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Football: Nine Cajuns out due to COVID-19 testing, contact tracing

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Sept. 17, 2020

Nine unidentified players from the nationally ranked UL football program are out this week and quarantined due to either coronavirus COVID-19 positive tests or related contact tracing, Ragin’ Cajuns coach Billy Napier said after practice Wednesday night.

Napier said “some of those were (from testing) Friday or last week and then some this week.”

He did not specify how many were from when, saying instead, “several were prior; I’d probably say around 50-50, I don’t know the exact number.”

“Our streak has ended. … So a handful of players will be out,” Napier added.

None of the nine will travel with the Cajuns to their Sun Belt Conference-opening, ESPN2-televised game Saturday morning against Georgia State in Atlanta.

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Among the UL players who evidently will be out Saturday, according to a depth chart released around the same time Napier broke the news in response to a specific question about it, are starting cornerback Asjlin “A.J.” Washington, backup quarterback Jaiave Magalei and reserve defensive lineman Sonny Hazard.

The depth chart did not specify which players are in quarantine, but it did not list Washington, Magalei or Hazard as injured either.

With Washington out, Mekhi Garner is listed as the UL backup at his corner spot and with Magalei out redshirt freshman Chandler Fields, who had been listed as a co-backup with Magalei, is now the No. 2. Redshirt freshman Clifton McDowell also has been elevated to the No. 3 spot.

Washington had an interception and Hazard, a true freshman, played extensively in UL’s 31-14 win last Saturday at then-No. 25 Iowa State, a victory that vaulted the Cajuns to No. 21 in the Amway Coaches Poll and No. 19 in the AP Top 25.

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The game was played in Ames, Iowa, a recent hotbed of per-capita COVID-19 cases.

But when he was asked if any of the nine who are out were infected while playing in the game, Napier said, “No, no. Absolutely not.”

“Everybody that went to Iowa State tested Friday before traveling and were negative,” the Cajuns coach said.

Earlier this week, including on at least one national radio show appearance, Napier had been touting the fact he could count on one hand the number of Cajuns who had tested positive over the prior nine weeks.

Now that’s changed.

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“But I think the big thing is our medical team continues to do an outstanding job,” Napier said.

“But I think this is reality. You know, every team in America is dealing with these parameters, and we’re confident that the safety of our team is being handled in a pretty first-class manner.”

Napier suggested the Cajuns are taking extensive precautions to try to make sure the virus does spread at their practice facilities, when traveling and when in the locker room.

He instead pointed to the importance of personal decision-making.

“They’re young men,” Napier said. “They’re teenagers, and reality is they’re gonna make some bad decisions at times – as simple as going to pick up drive-through (food) and eating together in the car.

“You know, that’s not a good decision, right? So, that would be an example of a costly mistake on our part. Things like that cost us at this point.

“So I think you’ve got to continue to learn, you’ve got to continue to stay focused and realize that is part of the rules,” he added. “If you’re a competitor, you want to do everything you can do to win. You’ve got to make good decisions relative to COVID-19 to win.”

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Napier said the players who are out are not being identified “due to certain policies.”

After visiting Georgia State on Saturday, UL (1-0) plays its home opener against Georgia Southern in an ESPN2-televised game on Sept. 26.

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