Cajuns coach Napier not afraid to offer a second chance

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser

UL’s Billy Napier is a big believer in second chances.

Sometimes everything works out in the end.

Sometimes it does not.

Most times, there’s no knowing what the outcome will be without offering the opportunity.

That seems to be the basic philosophy for Napier, and so far — now in the spring before his second season as coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns — he’s experienced results from one end of the spectrum to the other.

In the case of linebacker Ferrod Gardner and his second shot, all seems just fine. In linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill’s case, it’s early in the process — but things seem to be on track so far. And in the case of receiver Kalem Reddix, a second chance evidently has not panned out.

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UL coach Billy Napier talks to Ragin' Cajun fans  in February.

Why give any of them a chance for redemption?

Napier explained earlier this month, on the first day of spring practice.

“I think that football is a game that can teach you a lot about life,” he said, “and I think there are a lot of parallels to what these guys are going to experience, you know, five, 10, 15, 20 years from now.”

Gardner was dismissed by ex-Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth in October 2017, following a felony arrest.

But the charge against him ultimately was dropped.

Napier allowed him to return shortly after he was hired in December 2017. Gardner worked his way back into the program’s good graces, and he wound up being a big contributor for UL, with 50 total tackles last season.

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McCaskill, as Napier suggested at the time and said again recently, was “removed from the team” around mid-season last year.

When it happened, the highly hyped signee from Detroit had 15 tackles over four games and had been playing regularly before being sidelined by a foot injury.

Then he was let go.

“McCaskill … had some personal issues that he was working through,” Napier said.

“We felt like we needed to make that decision — not only for our team, but also to benefit him.”

But Napier brought McCaskill back after the season ended, and as of this month the Cajun coach seems happy he did.

“He’s made tremendous progress,” Napier said back in mid-March.

“We allowed him an opportunity to come back; certainly there are some parameters that go with that. He’s done a great job so far. And he’s working through those things and those issues.

“I certainly think that Lorenzo values being a member of the team. He values his relationship with his teammates,” Napier added. “And he’s done a great job working through some of those issues that he’d had.”

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By this week, midway through spring camp, all was still headed in a positive direction.

“I see a guy who’s excited to be back — a guy who wanted to be a part of the team, that’s been willing to work with us relative to our plan for him,” Napier said.

“He’s a guy who admitted he’s made some mistakes, and he’s really trying hard to change. So, no different than anybody in life. You mess up, you screw up, you’ve got to try to make an effort to fix those things, and he’s done a nice job of that.”

Reddix, Napier said in mid-March, was in a “similar situation” as McCaskill “in that he was going through some growing pains when he first reported.”

The Cajuns added Reddix last December out of East Mississippi Community College — the juco program featured in the Netflix series “Last Chance U” back in the 2015 and ’16 seasons.

The talented slot receiver out of St. Martin High in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, had 51 catches for EMCC last season.

He was announced as part of UL’s early signing class, but actually came as a midyear preferred walk-on.

In early February, Napier had said Reddix no longer was with the team. But by the start of spring ball, that had changed.

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“We’ve given him an opportunity to come back,” Napier said then, “and he’s kind of got some parameters that go with him being on our team as well.”

Sometime after that, things changed yet again.

On Wednesday, Reddix tweeted that he was returning to juco ball for his sophomore year.

On Thursday, when asked about it, Napier said, “Reddix, you know, basically, has been removed from our roster.”

Reddix refuted that in a direct message Twitter exchange with The Daily Advertiser, saying in part, “I wasn’t removed !! … I decided to leave UL on my own 3 times.”

Asked why he left, Reddix declined to elaborate, saying instead, “I don’t want to release my side of the story. It’s not that. They asked me several times to return and play but I didn’t want to. It’s reasons. I wasn’t released or dismissed....”

Said Napier:

“Gave Kalem an opportunity to come here as a walk-on, prove himself … Gave him an opportunity. Didn’t quite work out, and he went back to the junior college that he was at before.

“You know, you’ve got to do it our way — or you can go somewhere else. You know, I’m not being critical of the kid. I just think it’s a reality that we’re gonna try to do things the right way here, and certainly Kalem, we gave him a shot, and we wish him nothing but the best.

“I hope he has success at East Mississippi, and, you know, he’s still got a career in front of him. But, you know, it’s a privilege to go to school and play football here. We value that, and it’s a premium around here.”

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Rarely are the calls someone like Napier must make in situations like these easy ones.

But the Cajuns coach really is all about second chances.

It’s the American way.

“Part of our job as coaches,” Napier said, “is to take some of these opportunities, discipline these young men, and then put them in position, give them an opportunity to make that right.”

Sometimes they do just that.

Sometimes they do not.

“But it’s also a privilege to be on this team, you know,” Napier said, “and I think we’ll take that away at any point in time, if we feel like it’s what’s in the best interest of the team.

“So, we’re not gonna compromise our culture, and our values, and what we believe in, for one guy. I think we’ve got about 115 players out there, and that’s what it’s about.

“So, you know,” he added, “both those guys (McCaskill and Reddix) were in those situations because they were compromising what we were doing, and they’ve been given second opportunities.”

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They evidently are not alone.

“Those are two that you know about,” said Napier, a former offensive coordinator at Clemson and Arizona State and an ex-assistant at multiple programs including Alabama. “You know, there’s probably tons of stories — not only within our team in the last year, but also throughout my coaching career.

“So, I think, like of many of us, all of us have got issues — individual players, and teams. … And it’s about us developing a plan for those guys to make improvement, not only as football players, but as people and as students.”

Sometimes it pans out.

Sometimes it does not.

“There are going to be bumps in the road, you know?” Napier said.

But no one knows for sure where the pot holes and impediments are, or if there’s only smooth driving ahead, until taking a spin on that winding road to redemption.

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