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Football: Freshman Zi'Yon Hill impressing Hudspeth + Varnado on the move

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 26, 2017

His fans may have to wait.

But expect to see true freshman Zi’Yon Hill in a Ragin’ Cajuns uniform and on the field sometime before September is done.

UL coach Mark Hudspeth said this week that the Cajuns are planning as if the defensive lineman, a Catholic High of New Iberia product who underwent offseason surgery to repair a knee injury stemming from his high school days, won’t be ready for their Sept. 2 opener against Southeastern Louisiana.

But, according to Hudspeth, Hill may be ready for Week 2 at Tulsa — and, if not, he should be ready for Week 3 at Texas A&M.

Hudspeth said after practice Thursday night that Hill had been cleared for “some” practice this week, and that “he’s shown us something these past few days.”  

“Man, he looks good,” Hudspeth said. “He has changed his body in the last three months. I see him playing and helping us this year.”

Related: Decisions must be made on new Cajuns

Hudspeth said Hill, currently listed by the Cajuns at 6-foot-2 and 286 pounds, has lost “a lot of body fat” and has “leaned up” since his summertime arrival at UL.  

“This guy can be a pretty good player if he continues to work,” the Cajuns coach said.

“He’s always been super-athletic. I mean, the guy ran the speed sweep for New Iberia Catholic. … But he is physical.

“So I’ve been proud of the way he’s worked,” Hudspeth added. “He got himself in shape in the weight room with the strength coaches every day while he’s been (rehabbing from his surgery).”

Hill was named The Daily Advertiser’s All-Acadiana Defensive MVP after a senior season in which his team went 11-2 and reached the state semifinals.

He’s one of several Cajuns who may play as true freshmen this year, including but not necessarily limited to reserve safety Bralen Trahan (Acadiana High), backup tight end Chase Rogers (Saint Stanislaus College, a high school in Mississippi), defensive end Andre Jones (Varnado High) and running back Elijah Mitchell (Erath High).

* * * * *

With a high-rev motor, UL's Varnado is on the move

With UL’s Sept. 2 season opener against Southeastern Louisiana fast-approaching, the Ragin’ Cajun defense continues to take shape with all sorts of moves happening here, there and seemingly everywhere.

Chief among them over the last week: Levarious Varnado has moved from the Slash outside linebacker/defensive back position, where he had been rotating with Corey Turner, back to cornerback.

Varnado, also a return man for the Cajuns, was the backup Slash and a reserve defensive back last season.

He started this year’s preseason camp at corner, then was moved, and now has moved back there.

“Not that the (other) corners aren’t doing good,” UL coach Mark Hudspeth said.

“It’s just that him and Corey Turner are two of our best defensive players right now. They play so hard. They’ve got a motor. They’ve got probably two of the best motors on the team.

“So, one of them’s always on the bench (when both are at the Slash),” Hudspeth added. “So we’re gonna let him (Varnado) roll (at cornerback). We’ve got three corners we feel really good about. They’re gonna roll throughout the game.”

Related: Five critical issues to follow during Cajun football camp

Varnado could now start ahead of Lorenzo Cryer at the corner spot opposite of ex-Slash starter Damar’ren Mitchell, with all three rotating. Mitchell moved from the Slash to cornerback after last season.

Former Tennessee defensive back Darrell “DJ” Miller also will play at cornerback, but according to Hudspeth he probably won’t rotate regularly early on.

“Varnado,” Hudspeth said, “can also swing back inside (to the Slash), because he knows the position, against teams that are 10-personnel (when) we want to get a nickel or dime on the field.”

With Varnado moving, juco-transfer Julius Perkins — who briefly got a look at inside linebacker — has moved back to backup Slash behind Turner.

Another reason for Perkins’ return move is that UL is happy with the play of Justin Middleton, a late juco-transfer signee who arrived midway through camp.

More: Five question marks Cajuns must answer to get back to winning ways

ANOTHER MOVE

Hudspeth said 6-foot-3, 325-pound senior reserve Christian Cederquist recently was moved from the offensive line to the defensive line.

“He’s a guy that wanted to help the team; came  to me, and we told him we’d give him a shot,” Hudspeth said. “To be honest with you, I wasn’t for-sure how it would work out.

“But the guy has really been surprising, so I think (he) can add some depth at some point this year. He’s still learning the position, but he’s got some strength.

“Anytime you’ve got an athletic big guy that can hold the point, that can take his gap,” Hudspeth added, “then hopefully you’ve helped yourself a little bit.”

WALKER ON WATCH LIST

UL senior safety Tracy Walker has been named to the watch list for the 2018 Senior Bowl, a prestigious postseason game for NFL prospects.

Walker is one of 12 Sun Belt Conference players on the list, and one among about 400 overall.

Other SBC players includes quarterbacks Taylor Lamb (Appalachian State), Matt Linehan (Idaho) and Brandon Silvers (Troy), New Mexico State running back Larry Rose III and Arkansas State defensive end/outside linebacker Ja'Von Rolland Jones.

More: Once a quiet freshman, Cajun defense leader learned from predecessors

LAGNIAPPE

Juco-transfer Mustafa Mitchell also briefly was moved to inside linebacker earlier in camp, then quickly moved back to Buck defensive end behind Joe Dillon. … Starting receiver Michael Jacquet, Hudspeth said, is expected to be 100 percent by Sunday. He’s been dealing with a bruised foot, missed UL’s final scrimmage last Saturday and has missed some practices too. “We’re just holding him out to make sure we get him back ready to go,” Hudspeth said. … Hudspeth said defensive lineman David Lemoto, who underwent major knee surgery last season, left the team earlier this month and returned home to California. The departure wasn’t announced by UL when it initially happened.



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