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Football: Cajun 'head-hunter' Boudreaux got start on special teams

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Oct. 16, 2017

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After playing mostly on special teams last season, sophomore Jacques Boudreaux is UL's starting Will inside linebacker this year.(Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/THE ADVERTISER)

Although his name fits the bill, Jacques Boudreaux did not necessarily grow up dreaming of being a Ragin’ Cajun.

He didn’t picture himself playing at Cajun Field when putting his head to rest at night as a little guy, didn’t wake up with his fingers and thumb shaped to signify UL.

That all changed, though, once the Cajuns started showing the sophomore from Holy Cross School in New Orleans some love. And now Boudreaux – shhh, don’t tell the natives, but he’s actually a native of New Jersey – is UL’s starting Will inside linebacker.

He has 24 total tackles including 1.5 for loss through six games so far this season for the 3-3 Cajuns, who have won two straight including last Thursday night’s ESPNU-televised 24-7 home victory over Texas State.

“He’s a physical player, a smart player,” UL coach Mark Hudspeth said.

And the Cajuns, who visit Arkansas State for another ESPNU-televised game Thursday night, think he has much more to offer.

Halfway home: 3-3 Cajuns figured they would be 5-1 now

“Every week he’s progressing,” said T.J. Posey, UL’s senior Mike inside linebacker.

“He’s just settling down more,” senior defensive end Trev Miller added. “He’s getting more games under belt, and it’s starting to become easier and opened-up to him more.”

Boudreaux was recruited by Mike Lucas, the Cajuns’ linebackers coach at the time and now their defensive coordinator too.

The two immediately clicked.

 “Coach Lucas reminded me a lot of my high school (defensive coordinator),” Boudreaux said.

Someone who cares, that is, not only how about he’s faring on the football field but off it as well.

So when Lucas visited him at his high school and invited him to a UL camp, Boudreaux readily accepted.

UL's Lucas: 'We want to be the No. 1 swarm defense'

He loved the atmosphere, and soon a match was in the making.

With three then-seniors – Otha Peters, Tre’maine Lightfoot and Trey Granier – on the scene, the Cajuns didn’t commit right away to playing Boudreaux as a true freshman last season.

But Granier sustained a concussion early in the season, sending Lightfoot – who wound up as UL’s leading tackler in 2016 – into the starting spot at the Will next to the Mike, Peters, who was in training camp this year as an undrafted free agent with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.

Another young Cajun linebacker at the time, Tanner Holmes, made his UL debut in the first game Granier missed last year, a Sept. 17 win over South Alabama.

Holmes, however, sustained a season-ending knee injury in that same game.

Next man up was Boudreaux, who not only had his redshirt removed and debuted against South Alabama but also – with Granier hurting and Holmes out – took on a bigger role between games.

“I got more and more reps at practice,” he said, “because you never know what happens in this game.

“It’s crazy. You know, coaches always say that one play could always be your last.”

For most of the year, Boudreaux played on special teams.

With Lightfoot and Peters getting an overwhelming number of the snaps, he understood.

“Last season I had two really great linebackers in front of me. … Really, watching those guys was just phenomenal,” Boudreaux said.

“I just really learned from the older guys. They took me under their wing, and I can’t thank them enough, honestly.

“People ask, ‘Oh, do you wish you could have redshirted?’ … Not really. I’m glad I got the experience I got,” he added. “I got to play on special teams a whole lot, and I can’t complain. I’m happy with what I did my freshman year.”

On occasion, Boudreaux did step in on defense.

He wound up with four tackles in 10 games, including two solo stops in a Dec. 3 win at UL Monroe that gave the Cajuns their fifth New Orleans Bowl bid in six seasons.

UL to ESPN: We're Cajuns, not leopards or wildcats

“Guys can’t go every single play,” Boudreaux said, “and when they needed somebody to go in there, when my name was called, I just serviced where I could.

