How three young Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns receivers are using this spring to grow up

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Dontae Fleming, Kyren Lacy and Errol Rogers Jr. are finally getting what they missed out on last summer.

Full indoctrination, that is, into the Billy Napier way of doing things.

“Everything is about being on time,” Lacy said. “It’s like, ‘Everything’s got to be on point.’ You can’t just do things on your own. … You’ve got to get down with the routine. It’s not like high school. You can’t do it your way. You’ve got to do it their way.”

The three Ragin’ Cajuns freshmen weren’t properly prepared for that in 2020. When four veteran receivers sustained injuries in the offseason, however, they were called on anyway.

Their response was a combined 53 catches for a 10-1 team.

“I think they settled in, and they played very well down the stretch for us,” Napier said. “They all three are exactly what we thought they were.”

Which is to say talented and full of promise.

Now the three are using this spring to refine all admittedly what was a little rough early in 2020.

“I really struggled at first," said Rogers, a Lafayette Christian Academy product.

But all three really were needed. Ready, or not.

Pressed into service, the hyped trio leaned on each other.

“We’d all get together and be like, ‘C’mon, we can’t let up; we’ve got to keep pushing. Because people are going to be counting on us,’” Fleming said. “‘We’re ‘The Big Three,’ so they’re gonna count on us this year.’”

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Three Cajuns were wide-eyed kids

Yet when the season opener at Iowa State rolled around last fall, they still were wide-eyed kids.

“I ain’t gonna say I was nervous,” Fleming said, "but it was my first college game, and … I was like, ‘Man, these guys are fast.’”

The initial insecurity was understandable. The Cajuns were playing a nationally ranked Big 12 team on the road. But there was more to it than that.

Ragin' Cajuns receiver Dontae Fleming (bottom) is brought down by Georgia State safety Chris Bacon during a Sept. 19 UL win in Atlanta.

“You’ve got to think about the format for a young man who just showed up, first semester in college, in the middle of the pandemic,” Napier said. “Our summer was completely different than in years past.

"Our access to the players was primarily virtual up to a certain point there. And then all of a sudden they’re forced into the lineup, and they’ve got to be effective and compete as Division I student-athletes at a very unique time."

The unanticipated ultimately helped more than it hurt.

The Cajuns upset Iowa State, and Fleming and Lacy left Ames full of newfound confidence.

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“I was able to move on to the next game,” said Fleming, who went on to have four catches in a win over Georgia State one week later, “and I was used to the speed.”

“It was really a wakeup call. I wasn’t really expecting to play that early. But I came in and did what I had to do, and I saw playing time fast.”

Young UL receivers produced

By the season’s end, Lacy – from Thibodaux High – had a team-high 28 receptions for a team-leading 364 yards and four touchdowns.

Rogers, who missed the Iowa State game with an injury, had 13 catches – fourth among all Cajun receivers behind Lacy and returnees Peter LeBlanc (23) and Jalen Williams (20) – and two touchdowns.

And Fleming had 12 grabs for one TD and 190 receiving yards, trailing only Lacy, Williams (360) and LeBlanc (334) in yardage.

Errol Rogers Jr. (6) and fellow Ragin' Cajuns receiver Kyren Lacy (2) celebrate a touchdown catch by Rogers during a Sept. 26 win over Georgia Southern at Cajun Field.

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But there’s room for much more, which is why this spring is so vital, especially with Williams and LeBlanc now nursing injuries.

“I think they’ve got more confidence in what they’re supposed to do assignment-wise, technique-wise, fundamental-wise,” Cajuns receivers coach Tim Leger said after Thursday’s practice.

“So I think you can see them playing at lot faster tempo with a lot more confidence down in and down out.

“There are still are some growing pains, some things even out there today that frustrate you a little bit,” Leger added, “but the progress they’ve made in a year has been tremendous.”

For Lacy, that means becoming quicker out of breaks and better at reading defenses. He also seeks strides in the weight room.

“The main thing I’ve been working on this offseason is getting my core strength stronger,” he said, “because at the line I was falling down.”

For Fleming, it’s about attacking the ball.

“I’ve got to get better with stronger hands,” the East St. James High product said.

Continuing to adjust to game speed is high on the list for Rogers, who also pursues better understanding of what’s in front of him.

“I’m really learning more and more, watching more film,” he said. “On the field I’m seeing what the defense is doing now and able to play the position like they need me to.”

It’s a lot for the three to handle.

But if last season is any indicator, it could mean much production this season.

“I think that next offseason (after the first) you kind of know what to expect, right?” Napier said. “You’ve entered the gauntlet. Now you prepare and you anticipate what’s coming next, and I see that from these young receivers.”