Here's Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns secret to landing so many Power 5 football recruiting transfers

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

When the NCAA’s early signing period in December closed and attention pivoted to National Signing Day, the Ragin’ Cajuns seemed almost as focused on landing transfers from other FBS programs as on securing new high school recruits.

They quickly added two quarterbacks, Lance Legendre and Ben Wooldridge, from Maryland and Fresno State, respectively, and an offensive tackle from Nebraska, Matthew Anderson.

That added to their haul of transfers from December: a receiver from TCU, John Stephens Jr.; a safety from Kansas State, Tyrone Lewis; and an outside linebacker/defensive end from Kansas, Clinton Anokwuru.

In several cases, there is a shared trait that connects the Cajuns with the transfers. And it’s not just the Power 5 backgrounds of most.

“We had prior relationships with these kids,” UL coach Billy Napier said.

Especially in the COVID-19 era, that’s proven critical.

More:Former Arizona commit KC Ossai commits to Ragin' Cajuns after 'lack of interest'

Local connections key for the Cajuns

Four of the six transfers are products of Louisiana high schools.

LeGendre, from Warren Easton High in New Orleans, appeared in three games last season as Maryland’s backup behind Taulia Tagovailoa, including an overtime loss to Rutgers in December that he started.

Stephens, who appeared in 25 games for TCU since 2018, is from Logansport High, which also produced his cousin, Key’Savalyn Barnes, a new Cajun addition who signed in December.

The first:Cajuns commit Barnes 'felt like it was the right time'

Lewis, who played 11 games for Kansas State including seven last season, is from Hammond High, and Anderson, who redshirted as a freshman at Nebraska in 2019 and opted out last year, is from Leesville High.

UL showed bona fide interest in Anderson before anyone else did, something that played a big factor when he was seeking a new home.

“That was a huge deal for me, and I will never forget it,” Anderson said. “I went up there, met the coaches, got the tour.

“They were telling me, ‘We’d love to have you here,’ and they were saying that all throughout my visit.’ ”

Truth be told, Anderson didn’t realize the Cajuns essentially were offering him.

“They were saying it, but not really … ‘saying it,’ if that makes sense,” he said.

“They had to call me, actually, later, after I went back home, and they were like, ‘Hey, just to let you know, you have a full scholarship.’ I was like, ‘Ohhhh.’ I had no idea.”

Trade:Former ULM coach Matt Viator joining rival UL football staff

Billy Napier big believer in building relationships

UL coach Billy Napier (center), shown here celebrating a Dec. 26 First Responder Bowl win over UTSA in Dallas, has landed several FBS transfers.

Anderson didn’t accept the offer then. But his pathway to UL had been paved.

“They were the first school to ever take a chance on me,” Anderson said.

“That was before … all the hype around me, so it was a huge sign of loyalty for me.”

It really is largely about local ties and laying a foundation.

Wooldridge is from California, but his family has Louisiana roots.

Napier initially learned about Stephens in 2017 when he was the offensive coordinator at Arizona State and was recruiting the receiver.

Polls:Napier won't rest on ranking but wants it both ways

Anokwuwu is from Fort Bend Bush High in the greater Houston area, which anchors the westward boundary of UL’s recruiting area in Texas. He had UL in his final five before deciding on Kansas, where he signed but did not play.

One who got away – twice, as it turns out – is defensive tackle Latrell Bankston.

The Cajuns initially recruited him out of Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College, but he signed with Iowa State instead. UL thought it had landed Bankston after he left the Cyclones, but he lasted only a few days with the Cajuns earlier this month before winding up at Houston.

The Cajuns might never had a shot, though, if it wasn’t for that earlier connection. Mostly, though, the FBS transfers who have been secured by UL reflect, Napier said, “the recruiting footprint we’re in.”

“Maybe it’s having recruited them coming out of high school,” he said. “Sometimes it’s we recruited them coming out of junior college and they go somewhere (else).”

Many of the transfers already knew the Cajun coaches trying to catch them as bouncebacks, and the coaches – unable to have up close and in-person visits because the pandemic has severely restricted travel for on-campus evaluations – already have a feel for what they’re getting from prior interaction.  

“It doesn’t work out (elsewhere), and they come back,” Napier said. “A lot of these are that type of situation.

‘Whether we recruited them at one point or another, we had some type of relationship with them. They were close to coming here, and it didn’t quite work out.”

Wanted:Cajuns AD Bryan Maggard on job opportunities, coach Billy Napier future