Cover Story

Green is Money

Green is Money
The Ragin' Cajuns have cashed in on talented tight end Ladarius Green, a finance major and certain NFL prospect who has big business plans when he's done
working on Sundays.
By Dan McDonald
Photos by Paul Angelle/Quick Slants Photography

Green is Money
The Ragin' Cajuns have cashed in on talented tight end Ladarius Green, a finance major and certain NFL prospect who has big business plans when he's done
working on Sundays.
By Dan McDonald
Photos by Paul Angelle/Quick slants Photography

Ragin' Cajun football coach Mark Hudspeth trusts Ladarius Green to do things to help his team win, something that's happened with surprising regularity during UL's turnaround 2011 season.

But he'd also trust him with his wallet.

Green is a finance major, and his future plans involve a lot more than the NFL career that's only a handful of months away. In fact, when the most decorated Cajun in a charmed season talks about the future, his eyes light up more when he discusses banking issues instead of pass routes.

"I've always been interested in banking," Green says, "especially investment banking, learning how money works. It's just something I've always been fascinated with."
"I'd certainly trust him with my money in his bank," says Hudspeth, who figures to have more bankable assets very soon with an in-progress contract renegotiation. "He's very responsible and he has a great work ethic. He's going to be successful in whatever he's doing."

Green is hoping that one more success comes this weekend when he and the Cajuns take part in their first-ever Division I bowl game. UL takes on San Diego State in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Success for Green, though, is not defined by a 100-yard field. If he weren't on the Superdome turf Saturday, leading the Cajuns against a strong Aztecs team, he'd be marching across UL's graduation stage, having finished the requirements for his degree in finance in three and one-half years. Given the time constraints placed on modern-day collegiate student-athletes, that's a remarkable accomplishment.

"On the academic side of it, he's just like he is as a football player," says Danny Cottonham, director of UL's Student-Athlete Academic Center. "You know there's something special about him."

With his degree under his arm and maybe the nation's best resumé as a tight end, professional football success is among the future goals. Hudspeth figures he'll be one of the first three tight ends taken in next spring's draft of collegiate talent, and the 6-foot-6 Pensacola, Fla., native matches the current prototype for NFL tight ends tall, rangy, long arms, good hands and a body frame that can carry a lot more than his current 236 pounds. Think New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, a former college basketball player who's 6-foot-6 and has bulked up to 265 pounds, and is now the model throwing teams are looking for in the position.

"I look at those kind of players, and they're so much bigger and stronger," Green says. "I know I have a lot to do I need to work a lot more on my blocking, getting in the weight room and getting stronger, and mostly just learning the game better."

Green has plenty of time for that. Right now, he's in New Orleans with his teammates, preparing for Saturday's outing that could bring the Cajuns a historic ninth win not to say that 2011 hasn't already been a storied season.

It's the type of season that Green and the squad's other 16 seniors had hoped for when Hudspeth was named head coach one year ago. But after no winning seasons in his first three years, Green questioned whether it could happen.

"I hoped and prayed that we'd be able to do this," he says, "but there was always a little bit of doubt. We had a good spring and everyone was upbeat, but you never know."

Green's confidence in team success was buoyed in the opener, despite UL's 61-34 loss to now third-ranked Oklahoma State.

"When I saw the way we played there, I knew we had a chance to be pretty good," he says. "And then we went on the road and beat Kent State, and that got us some momentum."

UL went on to win six in a row, becoming bowl-eligible by mid-October and pretty much securing a New Orleans Bowl berth with a month remaining in the season even though the individual numbers were down for the Cajuns' biggest pass target.

A shoulder injury in that Oklahoma State game hampered him for almost a month, and through three games of the season UL was 2-1 and Green had a grand total of one reception for a minus-one yard. Part of that drop in production was his sore shoulder, but mostly Green was a marked man as opposing teams game-planned to limit his effectiveness.

"You have to know where he is every snap," says Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill. "He is really good in the passing game and really good in the running game. Usually, you can't find a guy who is really good in both aspects, but he is the total package."

The positive for the Cajuns is that, with Green drawing so much attention, the field was opened up for UL's other offensive weapons to step out of the shadows. After a slow start, the Cajun passing attack accounted for 329, 265, 250 and 419 yards in a four-game mid-season stretch, wide receiver Javone Lawson was on his way to first-team All-Sun Belt Conference honors, quarterback Blaine Gautier was picked to the second team and running back Alonzo Harris was the league's Freshman of the Year.
Green was also a near-unanimous pick as the league's top tight end, his third all-league honor after a late-season spurt gave him 46 receptions for 485 yards and seven scores.

