Napier at Media Day: Cajuns are 'bigger, faster, stronger'

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser
UL football coach Billy Napier speaks Monday at the Sun Belt Conference Football Media Day in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS — As he bounced from interview to interview at his second Sun Belt Conference football Media Day, UL’s Billy Napier seemed much more certain about things than he did as a rookie head coach in the league a year ago.

Much more confident about his club too.

“We’re a bigger team right now,” Napier said at the Superdome here. “We’re bigger, faster, stronger. We’re better fundamentally.

“We have much more knowledge — not only of our system, but also of the other side of the ball — and I think we’re much more cohesive as a staff, in terms of what are the expectations of making the most of our time with the players.”

Taking an inaugural trip around the conference in 2018 had to help with all of that.

UL coach Napier adapts:'I'm gonna be better at my job'

"We went through a lot of success (last season), but we also went through a lot of failures, and experienced some adversity, and battled through that," said Napier, whose Cajuns report for preseason camp on Aug. 1. "I think that we understand expectations, and we have better intangibles in the building.

"We're a more-disciplined team. We're gonna play with better effort. We're tougher, we're in better condition and we're certainly a more tight-knit group."

UL went 7-7 in Napier’s first season as a head coach at any level, making it to both the Sun Belt championship game (where it lost to Appalachian State) as Sun Belt West Division champs and to the Cure Bowl in Orlando (where it lost to Tulane).

That helped the former Arizona State and Clemson offensive coordinator find his SBC sea legs.

“We were going a hundred miles an hour last year trying to just get our group coordinated a little bit and improve our personnel,” he said.

“After playing all the games, you have a little better feel for, maybe, ‘how to win.’

“I think you kind of saw us adapt and adjust and evolve as the season went,” Napier added. “But certainly I’m much more comfortable (now) with not only the personnel the other teams have, (and) I’m starting to get a better feel for the coaches in the league.”

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The Sun Belt has four new ones this season in Appalachian State’s Eliah Drinkwitz, Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell, Texas State’s Jake Spavital and Troy’s Chip Lindsey.

But for Napier, season No. 2 in the Sun Belt isn’t so much about the competition as it is about his own team.

“As cliché as it sounds,” he said, “it’s matchup after matchup — who do you have, who do they have, and what do we need to do to find a way to win the game?

“I just think we’re gonna compete and try to get better and play each and every week, and then we’ll see where we’re at when we’re finished.”

It really isn’t about using last season as a measuring stick to gauge progress this season either.

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“Every team is completely different,” Napier said.

So instead?

“It’s just about getting the most out of this group of players,” the Cajuns coach said.

For Napier, that means on both sides of the ball — and on special teams too.

“There are certain things I feel like we need to do more on offense to be more effective,” he said. “We’ve got throw and catch the ball better.”

Converting more touchdowns after reaching the red zone is another thing, he suggested.

UL football coach Billy Napier speaks Monday at the Sun Belt Conference Football Media Day in New Orleans.

“On defense we’ve got to cover better and we’ve got to prevent explosive plays; we’ve got to tackle better,” Napier said. “Then some of the things you see on defense carry over to special teams.

“But we learned a lot about each other (last season), I think,” he added. “Not only did the players grow up and get to know each other, and mature as competitors … but I also think the staff kind of grew and learned what to expect in terms of what do we want from Sunday till Saturday.”

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With that in mind, Napier suggests “some tweaking” is in the works but “no wholesale changes” are planned.

The Cajuns’ aim is to have everything polished by the time they return here to New Orleans and the Superdome late next month for their Aug. 31 season-opener against Mississippi State.

The game will be UL’s first in a year marked thus far by tragedy and trying times for the Cajuns, including — yet not limited to — the deaths of longtime equipment manager Lynn Williams, longtime head baseball coach Tony Robichaux and former defensive back Sean Thomas.

“We play in New Orleans, in the Superdome, against an SEC West opponent,” Napier said. “It’s an opportunity — and, really, in my opinion, one of the more-critical times for this university athletic department — to rally the troops and unite, through all the things we’ve been through this offseason.

“I think this is gonna be an incredible opportunity for Ragin’ Cajuns of all ages to get together in one location and have one heck of a weekend.”

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