How the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns put the final pieces of their 2021 signing class together
It came together quick, even if a little late.
The Ragin’ Cajuns added four new running backs on National Signing Day – Carencro High’s Kendrell Williams, Many High’s Terrence Williams, Montrell Johnson Jr. of De La Salle High in New Orleans and Texas A&M transfer Jacob Kibodi – to restock a room losing Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas to the 2021 NFL Draft.
They unexpectedly added offensive line transfer T.J. Fiailoa, a multi-year starter from UL Monroe.
The Cajuns also signed four recruits Wednesday who previously had been committed to power programs – Johnson (Arizona); his former De La Salle teammate, defensive end Ja’Marian Peterson (Arizona) inside linebacker KC Ossai (Arizona); and offensive linebacker Robert Jackson.
The additions should serve only to strengthen a Cajuns team coming off a 10-1 season capped by a First Responder Bowl win over UTSA.
How did coach Billy Napier and his staff do it?
In the case of Ossai, and perhaps the others too, it was all about sticking with a recruit from the beginning until the end and being there when he was ready to make a different move.
Ossai – a product of Oak Ridge High in Conroe, Texas – was uncertain about Arizona even before the Wildcats fired coach Kevin Sumlin after an 0-5 season in 2020.
He was even more so afterward.
So when the Wildcats and new coach Jedd Fisch turned their recruiting attention from Texas and Louisiana westward to California, Ossai started considering other options.
Johnson did too, and he decommitted in mid-December.
Ossai waited until last week to formally decommit, even though he had been other options since December – if not earlier – as well.
Houston Baptist had given him his first NCAA Division I offer. Incarnate Word offered when the early signing period opened in December and Ossai hadn’t signed with Arizona. UL had an offer on the table too, but the Cajuns didn’t pressure him to sign then.
“I told them I would sign (with some program) in February,” he said, “So they said, ‘OK, we’re going to stick it out with you.’ ”
The strategy paid as the Cajuns landed not one but four top targets whose Power 5 opportunities didn’t pan out.
Over time UL recruits came to a realization that, as much as it may seem playing for a major-conference program is the way to go, the Group of Five grass is green, too.
“I feel like everybody wants to go Power 5,” said former Gators commit Jackson, who started getting attention from SEC schools from he was the eighth grade.
But as Jackson watched one postseason bowl game after another like the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Bowl, he came to realize through are more paths to the NFL than one.
“But now that I’m older … I see the little schools doing just as well as those kids (from big schools), and they’re competing just as well as them,” he said. “All I here is ‘If you’re good, the NFL scouts are gonna find you.’
“And I feel that’s all I have to do. I see a lot of people that’s in the Sun Belt Conference (who will get drafted). … It’s all about who you’re surrounded by, and who can help you get to the next level.”
As Napier saw it Wednesday, UL executed its approach toward the Power 5 recruits precisely as designed.
The Cajuns focused on the ones from close to home – Louisiana and Texas in particular – and pounced when opportunity presented itself.
“It’s part of our plan,” Napier said of sticking with the top recruits even after they have committed elsewhere.
“I think it goes back to the original intent here. We want to build our team inside-out. We start with the state of Louisiana, and not only high school players.”
Kibodi, for instance, played at Christian Life Academy in Baton Rouge.
“We recruit a lot of people who don’t come here. They go off, and eventually end up back, to some degree,” Napier said. “But there’s no question that we always have awareness of the current players available in the state. That’s where start.”