Football: Unsung Cajuns big reason 10-3 UL is bowl-bound again
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Dec. 29, 2019
They are the mostly unsung ones.
They’re guys who have held down key roles at various times this season for the 10-3 Ragin’ Cajuns, but who live in the shadow of teammates who play more, score more, have more chances for big plays and reap more headlines as a result.
Some have received a share of attention now and then.
Four of them, all walk-ons, even were told before the team broke for Christmas last that they had been put on scholarship, much to the delight of teammates who welcomed them to the club: starting snapper Paul Boudreaux; reserve defensive lineman Malcolm Rollins; reserve offensive lineman David Hudson, a Lafayette High product; and reserve receiver Devon Pauley.
On a roster with well more than 100 players, they're four among the masses
Former walk-on Shane Vallot, for instance, began starting at center when senior Cole Prudhomme went down in the offseason and has been nothing but steady and dependable.
True freshman O’Cyrus Torrence became UL’s starter at right guard after senior Ken Marks tore up a knee in a season-opening loss to Mississippi, and the line hasn’t missed a beat. When depth's been needed on occasion, Hudson and Spencer Gardner both have answered the call.
Redshirt freshman walk-on kicker Kenneth Almendares has handled kickoffs admirably all season, allowing senior Stevie Artigue to save his surgically repaired knee for field goals and PATs.
UL tight end Pearse Migl signs an autograph during the team's 2019 Fan Day. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/THE ADVERTISER)
Boudreaux quietly has gone about his business handling snaps for both Artigue and punter Rhys Byrns.
There are so many. Far too many, really, to mention.
Without them, however, UL might not have a school-record number of wins this year. It might not have won the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division. And it might not have produced a season that will end with the Cajuns playing MAC-champion Miami (Ohio) on Jan. 6 at the LendingTree Bowl in Mobile, their second straight bowl trip after losing to Tulane at last year's Cure Bowl.
That in mind, what follows are the tales of a few more, all evidence of how it really does take a village for a team to do what UL’s has in 2019 …
MIGL ‘PLAYS EXTREMELY HARD’
The Cajuns play four tights – graduate transfer Nick Ralston, former walk-on Hunter Bergeron and true freshman Neal Johnson among them.
Another former walk-on, redshirt freshman Pearse Migl, plays behind Ralston and, like Ralston, really is more of a fullback/H-back type than a true tight end.
But whatever you call him, his contributions have been big. And the six catches he has are only the start of the story.
“Pearse Migl is a guy that doesn’t get a lot of credit, but he plays winning football,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “Tough guy. Great ball skills. Pretty good after the catch. Just (shows) consistency in performance. The guy brings it every day. You know, it’s one thing to have potential. It’s another thing to perform. He performs.”
The 6-foot-1 Welsh High product was put on scholarship earlier this year, as was Bergeron.
“Pearse is a hard-nosed, tough football player,” tight ends coach Michael Desormeaux said earlier this year.
“He’s a little shorter than you want and all that stuff, but he’s got some fire in him and the kid plays extremely hard.
“He’s incredibly intelligent. He knows every part of this offense backward and forward, and I think Pearse’s best quality and best attribute is how dependable he is,” Desormeaux added. “He’s gonna make the plays he’s supposed to make. He’s gonna be where he’s supposed to be. And I think that’s the value he brings to our room.”
SOLOMON ‘A MATURE GUY’
The Cajuns have utilized a four-man safety rotation involving usual starter Percy Butler along with Deuce Wallace, Bralen Trahan and Cam Solomon.
Perhaps never was Solomon’s presence appreciated more than in his absence, when he got ejected for targeting against ULM and – with Butler injured and out – Wallace and Trahan had to carry the load.
“Cam Solomon has been outstanding. He’s a mature guy,” Napier said. “You know exactly what you’re gonna get from the guy. He’s consistent.
“And he’s kind of a guy who’s mature beyond his years. … He’s been that way since he got here. He’s an impressive person. And he plays that way.”
UL safety Cam Solomon goes up high to break up a pass in a win over Texas Southern earlier this season. (Photo: Michael O. Curley, Special to The Advertiser)
WASHINGTON ‘A BALLER’
Senior Michael Jacquet III and sophomore Eric Garror have been UL’s regular starters at cornerback, but redshirt freshman Asjlin “A.J.” Washington – a rotation regular – stepped up when Jacquet missed time with an ankle injury.
