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Baseball/Football: Leger’s UL family job benefit – ‘Got to tell him I love him’

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 22, 2018

Tim Leger, at podium, is the UL football team’s first-year receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/THE ADVERTISER)

When the UL baseball team opens play Wednesday night in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, Gunner Leger will not be on the mound.

At least not to throw.

He may be watering it, or grooming it, as Leger is a total team player, right down to the dirty work even when he’s not playing.

Leger’s call to redshirt in 2018 for medical reasons, though, means the Ragin’ Cajuns ace won’t be pitching when UL hosts the league tourney, which opens with a single-elimination game between No. 7 seed Little Rock and No. 10 seed Georgia State at 3 p.m. Tuesday followed by another between No. 8 seed Texas-Arlington and No. 9 seed Arkansas State at 6 p.m. Tuesday on M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park.

Related: Cajuns clinch Sun Belt Western division with win over Warhawks

As tough as the fallout from that decision was, however, it was accompanied by a silver lining for the pro prospect: more time to spend around family, including his father, Tim Leger, first-year receivers coach and recruiting coordinator for the UL football team.

And as anecdotes shared by Tim Leger reveal, the silver really does shine.


It’s January, and Gunner Leger – Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year in 2015, Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year and Golden Spikes Award semifinalist after going 10-2 with a 1.97 ERA in 2017 – has made public his decision to sit out the year.

The prior July – after getting selected by Miami in the 26th round of the Major League Baseball Draft, but turning down sixth-round money from the Marlins – the lefty had undergone a Tommy John procedure to repair a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his throwing elbow.

Collagen-coated tape was directly attached to the UCL, anchoring the ligament to help the healing process.

About three months later, still on the mend from the elbow procedure, he underwent previously delayed surgery to remove a long-lingering cyst in his femur bone that hadn’t calcified.

There was a sliver of a chance Leger might, if all went well, have been able to throw a few innings this month. But, with no guarantee of that whatsoever, the timing of it all suggested the sensible thing would be to redshirt.

More: Cajuns ace Leger explains decision to sit out the season

Helping to ease the blow was the fact that, for the first time since he helped lead Barbe High in Lake Charles to two state championships, he’d be able to spend the school year close to both of his parents.

Back in 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Tim Leger – an outfielder/third baseman out of Acadiana High – in the MLB Draft’s fourth round.

He lasted three years in the minors, advancing only to as high as Welland of the Class A short season New York-Penn League.

So in 1995, Tim Leger turned to football – becoming a quarterback at McNeese State.

That led to a career in football coaching, first as a graduate assistant with the Cowboys, then offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at St. Thomas More High back home in Lafayette from 2001-06, followed by a return for nine seasons to McNeese State, where he coached receivers and spent time as offensive coordinator.

With Gunner close by at Barbe, the two had plenty of time to interact.

But in 2016, with Gunner at UL, Tim Leger accepted a post as receivers coach and recruiting coordinator at UL Monroe, following Matt Viator there when the ex-McNeese State head coach took over at ULM.

Now the distance between Gunner and his family had grown considerably, and it wasn’t easy.

“I know it was tough for my mom, especially being in Monroe. … When he would go recruiting, she was by herself,” Gunner said of his mother, Ashley.

That all changed, however, when Mark Hudspeth was fired last December and later in the same month Billy Napier was hired as head coach of the Cajuns.

In early January, it was announced that Tim Leger had been added to Napier’s staff.

More: UL offer too good for Leger to pass up

He’d be returning home, and to the city where Gunner was born.

In a statement on the hire, Napier was quoted as saying, “It’s awesome to reunite (Tim) and his wife Ashley with their son Gunner.”

Just how awesome it’s truly been for the Leger family now that all has come – in Gunner’s words – “full circle,” Napier probably had no idea.


It’s March, and Tim Leger is busy with his first go-round of spring practice with the Cajuns.

The day went like it never could when he was at ULM and Gunner was at UL.

