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Football: UL opens camp with three Cajuns out with major injuries

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 7, 2020

Two Ragin’ Cajuns receivers and a key defensive lineman are out for most or all of the 2020 season and will be redshirted this year, UL coach Billy Napier said the day before his team opened its 10-day preseason camp Friday.

Napier said receiver Jamal Bell will undergo knee surgery to repair a posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury, receiver Calif Gossett is out with a torn Achilles tendon and defensive lineman Kendall Wilkerson will be out due to injuries sustained in a previously undisclosed car accident in the spring.

Bell was UL’s No. 2 receiver last season, making 34 catches for 445 yards – 13.08 yards per reception – and one touchdown while appearing in all 14 games including four starts.

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A product of Brownsboro High in Texas, he transferred to UL after one season Tyler (Texas) Junior College and made his debut as a Cajun by playing in five games in 2018.

Gossett, from Pensacola High in Florida, will be a sixth-year senior in 2021. He played in 11 games last year, making 15 catches for 178 yards.

With Bell and Gossett out, 2019 top target Ja’Marcus Bradley having signed with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent and reliable receiver Jarrod “Bam” Jackson also having been a senior last season, Napier the Cajuns are “fortunate that we have Peter LeBlanc and Jalen Williams back (with) significant experience.”

LeBlanc, from Catholic High of New Iberia, had 28 catches for 344 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman last season while Williams, a redshirt senior-to-be from Westminster Christian, had 21 grabs for 279 yards and one TD.

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Napier said Wilkerson, who played in 13 games and had seven total tackles including a sack as a true freshman last season, broke a leg and dislocated a wrist.

“There’s a very small percentage (chance) that he may make it back for the final four games of the year,” Napier said of the Kentwood High product, “but that’s highly unlikely.

“The wrist is probably the bigger issue here, and then obviously both of those rehabs (have) put him behind physically a little bit.”

Players who appear in four games or fewer can still take a redshirt, preserving a year of NCAA eligibility.

Napier also said tight end Christian Sabatini, a true freshman from Plano High in Texas, will be “limited” in camp due to an undisclosed injury, “so he’s less likely to contribute early in the year.”

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The Cajuns received three voting points in the Amway Coaches Poll, which was released Thursday.

They were among 51 teams receiving votes for the Top 25 poll, tied with SMU and Nebraska for the 46th-most.

Only one other Sun Belt Conference program, Appalachian State, received votes. The Mountains had 31 points, the 35th most.

“I really don’t think any of that matters,” Napier said of UL’s showing.

“Go check the coaches’ poll this time last year and see how accurate it was (compared) to how the season finished. It’s a projection. It’s a hypothesis

“What’s gonna matter,” Napier added when asked what the votes said about what UL was able to accomplish in 2019, “is the work we’ve done up until this point, and the work we do from this point forward with this team, this group of players, this staff.”

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UL finished 11-3 last season, capped by a LendingTree Bowl win over Miami (Ohio) of the MAC.

Clemson, incidentally, was ranked No. 1 in the poll for a second straight year. LSU, which was picked sixth in 2019, won last season’s national championship.

UL did not receive any votes in the 2019 preseason coaches’ poll.

Appalachian State, which beat the Cajuns in last year’s Sun Belt championship game, received four votes and finished the year ranked No. 18 with a 13-1 record that included wins at North Carolina and South Carolina and a loss only to Troy of the Sun Belt.

The Mountaineers beat UL twice last season and also beat Alabama-Birmingham in the 2019 New Orleans Bowl.

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Four Cajuns – running back Elijah Mitchell, offensive lineman Max Mitchell, outsider linebacker Joe Dillon and punter Rhys Byrns – have been named to College Football America’s Sun Belt Conference ‘Starting Lineup’ team. … Ex-Cajun Bradley currently is listed on Cleveland’s Reserve/COVID-19 list. … Former Cajuns quarterback Brayden Hawkins, who entered the NCAA transfer portal after last season, has committed to Akron of the MAC. Hawkins, who spent his lone season at UL working with the scout team, is a former UTEP signee who also redshirted as a freshman at Maryland.

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