"I think we just started to click more at the end of the season," Green says. "Blaine and I worked together a lot more and we got our timing down, we talked more. We were just on the same page more as the season went on; we're just so used to each other. He knows where I'm gonna be."

In the Cajuns' November games, Green caught eight passes with two touchdowns against Western Kentucky, had five catches for 47 yards at Arizona in the regular-season finale, and put up monster numbers in the thrilling final home game against state rival UL Monroe with 13 catches for 136 yards and two scores. The other November game was at Middle Tennessee when Green was also banged up. True to his word, Stockstill had a game plan to limit Green's touches - he went without a single catch, but the rest of the squad put up six touchdowns in a 45-20 romp.

Ladarius Green makes a leaping touchdown catch against in-state rival UL Monroe.

His total catches against ULM were the most in a game for any tight end in UL history and set a Cajun Field record for receptions by a Cajun player. But his biggest play in that game wasn't a catch; instead, it was his recovery of Brett Baer's onside kick with 2:05 left that set up an eventual winning touchdown.
That was the final glimpse of the nightmare that Green has been to the north Louisiana Warhawks. Green had seven catches and 131 receiving yards against ULM as a sophomore and had six grabs for 120 yards and a score last year.

More important to him, he never lost to the Warhawks in his four-year career.

"Coach [Troy] Wingerter [UL's former tight ends coach under Bustle, now director of football operations under Hudspeth] always got us pumped up for Monroe," Green says. "It was a rivalry game, but it was even bigger for him."

Those other games, though, didn't match this year's home finale for drama. The last memory that Cajun fans will have of Green is him grabbing that onside kick and racing down the sideline in front of the UL bench, after teammate Brad McGuire punched the bouncing ball toward him.

"That's the one game I'll always remember," says Green, who admitted he didn't feel 100 percent physically all year until that game. "Just the way everything happened, with us being behind by 13 points late in the game, it was a great win for us."

"Great" is an adjective regularly tossed around ever since Green signed with the Cajuns and posted five touchdowns as a true freshman. But Green wasn't highly recruited out of Booker T. Washington High, which ran the option and didn't throw much. In fact, until Green's junior year in high school, he played quarterback - until he shot up from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-4 almost overnight.

"They sort of took a chance on Ladarius," says Hudspeth, referring to his recruitment by former coach Rickey Bustle and his staff. "He got here and really developed, he grew some more and just came into his own."

"I think I could have been a quarterback," Green laughs, "but we ran the option and that meant the quarterback got hit on every play. At receiver you don't get hit as much. But I could throw it pretty far. I just never was accurate."

Senior cornerback Bill Bentley was a first-team All Sun Belt selection.

The Cajuns are much better off with Green at the other end of Gautier's throws, and the numbers and honors reflect that. He's far and away UL's all-time leader for catches by a tight end, and his 144 catches and 2,080 career yards rank him fifth and fourth, respectively, among all-time Cajun receivers. More important, he ranks second all-time behind NFL standout Brandon Stokley with 21 career touchdown receptions and is the nation's active leader in touchdowns among tight ends by a huge margin.
Twice he's been a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award, honoring the nation's top tight end, and was on the Fred Biletnikoff Award watch list for the top receiver overall this season. He was also on one preseason All-America first team ( and made four different preseason All-America teams after being named a second-team and fourth-team All-America last year by and Phil Steele College Football, respectively.

His teammates may call him "Pee Wee," but they know how important he's been in helping turn a dormant program around in one season.

"He's the guy everybody watches," Gautier says. "I definitely think the injury kind of bothered him early on, but things have opened up for him because our other playmakers have been making plays throughout the whole year. But he's the guy that you know if you get him the ball, he's going to catch it and he's going to do something with it after he catches it."

"I'm the harshest critic of myself," Green says. "My goal was to be better than I was last year, to be more of a leader on the team."

Hudspeth was looking for leaders when he arrived, and he remembers the first spring practice that he saw Green working with the Cajun receiving corps, running routes and catching balls. The first-year Cajun coach - one who's been around a lot of high-level players at Navy and Mississippi State - had seen Green on film from the 2010 season and had seen his best pro prospect in the weight room. Still, Green had to prove himself to his new coach.