The product of C.E. King High in Houston has a nose for the ball, evidenced by a team-high three interceptions – one each in wins over Ohio, Arkansas State and Troy – along a fumble recovery in a win over South Alabama and a forced sack fumble in the Cajuns’ Sun Belt championship game loss to No. 20 Appalachian State.
He has only 13 total tackles, but got behind the line for one in each of UL’s last two games.
“A.J. is baller,” said Jacquet, a prospect. “People don’t realize how good A.J. is, because he’s behind me and Eric (Garror).
“But A.J. definitely is a great player. I’m looking forward for his future. He’s going to continue to get better. I told him he has the possibility of being the best corner in our room, without a doubt.”
Redshirt freshman Kam Pedescleaux shares time with graduate transfer Brenndan Johnson playing behind senior Star nickel back Terik Miller, and he’s played in UL’s dime package too.
The product of Manvel High in Houston – a former walk-on – picked a pass in UL’s non-conference win at Ohio, and he’s been in on 29 total tackles including 3.5 for loss.
When Napier was asked about unexpected contributions this season, Pedescleaux’s name was the first he mentioned.
Pedescleaux’s touchdown-saving hustle tackle on a long pass completion perhaps saved the day for UL in its narrow regular-season ending win over UL Monroe, as the Warhawks had to settle for a field goal on the key drive.
“(He’s) just very instinctive, savvy, high football IQ, tough guy that has done a tremendous job for us,” the Cajuns coach said.
JOHNSON IS ‘A WORKER’
Ashton Johnson is buried in a running back room that features Elijah Mitchell, Raymond Calais Jr. and Trey Ragas.
But the senior from Woodlawn High in Baton Rouge is a big contributor on special teams, along with the likes of fellow running back T.J. Wisham, cornerback Kamar Greenhouse and walk-ons including defensive backs Jayrin Wilson, an Acadiana High product, and Brandon Bishop.
Perhaps even more importantly than his special teams play, though, it’s Johnson’s influence on teammates that’s been a real difference-maker for the Cajuns.
"He's a leader," UL running backs coach Jabbar Juluke said.
“Ashton’s been a big push on me,” added starting inside linebacker Ferrod Gardner, who roomed with Johnson last year. “Ashton is a worker. Whatever you do with Ashton Johnson, if you don’t show up, he will outdo you – whether it’s running or lifting or anything else. … He’s a hard-working guy, and he’s proud of what he does.”
THE RECEIVER ROOM
Everyone in UL’s receiver room takes a back seat to senior pro prospect Ja’Marcus Bradley, whose 818 yards and eight touchdowns are nearly double what all of the Cajuns’ other pass catchers have produced.
But a true freshman, Peter LeBlanc from Catholic High of New Iberia, emerged early in the season and has produced four touchdown catches already, making him one to watch for days down the road.
“Peter is a guy (who) it’s never too big for him,” Napier said of LeBlanc, who had two of his TD catches and 118 of his 336 yards on the season in UL’s title-game loss at App State.
“You think about what he was able to accomplish as a high school player in the program he came from, he played in big games. He’s comfortable in that setting.
“He’s going to be a really, really good player here,” Napier added. “He’s a guy who didn’t have an extensive history as a receiver, but he’s picked it up quickly. He’s a competitive. I think he’s got a bright future in front of him.”
Pauley has emerged from deep on the depth chart to help when needed, making a few catches and an impact with his blocking. Cassius Allen has another half-dozen catches.
Jalen Williams, meanwhile, is a redshirt junior from Westminster Christian who spent three years as a pitcher in Boston Red Sox minor-league system and spent time as a football walk-on at LSU before transferring to UL.
In his second season as a Cajun, he’s quietly hauled in 18 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown. But the 6-foot-3 Williams makes an impact on special teams and with blocking on offense that also all too often goes unnoticed by the casual observer.
“He plays well without the ball,” Napier said of Williams.
“He’s tough, he’s physical, and certainly he’s got some height and length. He’s growing up. … We’re pleased with Jalen and the progress he’s made.”