Football: After 'difficult' end to 2017, Cajun QB Nunez starts fresh
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, July 7, 2018
He began last season as Jordan Davis’ backup.
Then Davis hurt a knee, his effectiveness slipped and Andre Nunez found himself as UL’s starting quarterback.
After replacing Davis and leading the Ragin’ Cajuns to a win at Idaho, Nunez made his first career start in a mid-October victory over Texas State. But he sustained a concussion in his next start, a lopsided loss at Arkansas State, and didn’t play again after that.
All of that prompted true freshman Levi Lewis to take off his redshirt and open UL’s next outing, a win at South Alabama. Yet when Lewis sprained an ankle and needed backup support of his own later in the season, it was Davis — not Nunez — who got the call.
Nunez, suffice it to say, was crushed.
“It was difficult,” he said shortly before UL’s spring game back in April.
“I think after a week or so, a week or two weeks, I was good. My mind was in the right place. I was ready to get back on the field. And, you know, for whatever reason, I wasn’t called back on.”
Nunez didn’t understand why he wasn’t.
“Life happens, you know? I’m not making no regrets. … I’m happy that I played last year, and I did what I could,” he said. “But, at the same time, I can’t worry about that. I did what I could, and I did my best at it. So that’s that.”
Nevertheless, the way things unfolded evidently stung.
“It was hard getting back and wondering why I’m not playing, wondering why I didn’t even travel to some of the games,” Nunez said. “But it is what it is.”
It is, but now so much has changed.
A CLEAN SLATE
UL’s head coach last season, Mark Hudspeth, was fired after a 5-7 campaign including a season-ending 63-14 loss at Appalachian State, ending a seven-year run.
He’s now an associate head coach and tight ends coach at Mississippi State.
The Cajuns’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the time, Will Hall, was let go too, as were all of Hudspeth’s assistants except for ex-UL QB Michael Desormeaux, who was retained and, after working with receivers and running backs under Hudspeth, is now coaching Cajun tight ends.
Hall is now an associate head coach and tight ends coach at Memphis.
Billy Napier, a former offensive offensive coordinator at Clemson and most recently Arizona State, was hired to replace Hudspeth and is coaching Cajun quarterbacks as well.
Shortly after UL’s spring game, Davis left the program — leaving Nunez and Lewis as contenders to start in 2018, with former Toledo redshirt Quintin Gibson, a juco transfer, evidently added to the mix in the offseason.
All the shuffling seems to sit well with Nunez, a juco-transfer himself who played at Sierra Canyon High in California, Glendale (California) Community College and Iowa Western Community College before coming to UL in 2017.
“It’s kind of a fresh start for everybody, not only the quarterbacks,” said Nunez, who finished last season 61-of-99 for 783 yards — a team-high 195.8 yards per game — and four touchdowns over just four games.
“With the new coach, and the new staff, with a new look, I think it gives everybody the opportunity to kind of show what they have and not be judged on the past — but, you know, start clean.”
With that in mind, Nunez is spending this offseason — including summer workouts — trying to become a better leader.
He also spent some time toiling on the field back in California, where he calls Pacoima home.
“I’ve always kind of been lead-by-example,” Nunez said. “I don’t like to talk much. I’m not the rah-rah guy.
“But, you know, there are certain things I can do inside the huddle with the guys. Individual workouts where I can push them. Or I can tell them some things we need to work on.
“So,” he added, “I would think, from a leadership standpoint, I’ve kind of been stepping that up.”
There’s more to Nunez’s growth between his junior and what now will be his senior season for the Cajuns, who before trips to Mississippi State and Alabama later in September open Sept. 1 at home against Grambling.
“Just all the defensive things — knowing all the coverages, and where people are, where my holes are, that kind of stuff,” he said.
With just one season remaining in his college career, there’s not much time for Nunez to spare.
He does not, however, feel pressured to throw all caution to the wind and go for broke, so to speak.
“No,” he said when asked if that would be the case. “I’m doing the same thing I’ve always been doing.
“I’ve got to ‘do me’ — like Levi (Lewis) said. You know, don’t change what got me here.
“And when I get my opportunity, you know, people see what I did and … what I could do when I get that chance again,” Nunez added. “So, I’m not worried about my last year. I’m taking it like every other year.”
Which is to say adjust, adapt and trust that yet another new offensive scheme will suit him just fine.
ALL ABOUT PLAYMAKERS
Nunez, remember, is at his fourth different school in six seasons, including Sierra Canyon, where he threw for more than 4,000 yards as a senior.
“I feel (Napier’s offense) suits a lot of our skill players,” Nunez said. “This offense is made to get the ball into the playmakers’ hands — you know, quick and in a hurry.
“We drop back and make our reads off a few people, and then (assess) what kind of works for us.”
Whether or not Nunez will be the one working it the most in 2018, however, remains to be seen.
Napier has not yet named a starter.
Instead, he’s spent his time since being hired in December observing personnel —especially the quarterbacks — and soaking it all in.
He vowed to not make judgement on a mere 15 spring practices alone, but instead the much-bigger picture.
And that’s fine by Nunez.
“That’s what it is when you’re a quarterback — everybody’s watching you; everybody’s counting on you,” he said.
“I think that’s why all of us play that position, you know? We want to be accountable, and we do everything in that way. We don’t want to let (anybody) down.
“We want to lead the guys,” Nunez added, “and that’s what we’re planning to do.”
Nunez, naturally, thinks he should be starting.
But he also understands it’s not entirely up to him.
“Being a quarterback, I think it’s me,” Nunez said when asked in the spring if he thought there was a leader in the clubhouse. “All the other quarterbacks, you ask them, they’re gonna say it’s them.
“But I’m very competitive, and I would like to think I’m leading the pack. But there’s always work to do. There’s always things to improve. That’s my mindset on it.”
As for Napier’s mindset, he consistently throughout the spring was careful to not publicly tip his hand.
Whether he did that with Cajun quarterback themselves, evidenced by Davis’ decision before what would have been his final season at UL, is a murky matter.
What’s clear to Nunez is that his fate ultimately is in Napier’s hands.
Well, him and perhaps one other.
“We’ve got to make it hard on him,” he said.
“It’s our job to make it the hardest decision for him. That means we’re competing at a high level. That’s best for the team. Top dog’s gonna win.”
The bark from Nunez, though, also makes it apparent that after not getting another shot following last season’s concussion, it really would mean a lot to get one more before the leash on his Cajun career lets loose.
“I think everybody wishes they had more chances,” he said.
“But I’ve got to make the best of what I’ve got right now, and that’s to go out this year and play to the best of my ability,” Nunez added. “Like Levi (Lewis) said, God only knows what’s gonna happen. It’s in His hands.”