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Football: New addition Humphrey no longer is UL's big surprise

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 28, 2020

When asked about teammate Tayland Humphrey, who sat out the 2019 season in accord with NCAA transfer rules, fellow UL defensive lineman Andre Jones tried his darndest to hold onto a secret.

“I’m really keeping it a surprise right now,” Jones said.

“When we get out there on the field, you’re gonna really see what he brings to the table.”

Sorry, Mr. Jones.

The cat’s out of the sack, so to speak, and no one will have to wait until the Ragin’ Cajuns open on Sept. 12 at nationally ranked Iowa State to learn what Humphrey can do behind the line of scrimmage.

What those in the know actually found out the hard way, as Humphrey toiled on UL’s scout team last fall.

More:UL schedule may be tougher, but will it all be played?

New UL defensive lineman Tayland Humphrey is a 6-foot-5, 333-pound transfer from FIU who sat out last season.

“Tayland Humphrey brings something a little bit different,” Cajuns head coach Billy Napier said. “You guys haven’t seen him, but we’ve practiced against him. We know what he can be.”

Now everyone else does too.

Because for one long season, as he sat waiting to become eligible again, the Cajuns really did get a good taste of just what the big man smack dab in the center of the d-line can do for them in 2020.

It was a mouthful.

Related:Humphrey 'a handful' in UL camp, but eligibility uncertain

At 6-foot-5 and a listed 333 pounds, Humphrey – a transfer to UL from Florida International – really is one rather large man.

And some just can’t help but rave about it.

“Tayland brings a huge presence in the middle of the defense,” UL defensive coordinator Andrew Toney said the day before preseason camp opened earlier this month. “And to play good defense – philosophically, in my opinion – it starts inside out, right?

“That’s going to be a huge help, to have a guy that commands double teams at the nose position. It’s going to have a huge impact in pass rush, to be able to push the pocket.

“Tayland’s a guy that’s worked extremely hard since he got here. He’s really gotten in shape. He’s gotten stronger. He’s learned the defense. He’s moving well,” Toney added. “So, to have that guy in the middle is gonna really help us and hopefully improve us from a rush-defense standpoint first and foremost.”

Related:With new coordinator, continuity key for Cajun defense

'IT WAS VERY HUMBLING TO ME'

In shape. Stronger. Moving well.

Humphrey took advantage of his time away from the playing field to pick up a lot on the practice field, including physical prowess.

But the gain from the pain cuts much deeper than that.

And it started when the nose guard learned he would not, as he had expected, get to play in 2019.

Instead of becoming eligible away after the move from FIU, Humphrey – the NCAA declared – had to sit a season.

Rules are rules, when they’re actually enforced.

“It was tough, honestly, because in my head I was just preparing like I was gonna play,” Humphrey said. “But in the back of my head, I knew, ‘If I don’t get eligible, I’m gonna have to keep going hard.’ And I just kept on going hard all day, every day.

“It was very humbling to me. Now I turned over a new leaf and I feel like this is a new Tayland. … I had a lot of time to reflect and catch myself and reevaluate life and how I play.”

Humphrey wasn’t the only beneficiary of his time on the sideline.

“Sitting out, he handled it well,” said Zi’Yon Hill, the leader UL’s d-line.

“I mean, he pushed us every day in practice. He pushed me. … He kept me going every day.”

Related:UL's Zi'Yon Hill stays positive, humble after battling injuries

During his downtime, the noseguard learned a lot about himself.

For starters, and in addition to understanding that going all out really does matter:

“Just to appreciate the game,” Humphrey said, “because you never know when it’s going to be taken away from you.”

And now Humphrey has a shot not to start, but to star, for the Cajuns.

'I immediately felt comfortable'

But Humphrey – a product of Klein Oak High in Spring, Texas, not far from Houston – had to go here and there before making his way to UL.

His first stop was at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, where he had 62 total tackles including 12.5 for loss with 2.5 sacks in 22 games over two seasons.

Then it was on to the Miami area of Florida, where during a 15-tackle 2018 season at FIU he appeared in 12 games while starting eight of them.

A redshirt senior now, Humphrey wasn’t sure what he was going to do when he left the Sunshine State with no intention of returning.

Why didn’t he go back?

“I just wasn’t comfortable with the coaches and there was a lot of trust issues,” Humphrey said.

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As he was returning to Texas, the big fella got a shout from the Cajuns before breezing by the campus located not far from Interstate 10.

“On the way back here,” Humphrey said, “I got a phone call from (Coach Jabbar Juluke, UL’s running  backs coach) and (he) said, ‘Stop in Lafayette on the way back.’

“I stopped, and we had a good conversation.”

Before long, Humphrey had a new team to call his own.

“When I got here,” he said, “the coaches, they (were) all welcoming and I immediately felt comfortable. It was weird. I walked in, and I immediately felt ‘at home.’ ”

More:No running from breast cancer for coach's wife Denise Juluke

'THAT'S A BIG GUY'

The Cajuns welcomed the new addition to the neighborhood with open arms, largely because they in turn saw just what he – and his size – could bring to them.

With two-year senior defensive line starter Bennie Higgins and his 16.0 career TFLs over three seasons gone now, and the loss of Kendall Wilkerson due to injuries sustained in an offseason automobile accident depleting depth in the d-line room, the addition of Humphrey is much-needed for a unit that does at least return Hill with his 53 tackles from a season ago.

Hill loves the help he believes Humphrey will provide.

“That’s a big guy,” he said.

“I think he’s gonna be a part of the 11 that’s really gonna boost us in playing good defense this year.

“We have a bunch of tenacious monsters on defense this year – I mean, all across the board,” Hill added. “So he’s just gonna add on right to the family … and we’re gonna wreak havoc on defense.”

More:UL opens camp with three Cajuns out with major injuries

Hill sees it.

And now everyone else does too.

Even Cajuns d-line Jones, in fact, realizes the secret is no more and was willing to share what’s no longer under the lid.

Truth be told, he said it even before trying to keep it all quiet.

“He brings a whole lot to the table, man,” Jones said.

Humphrey brings that extra leaf – now revitalized, extra shiny and ready for use – that usually only comes out for Thanksgiving.

More:Cajuns love Acadiana High's Jayrin Wilson now, but didn't at first

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So with Humphrey and all his size available to take on all those double-teams, Jones figures he’ll be yet another big beneficiary.

And for that he really is thankful.

“I get more 1-on-1 blocks (with Humphrey around),” Jones said, “so I don’t too much have to worry about combos when he’s taking that all up.

“So it gives me more opportunities to make plays.”

No wonder Jones was trying to keep Humphrey a secret, even if the effort was so fruitless.

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