Second-season redshirt made sense for UL safety Trahan
Around this time last year, safety Bralen Trahan still was fresh from offseason shoulder surgery.
He was out all spring, and it made impressing UL’s new coaching staff difficult.
By the time August rolled around, Ragin’ Cajuns coach Billy Napier said, Trahan was “a little bit behind mentally early in training camp.”
Others jumped ahead of him on the depth chart, and the Acadiana High product played sparingly early in 2018.
“And as the season went, and he started to get more healthy and get more reps,” Napier said, “we could see that he could be a productive player.”
Trahan went on to play in three more games late in the season, finishing with a standout performance in UL’s Cure Bowl loss to Tulane in New Orleans.
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And this spring?
“It’s obvious that he’s out there,” Napier said after Trahan had an interception in a Cajuns spring scrimmage late last month. “He’s a physical player.”
As the Cajuns prepare for Saturday’s spring finale at Cajun Field, especially with fifth-year senior Deuce Wallace just having undergone shoulder surgery of his own, it’s also apparent Trahan will be a big part of the Cajun secondary in 2019.
But he won’t be alone.
“Really instinctive,” Napier said of Trahan. “(He has) range in the back end, and is an effective tackler.
“But lot of competition at that position. We have tons of young players that have made steady improvement.
“So we’ve got experience … but we’ve also got young talent,” he added. “That’s one of those deals that I can see going week-to-week — whoever practices the best is gonna get the opportunity to play the most.”
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ACADIANA TO UL
At Acadiana, Trahan did it all.
He was a first team Class 5A all-state pick as a defensive back, and was The Daily Advertiser’s All-Acadiana Special Teams Most Valuable Player.
But then-Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth and his former UL staff had Trahan pegged as a DB all the way.
“In high school, I had to learn offense, defense, special teams and all that,” Trahan said. “But at UL, I’m just learning one position. I can put all my athletic ability into just one.”
That was a good thing for the Cajuns, especially in 2017, when they needed safety help in the biggest of ways.
Trahan wound up playing in 11 games as a true freshman that year, making his first career interception in UL’s season-opening win over Southeastern Louisiana.
The early playing time proved invaluable.
“Experience means a lot,” Trahan said. “If you’re on the field, you’re in there and … it tells it all.”
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So even when Hudspeth was fired and Napier hired, Trahan had high hopes for the future.
Then came the shoulder surgery, and the setback.
“It took him until the end of summer to get back to where he was,” UL safeties coach Patrick Toney said, “and then he came on.”
That interim period, however, proved costly when it came to playing time, especially with the Cajuns busy trying to implement a new defensive system.
“All of a sudden there’s six, seven guys getting reps in front of you,” Napier said, “and it’s brand new.
“It’s one thing to sit in a meeting room and have conversations and all that, but it’s another thing to get out there and do it.”
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DOWN THE STRETCH
Trahan did play in UL's 2018 season-opening win over Grambling; at then-No. 1 Alabama, later in September; and later in the season in a key Sun Belt Conference win over Arkansas State.
But since he was so far behind, the Cajuns opted to limit him to four total games and use 2018 as a redshirt season instead.
They simply didn’t want to waste his year.
“When he did come back,” Napier said, “he was so far behind that it took him a while.”
Trahan knew what was happening along the way.
“During the whole season, Coach told me I was gonna be in and out,” he said, “because of my shoulder from my freshman year.
“The whole season, I was just mastering my craft while waiting on my time.”
The call to redshirt him — Napier deemed it “a really good decision by our defensive staff” — was made midway through the regular season.
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“And when he got healthier and gained more reps,” Napier said, “Coach Toney talked about him each and every week throughout the season — and when we got to a point, it was like, ‘Hey, this guy has done really well here as of late.
“A lot of it has to do with knowledge, and having more confidence in the system. … There’s a lot that goes with that position besides just being able to play the ball and tackle.
“You’ve got to be a great communicator, and you’ve got to be dependable,” the Cajuns coach added. “One mistake can cost you. So as he increased reps in practice and proved he can do it, he got the opportunity.”
Trahan fully understands the point, especially with college ball being so much faster than in high school.
“You’ve always got to be on your key, your Ps and Qs,” he said, “and knowing what you’re doing on the field and communicating.”
Trahan was held out games, including a season-ending win at UL Monroe and a Sun Belt championship loss at Appalachian State.
But it was his showing at the Cure Bowl in Orlando that left a lasting impression, once that’s carried over to this spring.
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Napier called it “very productive.”
Was it ever.
Trahan merely finished with six tackles against Tulane, five of them solo stops. He returned an interception 63 yards from the goal line to set up a field goal late in the opening half. He forced a fumble. And he popped Green Wave quarterback Justin McMillan with what perhaps was the hardest hit of the game.
“The bowl game was my last game for eligibility,” Trahan said, “so he said he was gonna throw me in there — Coach Toney — and I just did my thing and happened to have a good game.”
It was noticed.
“We challenged Bralen early in the year,” Toney said, “from a communication standpoint, to improve, and he did.
“And about midway through the season, it was evident that he was gonna be a guy for us that could step in and create quality depth and push people at that position like you saw at the end of the year against Tulane.”
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THREE MORE YEARS
Heading into a 2019 season that starts with an Aug. 31 opener against Mississippi State in New Orleans, UL must adjust with Koa Haynes and regular starter Corey Turner — both seniors last season — now gone from the safety group.
The Cajuns’ safeties are being cross-trained this season so they can play both safety spots, and in some cases UL’s nickel/"star" position as well.
But there are plenty of candidates for playing time in addition to Wallace, who is expected to be ready for the start of next season, and Trahan.
Among them are Percy Butler, who was super on special teams as a freshman last season but is out this spring with a shoulder injury of his own, along with Blair Brooks and Cameron Solomon.
Every day in spring ball this year has been akin to a job interview.
Yet, with so many gunning for opportunity, the fact he saw so little of it last season is the farthest thing from Trahan’s mind.
He just wants to be a good teammate.
“I was never a person to worry about my playing time,” he said.
“I’m just working on getting better, and when I do get my chance (I) just (want) to shine and do my thing.”
He’ll certainly get it, Toney ensured.
“Now we have him for three more years,” the Cajuns safeties coach said, “and he’s gonna be a big part of our defense, I think, moving forward, along with a lot of other guys.”
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