“Every once in a while, if Otha (Peters) or none of them could go a lot of high-quality snaps they’d throw me in there for like four or five plays and I’d come out and they’d get back in the game.”

Mostly, though, it was on special teams that Boudreaux made himself both useful and noticed.

That, in fact, is where he honed the mentality that’s helping most while playing regularly in UL’s defense now.

“Head-hunter,” Boudreaux said. “Wherever the ball is, go get it.

“The thing with defense is it’s a lot more ‘don’t let your eyes fool you, read your keys.’ You read your keys, you’ll be there and you’ll be able to make the play.”

Boudreaux has made his share of those this season, especially in the two games since UL rebounded from a 1-3 start to even its record.

In a 21-16 win at Idaho that snapped a three-game losing streak, he finished with eight tackles.

Against Texas State on Thursday, he made three more stops and got behind the line for one near the goal line that was negated by a penalty.

More: Big defensive plays help Cajuns pull away from Texas State

Yet the fact he’s playing so much now was not a certainty prior to the start of the season.

Early on, UL figured Posey would start at the Mike and juco-transfer Ferrod Gardner at the Will.

But Gardner sustained a season-ending foot injury in preseason camp, and Holmes – who had a strong camp – wound up starting at the Will for UL’s season-opening win over Southeastern Louisiana.

Holmes got hurt against SLU, however, and was limited in practice the next week.

Boudreaux started ahead of him in a 66-42 loss at Tulsa and finished with seven tackles including six assists.

Holmes subsequently quit the team because of apparent unhappiness over playing time, seemingly opening the door for Boudreaux – who had been bouncing between the Will and the Mike – to settle in as UL’s Will starter.

That possibility hit a speed bump, however, when the Cajuns decided to move Buck defensive end Joe Dillon, a USA Today Freshman All-American last season, to the Will.

Dillon started at that spot for a 45-21 loss at Texas A&M, a game in which Boudreaux went without a tackle.

More: Cajuns hope Dillon's latest move helps on defense

Unhappy with the Dillon experiment, UL moved him back to the Buck after a double-overtime loss to UL Monroe and during the bye week that followed.

Boudreaux had the Will starting job again, and his improved play made a difference against both Idaho and Texas State.

Much of the jump in success, Cajun coaches and teammates believe, simply has come with increased playing time.

“We felt like the more he played the better he’s gonna get,” Hudspeth said.

“He’s got confidence, and he’s learning. So I think he’s only gonna improve. He’s gonna be a really good player.”

Posey concurs, and firmly feels it’s all of matter of getting real-deal snaps.

“Practice is different from the game,” Posey said, “because as far as defense goes we’ve got to react to what the offense does.

“The more reps you get, the better you get and the more-comfortable and better you feel. … So he’s feeling good.

“We’re still working on the small things, even me,” Posey added. “Even I’m making little mistakes that I feel I should be making sometimes. But we’re progressing.”

Posey has tried to help the younger Boudreaux along with extensive communication, in practices and games.

“He asks me things,” Posey said.

“Just me and him talking to each other, (we’re) trying to build a good chemistry.”

Posey also feels playing on special teams last year is a big benefit this year for Boudreaux, who he said is “always a hard hitter.”

“Last year he got his feet wet,” said Posey, who also played as a true freshman. “He’s been on special teams, and I did the same thing.

“The more you’re on the field,” Posey added, “the better it comes and the more natural it comes.”

More: Ragin' Cajun defense playing in 'attack mode'

Boudreaux doesn’t doubt that.

“Seeing more and more snaps is really just gonna help my mentality going forward throughout the season, definitely,” he said. “Like they say, the more and more things you see – repetition – you’ll just get better at it.”

For Boudreaux, though, what matters most is simply being able to help, no matter the position or the time he plays.

That’s what dreams ultimately are made of for kids who genuinely love the game.

“It’s really just all about the team,” Boudreaux said.

“Wherever they need me to play, I’ll do whatever I have to do to make this team complete.”

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