"We had told everybody on the team when we started that they would have to earn their jobs, and that went for Ladarius, too," Hudspeth says. "But he didn't take long before he had his job back. It wasn't hard to pick him out in spring ball."

Junior quarterback Blaine Gautier played through numerous injuries to lead the Cajuns
in passing and heart.

It won't be hard for the pro scouts to pick him out next spring when they start visiting the UL athletic complex. With the success of the Saints and other wide-open NFL teams, offensive units have changed the way they look at the tight end, favoring one who's less a run blocker and more a downfield option since he's usually matched up with a linebacker in coverage. And not many linebackers can stay with someone with Green's athleticism - although he downplays it.

"I try not to think about it too much," says Green. "Right now, I'm too excited about the bowl game. I finally get to play in a bowl game with my teammates. We've always been a little envious of some of the other teams that have played there [the New Orleans Bowl] the last couple of years, because that's the bowl we've always wanted. We have so many guys from around New Orleans, and it's not that much farther from Pensacola."

Green's mom, dad and brother will be on hand for the game and hopefully they'll also get the chance to see another high point in his life Friday at 3:30 p.m. at the team's Marriott hotel headquarters. At that time, UL will hold a mini-graduation ceremony at the team hotel, and Green will be one of the proudest ones when he gets handed his diploma.

In part, Green's decision to major in finance stems from his desire to help his mother Shannon.

"I want to use that to take care of her," Green says. "She's been taking care of me all these years."

"He's been a remarkable guy as far as the academic side, too," Cottonham said. "He's not a 4.0 guy, but he's never been an academic problem, either. He's never had study hall since he was a freshman [all UL freshmen student-athletes have required study-hall hours in their first year], and he takes care of his business and he does it well."

That doesn't come as a surprise to Hudspeth.

"It's been my honor to coach him, even just for a year," Hudspeth says. "He's a guy you can count on. I'm so proud of him."

That pride won't change regardless of what happens Saturday at the Superdome, but Green would like nothing better than to help write the final chapter in a storybook season.

"I want it for this senior class," he says of winning the bowl finale. "We came in saying that this has to be a different year and we worked hard to make it different, and now we're seeing the changes. I hope we're leaving a good legacy for everyone else."

Cajun Invasion of the Crescent City**
Schedule of Events:

There's a ton of fantastic fun leading up to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl where UL's Ragin' Cajuns take on San Diego State's Aztecs. Join alumni and fans for a host of events and celebrations as they prepare for Saturday's 8 p.m. kickoff.


7 - 9 a.m.  "Thinking Out Loud" show, Steve Peloquin and The Ind's Dan McDonald, Sports Radio ESPN 1420, live from New Orleans Marriott lobby, 555 Canal St.

11:30 a.m. - 1:45 p.m. UL practice (closed to public, first 30 minutes open to media), Mercedes-Benz Superdome

2 - 4 p.m. UL visits National World War II Museum, 945 Magazine St.

3 - 6 p.m. "Bird's Eye View" show, Steve Peloquin & The Ind's Dan McDonald, Sports Radio ESPN 1420, live from Walk-On's, 1009 Poydras St.

Thursday, Dec. 15

7- 9 a.m. "Thinking Out Loud" show, Steve Peloquin and The Ind's Dan McDonald, Sports Radio ESPN 1420, live from New Orleans Marriott lobby, 555 Canal St.

12:30 - 2 p.m. New Orleans Bowl Media Day, lunch 12:30 p.m., UL players and coaches 1 p.m.

1:30 - 2 p.m. UL visits Children's Hospital, 200 Henry Clay Ave.

2:30 - 3:30 p.m. UL visits Audubon Zoo with NFL YET kids, 6500 Magazine St.

3 - 6 p.m. "Bird's Eye View" radio show, Steve Peloquin and Jay Walker, Sports Radio ESPN 1420. Live from Walk-On's on Poydras.

7 - 8 p.m. Mark Hudspeth Radio Show with Jay Walker. Walk-On's on Poydras.

9 p.m. Ragin' Cajuns "Paint the Quarter Red," New Orleans Marriott, 555 Canal St. The Pride of Acadiana Marching Band will lead fans to Bourbon Street in Second Line fashion. Parade begins at the Marriott at 8:45 p.m. Open to all Ragin' Cajuns fans.

Friday, Dec. 16

7 - 9 a.m. "Thinking Out Loud" show, Steve Peloquin and The Ind's Dan McDonald, Sports Radio ESPN 1420, live from New Orleans Marriott lobby, 555 Canal St.

