UL assistant football coach Looney dies of heart attack during morning practice
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 1, 2020
Robert Hunt was stunned after hearing that UL assistant football coach D.J. Looney died Saturday morning following a heart attack during a team workout at Cajun Field.
Hunt, an offensive lineman selected by the Miami Dolphins in the second round of this year's NFL Draft, was coached past two seasons by Looney, who was heading into his third season working with the Ragin' Cajuns offensive line.
“I don’t really have all my thoughts together, you know, just because ... It’s a crazy time,” Hunt during a telephone interview with The Daily Advertiser early Saturday afternoon. “It just doesn’t seem real right now. ... I’m just trying to go with the moment right now, just trying to understand everything.”
Looney was confirmed dead at University Hospital & Clinics, which is located across the street from Cajun Field, a team spokesman said. He was 31 years old.
“At this time,” UL said in a statement, “the department of athletics asks that fans, friends and acquaintances of Coach Looney keep his family and the football program in their thoughts and prayers.”
Funeral service plans for Looney were not available as of late Saturday afternoon, the UL spokesman said.
Looney was a full-time assistant coach on the staff of head coach Billy Napier, whose Cajuns are scheduled to open their preseason camp Friday, and worked alongside Rob Sale, UL’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
He tutored two Cajuns picked in this year's NFL Draft, Hunt and All-American Kevin Dotson, a Pittsburgh Steelers third-round choice. Looney also helped to mentor current Cajun offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence, a freshman All-American in 2019.
Hunt credited Looney for aiding his development.
“He was very important,” Hunt said from South Florida. “He helped us out a lot, him and Coach Sale. He did a lot of great things, man. A lot.”
A product of Oak Mountain High in Birmingham, Alabama, Looney played on the offensive line, including time at center, while at Mississippi State, where he got his coaching start as an offensive graduate assistant on coach Dan Mullen’s Music City Bowl-winning staff in 2011.
The three-year letterman who played at a listed 6-foot-1 and 300 pounds worked with Mississippi State's offensive linemen and quarterbacks in addition to assisting with MSU’s special teams.
At MSU, Looney played on two bowl-game winning teams as an offensive lineman, one as a redshirt freshman, when the 2007 Bulldogs beat UCF in the Liberty Bowl, and again on the 2010 Mississippi State team that beat Michigan in the Gator Bowl.
Off the field Looney was president of MSU's Campus Student Advisory Council in 2009, earned his degree from Mississippi State in arts and sciences in 2010 and was a three-year member of the NCAA Football Issues Committee.
He later coached the offensive line and was recruiting coordinator at East Mississippi Community College from 2012-13, coached tackles and tight ends at Southland Conference member Central Arkansas from 2014-15 and was an offensive graduate assistant at Georgia under Kirby Smart in 2016 before returning to coach tight ends as a full-time assistant under Mullen at Mississippi State in 2017.
Looney recruited heavily for the Cajuns in Mississippi, where current Ridgeland High head coach and athletic director Sam Williams was one of his teammates with the Bulldogs.
“He's just a real genuine guy,” Williams said in a telephone interview. “I think you can tell (that) from the social media outpouring from here.”
“RIP coach,” tweeted quarterback Zy McDonald, a Cajuns commit from Ridgeland High. “I enjoyed and will cherish every conservation we had.”
Social media reaction to the passing of Looney was widespread, but it seemed to hit especially hard for those close to home with the Cajuns.
“Appreciate all the knowledge you (instilled) in me with coaching and playing,” current UL offensive lineman Ken Marks tweeted. “Life is not fair, but God makes no mistakes. I love you loon dawg RIP.”
“This special guy ALWAYS made me feel so welcome and loved...the best smile and the best BEST hugs,” tweeted Kerry Maggard, the wife of Cajuns athletic director Bryan Maggard. “Please pray for his family, our young men, coaches, staff, and all who loved DJ.”
Napier did not immediately issue a statement on Looney’s passing.
“Our prayers are with Coach Looney’s family and the Ragin Cajun Football team,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron tweeted. “He will be missed. God bless”
“Louisiana mourns the loss of Coach D.J. Looney, who passed away this morning,” Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards tweeted. “Please join (First Lady Donna Edwards) and me in praying for his friends, family, players and the entire @RaginCajuns community during this difficult time.”