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Mr. Justin Venable
Graduated 2002

Home:
105 Meaux Blvd. Apt #2
Lafayette, LA 70506

Work:

Home Phone: 337-232-6939
Work Phone: --
Fax: --
Email: justin9857@yahoo.com

Football: Venable reaches final home game

November 10, 2005 –

Dan McDonald
dmcdonald@theadvertiser.com

Three years ago, head coach Rickey Bustle was wrapping up his first season as head coach of the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajun football team and Justin Venable hobbled to midfield on crutches.

Venable, who tore a ligament in his right knee during that season, was being honored in the final home game of 2002 as one of the seniors on Bustle’s first unit.

Saturday evening, unless something awful happens between now and the 6 p.m. kickoff against Florida International, he’ll make that walk again – this time, without the crutches – to be honored as a senior playing his final regular-season home game.

“The emotions will be high,” Venable said. “I’ll probably shed a few tears with it being the last home game.”

The emotions may be high, but so will the confusion for many.

How does a player, one who walked the senior walk in 2002, turn around and do the same thing in 2005, at age 25? The numbers don’t add up. NCAA personnel would be aghast.

“I sort of figured by now I’d already have a career doing something,” Venable said. “I didn’t think I’d be playing football.”

But he is, and he’s playing a key role as the deep snapper in all UL kicking situations – ironically, the same role that his father played for four years nearly a quarter-century ago.

“But I only did it for four years,” said father Lee. “No way I’d have put up with what he’s put up with for that long. I’d have quit 50 times.”

What the younger Venable has put up with is three knee surgeries and a broken jaw, each of which effectively put him out of action for all or most of four different seasons.

Venable’s collegiate odyssey began in the spring of 1998 when he signed with the Cajuns and then-head coach Nelson Stokley out of Acadiana High, where he was one of the state’s top linebackers. But a torn ACL ligament suffered in the Louisiana High School All-Star game on July 24 sidelined him for his natural freshman season.

He played in nine games in 1999 as a freshman, but not as much as he hoped under new coach Jerry Baldwin. Then, another torn knee ligament before 2000 spring practice shelved him for that season, and the jaw injury came after limited playing time in the first two games of 2001.

Under NCAA rules, players have five years to get in four playing seasons, so Venable, Bustle and his new staff figured that 2002 was his swan song. And, wouldn’t you know … a knee injury, this time his right ACL, ended his 2002 hopes in the third game at Houston.

By the time Venable hobbled to midfield for the 2002 senior honors prior to the Arkansas State game, he’d missed 42 of a potential 56 games.

“The first four or five years I didn’t get the playing time I’d expected,” Venable said, “and it was pretty hard. There was a new staff coming in that was committed to turning the program around, and I wanted to be there when it happened.”

He applied to the NCAA for a sixth-year hardship, and incredibly didn’t get that lone year. In a rare example of NCAA fairness, he got a three-year extension on his five-year “clock.”

“It was like the start of a new life,” he said.

He worked his way back to full health in time for the 2003 season, and since then he’s launched every deep snap as part of Bustle’s prized special teams groups.

His father had done the same from 1977-80, and someone figured that Lee had 478 snaps without a bad one during his career. But he didn’t have the injury struggles that he’s watched his son go through.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of that kid,” he said. “The way he’s hung in there, not too many players would have done that. I told him when he first signed to play college to be ready to experience the best four years of his life, and I didn’t know that it would take four years for that to start.”

The younger Venable’s probably close to that snap total, and there haven’t been many bad ones over the last three years.

“My dad and I did it in the back yard,” Justin said. “He always told me that was something I could always fall back on. That’s where I learned the basics, and having guys like Coach Bustle, Coach (Troy) Wingerter, Coach (Brian) Jenkins and Bill Delahoussaye (former UL snapper now on injured reserve with the Miami Dolphins) have helped me fine-tune it.”

His consistency is such that UL fans take solid deep snaps for granted. So does his dad, but that doesn’t mean he’s not paying attention.

“I focus on him every snap,” Lee said. “But I’m so confident he’s going to do a good job, with all the experience he has, I’m not concerned about it at all. He knows when he gets over the ball, it’s going to be a good snap.”

It should be. He’s had enough experience. And, with two more wins and a little luck, Venable could end what has to be the longest football career in Division I history with a home-field bowl appearance.

“That would be kind of fitting,” he said. “But we’ll see. First, I have to play like Saturday’s my last game.”

