing period, in both a conference title game and in a postseason game on the first Saturday of bowl season this year.

Related:UL responded to Napier's Cure Bowl challenge, but ran out of time

One saving grace: At least the Cajuns weren’t Alabama-Birmingham or Northern Illinois, playing in the Boca Raton Bowl on the very night before the early national signing period opened.

Yet, even with all the craziness of this month and trying to figure out how to juggle recruiting responsibilities for himself and his assistant coaches while also prepping for a bowl game, Napier is a big fan of the early signing period.

Huge, actually.

One reason is this:

“I think it’s an advantage for Group of Five teams,” he said.

“You get a chance to, basically, lock in your guys, and you don’t have to sit around for six weeks worried about somebody cherry-picking your guy.”

More:Current UL signing list

Previously, coaches from Group of Five conferences spent much of January hoping a Power 5 team — or another from the Group of Five — would not steal their top commits late.

Then there’s the practical part of it: Coaches actually are able to enjoy Christmas and New Year’s Eve and Day without worrying about if everything will fall into place on the first Wednesday in February.

Shoot, they get to enjoy a couple weeks of actual down time following an exhausting run that started last January.

“I think it’s gonna improve the quality of life of the assistant coaches and head coaches, (and) all support staff,” Napier said.

“It changes strategy, obviously. You know, you see a little bit more early decisions, you see more official visits in the spring and summer.

“But I think it’s a positive, in my opinion. Most of the time, a lot of the decisions already are made at this point anyway,” the Cajuns coach added. “Why not go ahead and get it out the way? I think it basically positions everybody to have a better holiday.”

More:Cajuns beat out worthy foes to land Kaplan's Cobb

Sure, there still are a few spots to fill, a few midyear additions to make, a transfer-quarterback to land, a few more stocking-stuffers to add down the stretch.

But not having to worry about recruiting, for the most part, throughout January?

Cheers to that.

More:UL signs two QBs, loses top transfer target to Georgia