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Baseball: Deggs' UL baseball teams feed off offensive Pack system

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Feb. 12, 2020

He has authored a book about it. He sells a video system detailing it. He lives by it.

The Pack system.

It’s the offense Matt Deggs’ baseball teams are built around, including the one from UL that will debut with Deggs as its head coach when the No. 24 Ragin’ Cajuns play host Friday night to Southeastern Louisiana on M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park.

What is it, really?

Those who’ve experienced it each have their own spin, but no one knows better than Deggs, the man tapped last July to succeed the late Tony Robichaux as coach of the Cajuns.

It may seem complicated, but he considers the key to making it work actually quite simple.

“Everybody understands their job,” Deggs said. “Do your function.”

More: Alcohol cost Cajuns coach Deggs dearly

The pack system was at the heart of UL's success when Deggs was an assistant to Robichaux, including work with a 2013 NCAA Regional team that went 43-20 and a 2014 Super Regional club that finished 58-10.

At the heart of it, as then-Cajun Jace Conrad sees it, was a dependence on teammates.

“Honestly, you can try the pack system all you want as a coach, as players, as a team,” Conrad said a few days ago.

“But if you don’t truly understand what it means to literally care for the person next to you and the people around you more than you care for yourself, it won’t work.”

Neither will it work, Conrad suggested, if the person running it doesn’t both sell and buy into it.

Conrad believes the coach running the system must not only believe in it, but also preach it daily and practice it regularly “with his actions and the way he goes about his business.”

“You can read the book, you can read the system,” Conrad said, “but if you don’t believe in the system, then it’s just a system.

“It’s not a game plan. It’s not something you can execute. I mean, it’s just like anything else. You can say what you want … but if you don’t work hard at it, and you don’t believe in it, it’s not gonna happen.”

More: Deggs, Robichaux as alike as they are different

2014 TEAM GOT IT

Batters on the 2014 team, like others coached by Deggs, each were tagged with one of four labels: They were either a hitter, runner, bomber or ballplayer, and everyone understood and accepted what they were supposed to be.

“It’s really just a mindset — knowing you’re gonna get a job done, knowing if you don’t get a job done someone’s gonna be behind you to pick you up,” then-Cajun Tyler Girouard said in 2014.

“He (Deggs) gives you a realization of what realistically you should be doing, what you can visualize at the plate. I’m a ballplayer. That’s just getting the job done. Coach Deggs calls it ‘cannon fodder.’ Just being the first line, making a distraction, getting on base so the bombers and hitters can come up and drive you in.”

Michael Strentz and Dylan Butler were tagged bombers. Blake Trahan and Ryan Leonards were hitters, driving the ball to gaps and hitting for average. Caleb Adams also was a prototypical hitter. He wound up hitting a team-high .381, but also produced bomber-type numbers with a team-best 11 homers.

“Staying within your capabilities is big,” Adams said then.

“Our crosshairs are on the right-center gap — get a pitch, and drive it. The other thing is ‘just compete.’ He always preaches ‘just compete in the box’ all the time.”

More: Reds shortstop Trahan remembers Robichaux

2020 CLUB BUYING IN

Deggs’ 2020 Cajuns are convinced it will work for them too.

“I think we’ve got a bunch of really good pieces that fight together and complement each other,” centerfielder Brennan Breaux said, “and with this style of offense, with his pack mentality and this pack offense that he brings, I think sky’s the limit.

“I think we can be as good as we want to be, and as good as we can be, and it’s going to be really, really fun to see how it all fits together when the bullets start to fly.” Brennan Breaux, Centerfielder.

Breaux believes the most important part of playing the Deggs way is “knowing your role within that pack.”

“You know whether you have to get on base, whether you steal bases, pose a distraction to the pitcher, drive runs in, hit home runs or handle the bat and execute in different situations,” he said. “It takes all kinds to make it go ’round and make the offense work, and we’ve got all those pieces.”

Related: He did it at STM; now UL's Brennan Breaux may pitch too

Shortstop Hayden Cantrelle is a highly regarded major league prospect, much like 2014-team shortstop Trahan was before he went on to win a AAA Gold Glove and play in 11 games for the Cincinnati Reds in 2018.

Cantrelle said Deggs compares his system to wolves pursuing prey. They do so as a pack, but each knows what part they must play.

“One thing he always talks about is the takedown,” Cantrelle said.

“So, as a lineup, and as a team, both offensively and defensively, it’s all about performing in your role.

“I feel like our team throughout has that pack mentality,” he added, “and that’s what he’s referring to — doing your role, whenever it’s called upon.”

More: 'Why can't we go to a World Series?'

MUCH RESPECT

Deggs helped current Cajuns assistant coach Jeremy Talbot develop the system when both were assistant coaches at Texas A&M prior to working under Robichaux at UL.

It can be applied to pitchers too, and as one Cajun reliever sees it, the system isn’t necessarily unique or even exclusive to baseball.

“His pack system — it’s very similar to Coach (Bill) Belichick and the (New England) Patriots as far as knowing your role,” Caleb Armstrong said.

“So I think that’s really allowed us to focus on what we need to do instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing.”

Deggs, who spent five seasons as head coach at Sam Houston State before returning to UL, could not be happier with the way his latest line of Cajuns have bought in.

“It’s hard to get my respect on the baseball field,” Deggs said before coaching even his first game this year, “and I respect the heck out of these kids.”

He expects what he’s seen so far to pay off at the plate, too.

“If you have an unbelievable attitude and a great approach, you’re gonna hit,” Deggs said. “You can take a swing and chuck it out the window. At the moment of truth, there’s no instruction manual. … You’ve got what you’ve got on that given day.

“But you can have a great attitude and a great approach and an understanding of who you are and what’s expected out you inside of what we do, and if those two things — attitude, approach — are strong and we have an understanding of how to compete and what needs to go down, when and where the rubber meets the road, we’re gonna be all right.”

More: Ragin' Cajuns fans applaud hiring of new baseball coach Matt Deggs

ROBICHAUX BELIEVED

Back in 2014, Robichaux raved over the system.

“You’ve got guys that are hitting so well that somebody’s trying to catch ‘him,’ and somebody’s trying to outdo ‘him. ... And once you get going, hitting’s contagious,” he said then. “I just think our approach has been so good. Coach Deggs has a great approach with them. It started Day 1, and we never, never strayed from that approach.”

UL went into the Sun Belt Conference Tournament that year leading the nation in home runs. It ended up with 68, an average of one each game played.

“It’s not just a hitting approach," Robichaux said in 2014. “It’s really an offensive-mindset approach, where their goal is take something away from the pitcher.

“I like it because you don’t have a home-run hitter trying to bunt, you don’t have a bunter trying to become a home-run hitter. Each one of them knows what their role is within the confines of what they’re trying to do, and it’s an aggressive-approach offense that tries to build every inning.”

Beyond all that, though, it’s also about something bigger than baseball.

That’s how UL’s 2012-14 second baseman feels.

“The pack system is a brotherhood,” Conrad said Saturday. “To this day I can call anyone on that 2014 team and they will be there for whatever I need.”

More: Deggs honored to carry Robichaux's torch as UL coach



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