Noon. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl 11th Annual Luncheon (ticket required). New Orleans Marriott on Canal. This year's guest speaker is former New Orleans SaintDarren Sharper.

3 - 5 p.m. Ragin' Cajuns "Fan Fest" sponsored by HomeBank. New Orleans Marriott on Canal. This reception is open to all Ragin' Cajuns with live music provided by Jamie Bergeron and the Kickin' Cajuns.

3 - 6 p.m. "Bird's Eye View" radio show, Steve Peloquin and Jay Walker, Sports Radio ESPN 1420. Live from Walk-On's on Poydras.

5:15 p.m. Second Line Parade. It's a New Orleans street party, Cajun style. Ragin' Cajuns fans will second line with a New Orleans jazz band from the Marriott to Spanish Plaza for the "Friday Night Free-For-All."

5:30 - 8:30 p.m. "Friday Night Free-For-All" at Riverwalk Marketplace's Spanish Plaza, 1 Poydras St. A free concert series featuring the Rebirth Brass Band, followed by Givers. A battle of the university marching bands will also be held between UL and San Diego State.

Saturday, Dec. 17

TBA Race Against Crime presents Dashing Through the Dome, 5K run begins in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and finishes on 50-yard line.

Noon - 6 p.m. "Game Day Tailgate" show, Jay Walker and Steve Peloquin, Sports Radio ESPN 1420 (noon-2 p.m.). Hot 107.9 FM Radio (2-6 p.m.). Live from Walk-On's on Poydras.

1 - 5 p.m. Pre-game tailgate party at Rouses, 701 Baronne St. Ragin' Cajuns fans can enjoy music from The Classics and also a performance by the Pride of Acadiana Marching Band at 4:30 p.m. Food and drinks will be available for purchase. Cash bar available.

2:30 - 6 p.m. Ragin' Cajuns Athletic Foundation tailgate party in the Superdome's St. Charles Club Room (northwest quadrant). Sponsored by IberiaBank. Ragin' Cajuns fans will enjoy live music by Nik-L-Beer. Admisssion is free to all 2011 RCAF members; $10 for all non-members. Food and drink will be available for purchase.

4 - 7 p.m. Ragin' Cajuns Alumni pre-game bash sponsored by Cox Communications, Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen and Republic National Distributing. Join Ragin' Cajuns alumni at CLUB 44 in Champions Square as they celebrate the New Orleans Bowl. All Ragin' Cajuns alums are welcome. Food and drink will be available in the CLUB 44/Champions Square area for purchase. Hosted by the UL Lafayette Alumni Association.

5:30 - 8 p.m. R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl tailgate party. Champions Square. Enjoy live music by Band Camp outside the Louisiana Superdome and get ready for the big game with great entertainment, food and beverages. Gather with fellow Ragin' Cajuns for the pre-game festivities.

6:30 p.m. Mercedes-Benz Superdome gates open.

8 p.m. R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl kick-off at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns take on the San Diego State Aztecs. GEAUX CAJUNS!

Senior linebacker Lance Kelley, an STM product, began his Cajun career
as a wide receiver.

Follow the Leaders
Ragin' Cajuns seniors embraced Hud's philosophy and set an example for the underclassmen.
By Dan McDonald

It's not like this year's UL football senior class hasn't had any success at all in previous seasons. Twice in the three years prior to 2010, the Ragin' Cajuns had 6-6 seasons, and they won more Sun Belt Conference games than they lost in those three years.

But that group of 17 wanted more, and it got the kick-start it needed when UL made a coaching change after the 3-9 season of 2010, bringing Mark Hudspeth in to recharge and invigorate the program. Hudspeth's non-stop preaching of work ethic, cohesiveness and toughness - "I want everyone to grab hold of the rope with us and help take our program to heights never seen before" was his mantra on the day he was hired - struck a chord with that group.

"It really was something you wanted to jump on board with and be a big part of," says senior linebacker and St. Thomas More product Lance Kelley. "I bought in from the moment he came and talked to us in the spring."

It didn't take long for the seniors to blaze a trail for the rest of the Cajun team to follow, making sure they came together at a time when rampant change was going on around them and making sure there were few rebellions against that change.

"It's great how coach embraced us and really leaned on us to bring the team together," says senior quarterback/all-purpose performer Brad McGuire. "He challenged us seniors to be tough mentally and keep everyone together in a cohesive unit."