UL lefty Gunner Leger, shown here in a 2016 NCAA Regional win over Arizona, is redshirting this season for medical reasons. Buy Photo

UL lefty Gunner Leger, shown here in a 2016 NCAA Regional win over Arizona, is redshirting this season for medical reasons.  (Photo: ADVERTISER FILE PHOTO)

“We got out of meetings, I ran down to the weight room to grab a snack before we went out on the practice field, and he was in the weight room,” Tim Leger said of his son. “Got to see him, got to talk to him, got to tell him I love him – and then go to practice.

“It’s been a lot of years since I’ve seen him in that kind of setting. Usually it’s drive in, watch Friday night (baseball), get in the car, drive home – that kind of deal.”

When he would be able to make it to watch Gunner Leger pitch for the Cajuns, which usually meant a Friday-night start for UL’s No. 1 pitcher, Tim Leger could often be seen pacing in the stands.

More: Without Leger, Cajun pitchers seek to ‘pick up the slack’

That – assuming Leger remains to pitch for UL in 2019, as intended – probably won’t change.

The proximity, however, has.

Tim Leger thinks back to his first few days on the job at UL, the one he never could land before Napier arrived, and there seems to be a bit of a quiver in his Cajun voice.

“It was a really late night,” he said. “I stayed on the phone with my former players there (at ULM), talking to those guys – which was a really hard deal.

“It’s like a breakup. You know, you trust a group, they trust you. You love ’em, you coach ’em, you’re around ’em for a couple years, and you break up to come here. It was hard.

“So we were up pretty late. I came early the next morning, started situating my office, and it’s like 7 o’clock in the morning, and I’m bent over working,” Leger added. “And I hear, ‘Hey, Dad.’ And he’s standing in the doorway. And … you know everything’s gonna be alright.”


It’s May, and UL has a shot to go to the NCAA Tournament – like it did when Gunner Leger helped lead them there in 2015 and ’16 – if it can win the Sun Belt Tournament.

After missing out in 2017, being without Leger won’t help the cause.

Yet UL coach Tony Robichaux understands just how meaningful the past few months have been to Gunner anyway, and just how much the next year will be as well.

“The reason I know what it feels like is because two of my sons played for me,” said Robichaux, whose boys Austin and Justin both played for the Cajuns.

It’s special for Gunner, Robichaux added, “knowing that your dad now is over on that football field – you hear that whistle over there, or whatever – you know he’s just right there, and you know he can just walk over anytime.”

Related: Leger earns All-American recognition

Gunner, however, is hardly the only beneficiary.

“I know Tim’s always wanted to be here, and he finally got that opportunity,” Robichaux said. “So I know it’s great for Tim and his family, and great for Gunner just to know that his dad’s right here.”

Now that he is, Gunner would have it no other way.

Tim too.

But even if he hadn’t landed his job with the Cajuns, Tim Leger would live perfectly content with the decision to let his only child go off to college where and when he and wife Ashley did.

“His experience here has been so good,” Tim Leger said. “The people here have been so good to him, the Cajun Nation has been so good to him.

“Coach Robe and his staff have just treated him as fairly and as good as you would want your kid to be treated. … I tell recruits all the time, if you have half the experience my son had you’re gonna have a great time.”

Related: Four Cajuns drafted; Leger staying

He has a witness, too.

It’s the one who seemed at peace when revealing his decision for an extended stay at UL before chasing a pro career like his father once did, and thinking ahead to what 2019 might be like.

“Everything is awesome,” Gunner said one day earlier this year, his teammates practicing at The Tigue while he took time for the body to heal. “Family’s here now; this is where we’re all from. This is home for us.

“This place is very special. The fans are special, the city’s special. This is home for me.

“It means everything to me that my grandparents can come out, and drive five minutes down the road and watch me,” Leger added. “Now my family’s here; my mom and my dad are gonna be able to do the same, and that’s a dream come true.”

Related: How Robichaux’s Cajuns reversed their season