Football - Tears of joy: Ragin' Cajuns honored Looney the right way with win at UAB
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Oct. 25, 2020
BIRMINGHAM – With about a dozen of his family members sitting in the bleachers at Legion Field, the plan was to properly honor late assistant coach D.J. Looney.
It started with UL players all wearing the name LOONEY on the back of their jerseys.
It ended, fittingly for the Ragin’ Cajuns, with a 24-20 non-conference win over UAB in Looney’s hometown of Birmingham, and afterward, his relatives, including mother Sarah and father David Looney Sr., celebrated on the field with UL players.
“It was humbling to see coach Looney’s parents, and how much it meant to them,” punter Rhys Byrns said. “They’re beautiful people.”
Cajun players felt moved to leave Birmingham, where the UL offensive line coach played at Oak Mountain High, with a win.
The victory pushed UL (4-1) from 12th to sixth among 'others receiving votes' in the new Amway Coaches Poll on Sunday. It also bumped the Cajuns, who had been No. 21 before losing earlier this month to Coastal Carolina, from seventh to fourth among 'others receiving votes' in the AP Top 25.
Photo by Brad Kemp, ragincajuns.com - Shane Vallot with Looney family after game.
“It’s an honor to play for a guy like Coach Looney. He was a big part of our team. He got us here,” said running back Chris Smith, who returned a kickoff 100 yards for a momentum-changing touchdown late in Friday night’s first half. “He helped us out – helped us out on special teams, defense, it didn’t matter. He was supporting everybody.”
'Playing for Coach Looney'
The Cajuns’ postgame locker room was an emotional one after UL rallied from 10 points down, Smith suggested.
“You know we were crying tears of joy,” he said.
“He (Looney) would be proud that we kept on fighting. I think everybody was happy we represented him in the best way possible, and we just took care of business.”
Looney, 31, died following a heart attack during an Aug. 1 team minicamp workout at Cajun Field.
The former Mississippi State offensive lineman, who also coached tight ends for the Bulldogs, was heading into his third season on coach Billy Napier’s UL staff.
Looney also was an assistant coach from 2014-15 at Central Arkansas, which visits the Cajuns in November.
UL assistant Looney remembered:'He always cared about you,' former Mississippi State teammate says
“Before the game, the big thing was just ‘Playing for Coach Looney,’ man,” said safety Bralen Trahan, whose last-minute interception sealed the victory.
“We just wanted to dedicate this whole game to him. It was a nice win with his last name on our jerseys, and it was a great feeling we got the ‘dub’ for him.
“We just felt like he was there with us,” Trahan added. “We miss him, and we love Coach, and the emotions were high.”
UL's Trahan:'I'm always perfecting my craft'
Pushing the punt
Byrns, whose 74-yard punt to the 6-yard line pinned UAB deep with 1:16 left, perceived Looney’s presence too.
“Coach Looney definitely was on my mind,” he said. “I think he may have been pushing (the punt), up from the sky, to be honest.
“I loved coach Looney. He was the most genuine guy I know,” added Byrns, whose boot bounced 20 yards after landing. “So to see (his family) so happy during a time that’s so tough was uplifting. It was awesome to see. I was happy it made them so happy.”
Napier considered it a teaching moment for his Cajuns, who return to Sun Belt Conference play Saturday at Texas State (7 p.m., ESPNU).
“I think we played for a purpose bigger than ourselves,” the UL coach said. “The effort, the passion, the energy – we played with no fear. I think our players were consumed with competing and trying to find a way to do this, to honor Coach Looney.
“I think we can learn a lot here, in terms of how to play this game and also how to live life. I know D.J. lived life that way. He lived life for other people.”