Football: How a late surge boosted Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns football signing class. Here's how.
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Feb. 4, 2021
When UL announced nine new high school signees Wednesday to go with the eight players and one juco transfer signed in December, it delivered a 2021 class ranked highest by average player rating among all Sun Belt Conference programs according to 247Sports.
The Ragin’ Cajuns also announced three FBS transfers – former Texas A&M running back Jacob Kibodi, former UL Monroe starting offensive lineman T.J. Fiailoa and former Maryland backup quarterback Lance LeGendre.
They join the three FBS transfers announced in December – former TCU receiver John Stephens Jr., former Kansas State safety Tyrone Lewis Jr. and ex-Kansas redshirt defensive end/outside linebacker Clinton Anokwuru.
The transfers don’t count toward 247Sports’ class rankings, but it was quite a haul nonetheless.
Here are five National Signing Day takeaways:
Patience helped UL class rankings
Arkansas State had the No. 2 Sun Belt class ranked by average player rating according to 247Sports, followed by Appalachian State.
Texas State was last.
A strong finish Wednesday bolstered UL’s top ranking.
The Cajuns pulled in four ex-Power 5 commits, including two – running back Montrell Johnson Jr. and outside linebacker Ja’Marian Peterson, teammates from De La Salle High in New Orleans who until December were pledged to Arizona.
“We’d be hard-pressed to do it much better than we did,” coach Billy Napier said.
One factor in pulling it off: not succumbing to the temptation of signing lower-rated recruits in December.
“We kind of stuck to our guns a little bit in terms of our evaluation process,” Napier said.
“We didn’t reach the first period, and just kind of said, ‘Hey, there’s gonna be a lot of players that come available.’ ”
The Cajuns wound up signing five high school players who hadn’t been committed to them until after the early signing period: Johnson and Peterson; inside linebacker KC Ossai, another ex-Arizona commit; offensive lineman George Jackson, a former Florida commit; and Many High running back Terrence Williams.
Williams is UL’s highest-rated recruit, according to 247Sports, and Johnson is second. The Cajuns finished 75th nationally according to 247Sports, second in the Sun Belt behind Appalachian State.
The transfer portal paid
Working the transfer portal also paid for UL.
The result, according to Napier, is the Cajuns’ “best collection of players we’ve had since” he was hired in late 2018.
UL took more FBS transfers compared to previous ones, according to Napier, partly because the NCAA granted everyone an extra season of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic and all will be eligible to play immediately for the Cajuns rather than having to sit a season or wait for a transfer waiver ruling.
Don’t forget UL’s returning seniors
There’s another reason Napier has his most-complete roster yet.
Nine seniors whose eligibility would be expired if it wasn’t for COVID-19 are returning including starting quarterback Levi Lewis, starting left guard Ken Marks, starting receiver Jalen Williams, starting nose tackle Tayland Humphrey, starting inside linebacker Ferrod Gardner, outside linebacker Chauncey Manac and safety Cam Solomon.
“Those are some of the biggest recruits we signed this year, you know, truth be known,” Napier said.
Not really, but Napier’s point is made.
Jathan Caldwell could contribute
Perhaps UL’s least-publicized signee Wednesday was Jathan Caldwell, a tight end from Dickinson (Texas) High listed at 6-foot-2 and 214 pounds.
Napier said Caldwell actually weighs 235.
“The guy played running back for his team, inside receiver, outside receiver,” Napier said. “He did play with his hand in the dirt as a tight end as well.
“But overall I think he’s a run-after-catch, mismatch type of player that’s a sufficient blocker.”
UL walk-ons have a shot
UL also announced six preferred walk-ons from Louisiana high schools: Notre Dame High quarterback Parker Seilhan and inside linebacker Wesley Maze; receiver Trayv'on Culbert (Alexandria); offensive linemen Caleb Harris (Sulpher) and Michael Nuber (Slidell); and Jake St. Andre, an inside linebacker from Haughton High in Bossier City.
In a program that has 11 players on scholarship who began as walk-ons, they’ll have a shot not just to play but also to have their way paid.
“I think the big part of our culture is you get what you earn around here, regardless of your class or your status,” Napier said. “We try to have a place where if you’re the best at doing a job you’re gonna get an opportunity to play.”