"I trust the man to my left and my right," Kelley says. "That's how close we are now."

Getting six straight wins early in the season and becoming bowl-eligible by mid-October helped add to that trust, but even when UL was 6-1 Hudspeth kept challenging the senior group. His message: Six wins doesn't make them any more special than most previous groups.

"I took what coach said for truth," McGuire says. "When we were sitting at six wins, we had done nothing that we haven't done in the past. We'd won six games before, and we weren't going to be complacent."

Wins at Middle Tennessee and in the home finale against UL Monroe confirmed that, and also confirmed the team's spot in this weekend's R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
The biggest questions for the Cajuns were on defense entering the season. The memorable quote by an anonymous Sun Belt Conference coach from one preseason magazine said it all: "That defense last year was atrocious, and that's being polite."

This year, defensive leaders stepped up, most of them from a senior class that has combined for dozens of tackles for losses, 17 sacks and 18 turnovers. UL enters the bowl game with seven interception returns for touchdowns, the second-highest total in NCAA history, and five of them came from members of the senior class.

"It's a great feeling to see all the seniors step up on the defensive side of the ball," Kelley says. "It really is a big part of our success."

Hud was an honorary Lafayette Fire Department captain when he led the team into
the home opener Sept. 17 versus Nicholls State.

Number Crunching
The Hudspeth hire and gridiron success was a shot in the arm for the RCAF. Now it's a matter of momentum.
By Dan McDonald

A couple of years ago, UL football coach Mark Hudspeth would have likely been a one-hit wonder in the Ragin' Cajuns program, bringing success and then riding into the sunset to seek more wins and more riches at a more prestigious school.

Now, the UL program and Director of Athletics Scott Farmer at least have a metaphorical stick to fight off those external advances toward his staff.
That was Farmer's biggest reason for getting the Ragin' Cajuns Athletic Foundation off the ground when he was associate AD under former Athletic Director David Walker. That program actually has financial legs now, and those legs are growing.

Farmer says the number of donors to the RCAF has gone up 90 percent over this time last year, and total dollar amounts contributed and pledged to the Cajun athletic program are up 44 percent over that same period.

"We're so young. It's only our third year, so getting as many people involved is very important," Farmer says. "We saw a huge influx around the time we started putting bowl ticket orders out there, before we even announced where we were going. As soon as we said the RCAF gets first shot at tickets, we saw a lot of interest."
The reason for the bowl game and that interest is this year's success of the UL football squad, which is 8-4 and will make its first-ever Division I bowl appearance this weekend in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. But that interest also came at a price for the RCAF.

Hudspeth was hired last December at a base salary of $360,000 not including incentives for on-field, academic and ticket-sales success. That was a big increase over the $210,000 base salary that former coach Rickey Bustle received in 2010, and the $150,000 difference was paid out of privately raised RCAF funds - not state funds.
"The state contribution to the salary stayed exactly the same," Farmer says. "The RCAF made up the difference."

The exact same thing is happening right now. Hudspeth's name has been linked to several "big-school" job openings ever since UL started out on fire (6-1 by mid-October). Even though he's withdrawn his name from some of those pools and famously said, "I am a Ragin' Cajun, so I am staying here definitely next year" last Monday, there are still some attractive posts that are likely to open up before the New Year.

Farmer made a preemptive strike that same Monday, making public some details of a contract renegotiation with Hudspeth. While not going into detail, he indicated that a raise, more lucrative incentives and at least one more year on Hudspeth's four-year deal will be added to that contract.

Farmer says his goal is to make Hudspeth the Sun Belt Conference's highest-paid coach. According to USA Today, the current high-water mark in the Sun Belt goes to Middle Tennessee's Rick Stockstill ($588,780), with North Texas' Dan McCarney ($545,000) and Florida International's Mario Cristobal ($497,183) close behind.

The dollar difference in this year's $360,000 figure and Hudspeth's reworked deal will again come from RCAF funds. "The state's money is going to stay the same," Farmer says, "and the foundation will pay the difference."

It's going to be a decent chunk of change for the fledgling RCAF group. Farmer works with an 11-person board of directors and leadership group that oversees the RCAF, one chaired by Home Bank President John Bordelon (a member of the last Cajun team to win nine games in 1976, a mark UL would reach with a bowl win).

"We couldn't go out and just sell an idea. We had to have a plan," Bordelon says. "Now we have a plan of what we're going to do here, and part of that plan was to hire a coach who can do this and be able to pay enough for him to stay if we had success. We have to put more resources toward football because that's the moneymaker that can help all the other programs.

