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Football: Former UL walk-on Shane Vallot now granted opportunity to be starting center

Kevin Foote, The Advocate, Aug. 4, 2019

They can laugh about it now.

When UL coach Billy Napier and his new staff arrived following the 2017 football season, former walk-on offensive lineman Shane Vallot from Comeaux High was moved to center.

Initially, it didn’t go well.

“When they first moved me there last year, every practice I was having bad snaps,” Vallot said. “Coach told me he couldn’t count on me to get in the game, because my snaps were so bad.”

Vallot wasn’t shaken by the challenge, a testament to his perseverance. Over the last year and a half, Vallot slowly but steadily went from fourth to second string on the Ragin’ Cajuns’ offensive line depth chart.

So much so that when senior starting center Cole Prudhomme suffered an offseason knee injury requiring surgery, the UL coaching staff looked to him as the next man up.

As the Cajuns began August practice drills Friday, Vallot possessed a whole new outlook to the upcoming season.

“When I found out at the beginning of the summertime, it was a new approach for me,” he said. “Knowing I’m the next man up, I had to step it up a little more in the weight room, just in everything we do.”

Vallot understands nothing is guaranteed.

“If I sit there and think I’ve already got the starting position, it’s not going to work like that,” Vallot said. “I don’t expect anything less than I’ve been getting. They’re going to get on me. Competition, that’s what makes everybody better.”

In fact, offensive coordinator Rob Sale explained Thursday that Vallot is one of many options at center, including Luke Junkunc, David Hudson, Spencer Gardner, Max Yarbrough and perhaps even moving starting left guard Ken Marks over one spot.

“We do have guys who can put their hands on the ball,” Sale said. “Shane is very capable of doing it. He’s very capable. He had a good summer, but there are other guys we’re preparing as well. You’ve got to have a back-up in case he gets hurt as well.

“We have depth at the offensive line, which is a good thing. But Shane had a good spring and he’s had a good summer. Physically, he can do it and mentally as well. Mentally, the center you know, you’ve got to (middle linebacker) declarations in run and pass and everything you do.”

So far, senior guard Kevin Dotson has been encouraged by Vallot’s approach to his new opportunity.

“I’m going to give him advice if he needs it, but I feel pretty confident in Shane’s abilities,” Dotson said. “He really just hopped right in there. It hasn’t been a skip really. He’s been on top of his game. He comes up here learns extra and talks to the coaches extra. I’m confident in his abilities.”

Even better, Prudhomme himself has been one of Vallot’s biggest allies. Prudhomme's status for the season won't be determined until he's cleared by the team doctor.

“Cole’s actually helped me a lot,” Vallot said. “Usually when people get hurt, they kind of back down and step away. Actually, Cole’s almost been like a coach. He’s really been there for me. Every time I’m out there doing reps with the pass rush, he’s out there telling me everything I did wrong. We watch film together. He shows me all kind of stuff, which is good, because I need it. That’s what kind of guy Cole is.”

Vallot certainly didn’t take the normal rise up the depth chart. He arrived as a walk-on. His first look around the locker room certainly didn’t bolster his confidence level.

“When I got first got here and saw how big Kevin Dotson and Robert Hunt were, I was like, ‘Wow, these are some really big guys. This is going to be tough,’ ” he said. “But I just kept fighting and I’ve seen the opportunity to step up.”

Vallot was also wise enough to heed the warning from the coaching staff.

As a junior at Comeaux, he played tackle, before moving to guard at 305 pounds as a senior. Also a wrestler, Vallot had to get down to 285 for the second semester his senior season with the Spartans. Before he knew it, though, he was up to 325 after his first year at UL.

“Coach Sale told me, ‘Shane if you want to play for us, you’re going to have to lose some weight,’ ” Vallot said. “That day, I started my diet and I lost 55 pounds — got down to 270.

“He didn’t want me to get that small. He wanted me at about 285, but once I got to 285, I couldn’t stop losing. Now I’m back at the 280 range.”

Ironically, the guy who was once told he was too small to play Division I football, began catching the eye of the UL coaches once he lost 55 pounds.

“It changed everything for me,” Vallot said. “I kind of became a new player. I went from fourth string to second string. I was able to move a lot more. He helped me with my feet. It made all my game a lot better.”

The day before summer workouts began, Napier announced before a team meeting that Vallot was now on full scholarship.

“That was awesome,” Vallot said. “It was a dream come true. People thought I couldn’t play here. I was a walk-on. I was told I was too small. When this happened, I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything better than that.

“Coming in as a walk-on, your job is to prove yourself and get a scholarship. When I came in, coach (Doug) Dotson at Comeaux told me that I need to go out there with a chip on my shoulder. You’re one of the smallest guys on the offensive line, but you can play. I’ve seen you.”