'He stuck to his guns': Inside David Hudson's long journey from Lafayette High to Cajuns starter
He got his first start as a Ragin’ Cajun in No. 21 UL’s 70-20 win at UL Monroe last Saturday.
It meant more to Cajuns offensive lineman David Hudson, a redshirt junior from Lafayette High, than most will ever understand.
Ron Hudson knows, though – not just because David is his son, but also because the current offensive line coach at fellow Sun Belt Conference member Georgia Southern has spent his adult life coaching.
“He’s a typical young man, typical college student,” Ron Hudson said. “Downplayed the heck out of it when he told me he was gonna play and possibly start. … But I think it meant the world to him.
“And I told him he’s earned it. … He’s worked his butt off when a lot of other folks might have said, ‘You know what? I’ve had a great career. It’s time to pass on.’”
What we learned:No. 24 Ragin' Cajuns 70, ULM Warhawks 20
David Hudson could have played sooner elsewhere but choose to stay in Lafayette, where he was reared the most while his father worked at one school after another.
“When he was coming out of high school he said, ‘I think I’m a Division I player, and I want to go to UL, and I’ll walk-on and I’ll compete and I’ll earn a spot,’” Ron Hudson said.
David Hudson would have it no other way.
“I knew Louisiana was … a great fit,” he said, “and I’m just blessed to be on a team.
“I love everybody on this team. It’s a great program, great teammates, great coaching staff. I’m just happy to be here.”
'Growing up the son of a coach'
Ron Hudson has been here, there and everywhere over nearly 30 years in the business.
An ex-UL offensive coordinator and the Cajuns’ offensive line coach for six seasons through 2010, he’s now in his third season at Georgia Southern.
Before that: a season at Charleston Southern, three coaching Nevada’s o-line from 2013-15, one at UMass, a stint at New Mexico. Prior to UL, he worked at Texas A&M-Kingsville and spent three seasons at UTEP.
The list goes on, with eight other stops including the first – two seasons in the early 1990s as a graduate assistant at Louisville – following a four-year career starting at center at Muskingum University from 1983-86 in his home state, Ohio.
Over the years, the elder Hudson learned what separates kids who can hack it from those who can’t.
So did the younger.
“I just knew coming in you’ve always got to have that chip on your shoulder,” David said. “You’ve just got to keep fighting, keep pushing.”
But there’s more to why he perseveres outside the spotlight.
“Growing up the son of a coach, I think he understands the concept of ‘team’ and ‘teamwork’ and ‘we not me’ mentality,” Ron Hudson said. “I think that’s underlying to a degree.
“But, honestly, I think it’s his love for that team and his teammates. I mean, he loves being around them. He loves practicing with them. He loves playing with them. … He loves weightlifting with them, conditioning.
“All the things he would tell you he doesn’t like – I’m telling you, he loves.”
'We wanted to see him play'
Growing up, David Hudson recalls sharing aspirations with childhood friend and high school wrestling foe Shane Vallot, a Comeaux High product.
They went to the same elementary and middle schools.
“We always talked about, ‘Let’s go play ball together, let’s go play ball together,’ ” David Hudson said.
Last Saturday, with tackles Carlos Rubio and Zach Robertson and reserve guard Tyler Brown limited in practice prior to the ULM game as UL dealt with COVID-19 and injury issues, Hudson started at left guard and played 40-some snaps.
To his right: Vallot, UL’s second-year starting center.
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“He was just so happy,” Hudson said of his boyhood buddy. “He kept encouraging me.”
Vallot wasn’t alone.
“Giving David a chance to get in there and show what he can do … it kind of gave the (offensive line) room energy, because we wanted to see him play,” said sixth-year senior Ken Marks, who usually starts at left guard but slid to tackle Saturday. “And he came out and executed just like we thought he would.”
What UL’s line looks like when the Cajuns visit Appalachian State on Friday (7:30 p.m., ESPN) is uncertain.
But UL coach Billy Napier did like what he saw Saturday.
“He’s always been a player we had tremendous respect for,” Napier said. “His role on the team: David’s a guy that makes us better.
“He’s taken a lot of reps. He might not necessarily be taking them on game day, but David does a really good job for us as a rotational player. He played really well in the game, to no surprise of anybody on our team, on our staff.”
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They are moments to cherish
During David’s 2016 Lafayette High senior season, Ron was between full-time assistant coaching jobs. His Nevada gig was up. He was looking for another.
In between he took a position as an offensive analyst at Penn State, allowing him flexibility to return to Lafayette, where the family had settled, for a half-dozen or so Lions games.
Since then, Ron Hudson hasn’t seen his son play much.
Last season, though, they were across the field when UL and Georgia Southern met in Statesboro.
“It was an exciting time, but it was emotional,” Ron Hudson said. “I’m competitive; he’s competitive also. We were wrapped up in the game.
“They got after us, and they beat us. … When the game ended I went across the field to hug his neck and tell him I loved him.”
Ron Hudson admits to tearing up.
The scene was similar this season at Cajun Field.
“I’d just keep looking at him on the sideline. He was always smiling,” David said. “We actually were talking a little smack the week of, so it was great.”
Truth be told the two talk almost daily.
Not about blocking schemes, or even common opponents.
Just about life.
“He always tells he loves me, and asks me how my day’s going,” David Hudson said. “We don’t really … get into football that much. He tries to be a great father, and I appreciate him.”
UL beat Georgia Southern in September with a 53-yard Nate Snyder field goal as time expired. Father and son found each other amid the craziness. Ron got David around the neck again, told him one more time he loved him.
“Those are some of the moments,” Ron Hudson said, “I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
'He stuck to his guns'
David Hudson had options after high school.
Alabama State, where his father briefly worked, and Alcorn State were FCS possibilities. So was Cumberland University, an NAIA program near Nashville.
“Some junior colleges out West wanted him to come and play, then be re-recruited out of there,” Ron Hudson said.
“He had some people that were offering him scholarships. And he just said, ‘You know what? Dad … I want to play Division 1A football.’ He grew up around Ragin’ Cajun football, and he said, ‘This is where I want to go,’ and ‘This is what I want to do.’”
So he did, even knowing it would mean long days of scout team work and reps for games he never plays.
His first two seasons, David Hudson didn’t play a down.
“He loves being part of that team, and he wouldn’t have it any other way,” Ron Hudson said. “So he’s put his heart and soul into preparing every week to play, knowing hopefully that at some point in time he’d get a chance.”
Last season, David did. He appeared in a half-dozen game. Last Saturday, his fourth appearance this year, he got about four times more snaps than usual.
“I was … happy for him,” his father said. “He was ecstatic.”
Ron Hudson, not shy to admit it, is a proud papa.
“He stuck to his guns,” the elder Hudson said. “This is something that’s been kind of something of a personal challenge for himself.
“It’s something he wants to prove to himself he can do, and he’s never second-guessed it, never thought about doing anything else.”
David Hudson doesn’t shy either from making his true feelings known – even if the tone is dialed down, much like when he told his dad that first start was coming.
“It was huge,” David Hudson said. “I actually have dreamed of that moment all my life.”
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