Dec. 13, 2011 10:35

The Ragin' Cajun football team arrived in New Orleans Tuesday afternoon to brass bands and beads, signalling the official start of bowl week.

New Orleans Bowl Update Tuesday, 12/13, 4:30 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS -- It all hit home for Leonardo Bates Tuesday afternoon when UL's buses turned onto the main thoroughfare at Canal Street, only a block away from the New Orleans Marriott.

"I kept thinking, this is for real," said Bates, a junior regular on the Ragin' Cajun offensive line that will be in action Saturday in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. "When we turned down the street, it was like, "wow, this is Canal Street. We're here."

The Cajun squad arrived at their headquarters Marriott hotel at approximately 3:15 p.m., making the two hour and 15-minute drive in three chartered buses from the UL athletic complex. And they found support at both ends of the trip.

A good crowd turned out during the noontime hour Tuesday at the athletic complex to see the team off.

"That was really nice when we pulled up to the complex to load up," said junior offensive guard Jaron Odom, who always stands out from any crowd at 6-foot-7 and 330 pounds. "That gave us all a good feeling."

But senior linebacker Devon Lewis-Buchanan admitted the bus trip wasn't anything the Cajuns hadn't experienced all season. After all, UL has already played seven road games this year on the way to the 8-4 record that they take into Saturday's 8 p.m. game against San Diego State.

"Everybody was watching TV or sleeping," said Lewis-Buchanan, part of the UL defensive crew that has recorded seven interception returns for touchdowns this year the second-best number in NCAA history. "It's been a long couple of weeks with us getting ready, but now it's starting to sink in."

It sunk in for most of the travel party Tuesday afternoon. When the team pulled up to the hotel, a brass band was there to welcome them, and bowl officials draped special gold Mardi Gras-style beads around every available neck.

"This week is a chance for our football program and our players to make a statement," said first-year Cajun coach Mark Hudspeth. "Players across the country will be tuning in Saturday night and seeing us in a bowl. We're starting a new tradition.

"We're going to have 30,000 fans in the Dome, and we plan to make it a true home-field advantage."

The Cajun players were all wearing their brand-new red wind suits with the New Orleans Bowl logo prominent on the back, part of the extensive gift package that goes to each player and staff member.

"It does feel like we're here now," Lewis-Buchanan said. "Riding into town and seeing all the scenery, all the signs, and then all the signs and banners at the hotel. It's really coming true now."

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