Originally published November 10, 2005

Football: Veteran Venable proves versatile

August 23, 2005 –
Deep snapper enters eighth season with Cajuns.

Bruce Brown
bbrown@theadvertiser.com

Justin Venable’s observations are laced with references to the “kids” surrounding him on Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajun football roster.

It goes beyond that, though.

Consider that second-year graduate assistant coach Jonathan Raush is 11 months younger than Venable, and you get the idea how long he has been around the UL program.

His starring years at Acadiana High seem a lifetime ago for the 25-year-old Venable, the Cajuns’ deep snapper and fullback who is entering his eighth season in a prodigiously long NCAA career.

“I’m on my third head coach,” said Venable, who was signed by Nelson Stokley in 1998, went through three years under Jerry Baldwin and will finish his career playing for Rickey Bustle.

“I’ve been through four strength coaches and two and possibly three athletic directors, depending on the search they’re doing right now. I think the only ones who have been around here longer are (equipment manager) Lynn Williams and (director of sports medicine) John Porche.”

Venable’s sometimes bizarre college career took its first detour in the 1998 LHSCA All-Star Game, when he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament and missed participating in Stokley’s final season at UL.

He was a valued defensive reserve for the Cajuns in 1999, but tore his left ACL again before spring drills and missed the 2000 campaign.

The picture appeared to be clearing up in 2001 when Venable made four tackles in the first two games of the season, but he suffered a broken jaw and was on the shelf again.

In 2002, Venable earned a starting role but tore his right ACL in the third game at Houston.

Normally, NCAA athletes are allowed five years to complete their four seasons of collegiate eligibility, but after missing 42 of a possible 56 games between 1998 and 2002 Venable petitioned for an extension of his time on the field.

He was granted three extra years and responded by playing all 12 Cajun games in 2003 and all 11 outings last season.

“It’s been a bumpy ride, with the knee surgeries, the rehabilitations and then the jaw incident,” Venable said. “It’s been tough. I’m not going to lie about it. But, I was taught never to quit. Once you start something, you finish it.”

Venable gained that perspective from his father Lee, an undersized four-year letterman at center for the Cajuns from 1977-80 who played through several painful knee injuries.

“I felt I had something to prove,” Venable said. “I had played only one of five years, and I felt I was still good enough to compete. I enjoy the competitiveness of it.”

Venable earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies in December of 2002. He has since earned a second undergraduate degree in education and is beginning work on a masters in business administration, so he’s not one to waste time either on or off the field.

“I could probably tell the kids what classes and what teachers to take,” Venable said with a wry smile.

For the last two seasons, Venable has proven his skills as a reliable deep snapper, a talent that goes a long way toward calming the nerves of punters, place kickers and even holders. His consistency gives them one less thing to worry about.

But this year Venable will also get the chance to contribute at fullback, adding variety to his role on the team. He’s already had the chance to catch and carry the ball as well as serve as a lead blocker during the Cajun camp.

“That started last spring,” he said. “I got thrown in the mix and I’ll be able to be a little more involved. We didn’t have a deep snapper last year, so I stayed in that position. But we have (signee) Scott Hayes at deep snapper this year. He’s a promising player.

“I won’t be here forever.”

It just seems that way.

Venable has seen dozens of signees come and go, each with his own dreams of stardom. He has also seen the game evolve.

“The game has changed,” he said. “It has moved more toward speed. And, the kids are in a lot better shape. I think they come out of high school more prepared to play college football.

“I remember when I was in high school, my sophomore year I went to a speed camp at McNeese State. The summer after my senior year, Chris Gannon was the strength coach at the time and I prepared for the season by working with him.

“I got a chance to meet the guys who were here and learn about the speed of the college game.”

Venable has also evolved during his time at UL. A look at his redshirt freshman picture of 1999 reveals an athlete still carrying a touch of baby fat around the face. He looked like some of the “kids” entering the Cajun program these days.

No longer. He’s an adult now. But he’s still playing a game he enjoyed in his youth, and playing at a high level.

“I like being at practice,” Venable said. “I like to cut up and clown around. It keeps me young. I enjoy it. I like being competitive and active. I like to show them I still have it.”

He also has the wisdom of age to impart, when he’s not sending deep snaps spiraling back on a rope.

“You have to prepare mentally and know your assignments,” Venable said. “You have to be ready to play and bring your best to the table. And you need to play every play like it could be your last.”

No one knows that better than Justin Venable.

Originally published August 23, 2005