"The RCAF has done a lot of facility improvements, and we want to keep doing more with facilities, create a better academic center, a new weight room and eventually work on the stadium [Cajun Field]."

But Bordelon and the board don't have actual governing power. Although he listens to the board's opinions, when it comes down to the final decision on financial issues, it's Farmer's to make. And if another school comes calling, perhaps a school with deeper pockets than the UL program, the decisions won't be easy.

"We try to keep the board abreast as best we can," Farmer says. "John knows what we're doing and he's in full support, and we of course want the board's support. I think they're tickled to death that they've been able to hire [Hudspeth] first, and now hopefully keep him employed here."

Cajun True and Through

Forty-one years. It's a long time to wait.
By Emily Henagan

The UL Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns football team is finally getting a taste of post-season play. The upcoming New Orleans Bowl game between the Ragin' Cajuns and the San Diego State Aztecs is more than just a game to the players, coaching staff and university faculty. And even though I haven't been here anywhere near the 41 years it's taken to get to this point, it's more than just a game for me.

I bleed vermilion and white. My mother, a Crowley native, received her marketing degree from then-USL. My father, a Pineville native, was a walk-on pitcher for the university's baseball team and still loyally follows its sports teams. My maternal grandparents met on the steps of Martin Hall in 1946 when it was then Southwestern Institute. My grandmother, who was a residential assistant at the dorms, even took classes with B.I. Moody for whom the College of Business is named. She still tells anecdotes about him, painting him as an ambitious and intelligent young man.

Growing up, my love affair with the university only expanded. I attended UL football, baseball and basketball games and dreamt of the day when I would call myself a Ragin' Cajun. It was more than just a school to me; it was a family of loyal fans who stuck through thick and thin to cheer their teams on.

After attending a public boarding high school in Natchitoches, I decided to buck family tradition and head east to Mobile, Ala., because of a full-ride scholarship. Although I enjoyed going to this private Jesuit college, Ragin' Cajun Country lured me back. My older sister, who has since received her history degree from UL, worked for the athletic department and later for former head football coach Rickey Bustle. On weekends, I would drive back west where the food was richer and the football fans livelier, attending every home football game I could with her. When the Ragin' Cajuns were skipped over for a bowl bid in 2008, I witnessed first-hand how the coaches felt then - determined to prove those bowl decision-makers wrong.

After recognizing I was in the Lafayette state of mind, I decided to give into the singsong of Acadiana. I transferred to UL and quickly became immersed in the sports world. My sister and I attended every home football game and stayed until the last second to watch the athletes leave everything on the field. Their win-loss record did not reflect their work.

Alongside other devotees, I whipped my "Tyrell Fenroy: 32" rag in the air while he flew past the opposing team's defenders, becoming UL's all-time leading rusher. I cheered with others as quarterback Michael Desormeaux ran or threw another pass into the end zone. The excitement was palpable.

And this season, the exhilaration was more than that; Cajun Field welcomed a new breed of Ragin' Cajuns fans. Armed with the naiveté of faintly knowing that the university struggled to gain respect in the Sun Belt Conference, these new football enthusiasts did not know defeat. It seemed new head football coach Mark Hudspeth did not comprehend it either. His energy reverberated with the players, coaching staff and fans. At the Hudspeth era's first Ragin' Cajuns fan day, thousands swarmed into the Cajundome, hanging onto his every word. Like a Baptist preacher at a weekend revival, Hudspeth said his "teamwork makes the dream work" and "smother out any colors beside vermilion and white" slogans. The crowd seemed to be adopting Hudspeth's sayings as its own. Clearly, something different was whirling in the air.

The season turned out to be a whirlwind of victories: The Ragin' Cajuns beat Sun Belt powerhouse Troy University and outscored UL Monroe in the last few minutes of play time. They were undefeated at Cajun field, and their defeats on the road were respectable.

It was only a matter of time until the bowl invitation to New Orleans (the best possible bid for fans). It came with much fanfare on Monday, Nov. 21.
Whether die-hard or fair weather, fans of the vermilion and white will file into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Saturday, thousands of them among the group that has waited 41 years for this moment - a moment in which there will be no greater feeling than that of being called a Ragin' Cajun.

Emily Henagan, who graduates from UL Saturday with a degree in mass communication/journalism, was The Independent's intern this fall.