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Football: NFL Draft prep continues for Cajuns despite no Pro Day

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, April 1, 2020

Quite some time ago, Ragin’ Cajuns coach Billy Napier was making the case that football players from Group of Five teams like UL have just as much to chance to be noticed by NFL scouts as those from Power 5 programs do.

Their body of work all is on the modern version of film these days, and in many cases — including those of offensive lineman Robert Hunt and Raymond Calais Jr., both of whom attended the NFL Draft Combine earlier this year in Indianapolis — that’s all it takes to stand out.

“Ultimately that’s what’s happening here,” Napier said, “is people are watching the tape and they’re impressed with what they see.

“Then they show up and they come watch, and they see how big they are.”

Or, as is the case with Calais, how fast they are.

The Cecilia High product ran impressive first-try 4.42 seconds 40-yard dash at the combine — third-fastest among all running backs there.

Related: UL's Calais 'wants to be known for more than just speed'

UL receiver/holder Bam Jackson, left, and kicker Stevie Artigue, shown here in a November game against Texas State, now are preparing for potential pro careers.

UL receiver/holder Bam Jackson, left, and kicker Stevie Artigue, shown here in a November game against Texas State, now are preparing for potential pro careers. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network)

“They see they are comparable to what they see in these other Power 5 conferences,” Napier said.

If everything was right in the world, several other UL seniors who harbor NFL hopes of their own would be taking part in Pro Day on Wednesday.

It’s a rite of passage for most outgoing NCAA Division I college football players, one more chance — perhaps the last — to be seen by the scouts as the kids chase their dream of taking their game to the next level.

But things are not right.

The deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has put a halt on sports throughout the country and much of the world.

 

Pro Day, the one circled on the calendar by so many for so long, is just one victim.

More: Coronavirus crisis impacts recruiting for the Cajuns

Related: Cajuns applaud NCAA coronavirus eligibility ruling

Prospects cannot congregate to run, jump and lift in front of watchful eyes, like the top ones did in Indianapolis starting in late February, and like the rest usually do around this time of year.

The scouts stopped traveling anyway when most other sports activities were postponed or canceled around mid-March, so even if the Cajuns could get together Wednesday, it would not matter.

Yet, the NFL Draft, at least for now, still is scheduled to go on as previously planned from April 23-25.

And preparations for it proceed accordingly, even with all the social isolation, self-quarantine and facilities lockdown obstacles that must be overcome.

Calais continues to run, and Hunt — who missed the second half of his senior season with an injury — continues to prepare.

More: 5 things to know about the NFL Draft prospect Hunt

The ones who lost out on Pro Day do the same, some more formally than others.

Twitter postings prove it.

All-American offensive lineman Kevin Dotson — who played right guard with Hunt on his flank at tackle, then played along with Cajuns receiver JaMarcus Bradley in the East-West Shrine Bowl — continues to lift and work out with a trainer.

Like Dotson, Bradley made quite an impression in the postseason game for prospects.

“(Bradley) demonstrated (NFL)-caliber soft hands and caught every ball thrown in his direction,” tweeted former NFL scout Dan Shonka, now with Ourlands.com. “The way he snatched the ball was ultra impressive.”

More: NFL-prospect Bradley 'doing something right' for Cajuns

One mid-March video on Twitter shows cornerback Michael Jacquet III — who along with Calais played in January at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl — running incline speed drills.

Then there’s kicker Stevie Artigue, who — like so many others  because of the coronavirus breakout — has had to improvise.

He posted a video on Twitter this week that shows him doing leg work by squatting a bar with a Home Depot bucket hanging from each side — both filled with sand.

“I’m practicing some social distancing by training for the NFL with these sand buckets,” Artigue says on his video. “How are you getting your work in today?”

Pre-draft work continues on the business front too.

On Monday, the management group 3SG Sports tweeted a photo of former Cajuns receiver Bam Jackson signing paperwork to join the agency as a client.

More: Jackson saved Artigue on key UL field goal in bowl win

Related: YouTube helped UL's Jackson learn to hold for Artigue

“Bam’s athleticism and elite hands were on full display during the 2019 season,” the firm said in its tweet. “He is now ready to take his talents to next level.”

But he will have to try to do it without a Pro Day.

Instead, he must rely largely on that aforementioned game tape.

It’s the first step in a process Napier, whose team lost its spring game and most of spring practice to the pandemic, really does believe puts Group of Five players like the Cajuns on the same plane as their Power 5 counterparts.

Related: UL football spring game canceled due to coronavirus

More: UL's Napier has a coronavirus message for the Cajuns

“As times goes,” the UL coach said, “I think more and more kids understand there’s not significant difference in terms of the opportunity you have, the way you’re gonna get evaluated.

“Nowadays they are so thorough. There is no much information out there. And they’re so well-organized at the next level that if you’re a good player, and the dimensions match up — the size, speed, the film — you’re gonna get an opportunity.”



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