Welcome to the inaugural edition of the series you didn’t know you needed in your life: Stevie J’s Dynasty Finder. This will be a semi-regular program where I uncover a program that is on the come up and look at the reasons for their momentum. I’m going to evaulate the program in four areas: trajectory in recent years, coaching, recruiting, and current roster makeup. This writeup is on the Ragin’ Cajuns football program of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
First of all, is there a sicker mascot in the nation than the Rajin’ Cajuns? I just imagine all their fans sounding exactly like this and eating nothing but gumbo 24/7.
For the rest of this blog I will be using their full name, Ragin’ Cajuns, with no shortening. It literally gives me that much joy to see it in writing.
After a quick browsing of the Lafayette, Louisiana Wikipedia page, a few things stuck out to me. First, Addison Rae, of TikTok fame, is from there. I’m not exactly sure how this affects the Ragin’ Cajuns program, but as these football recruits get younger and younger that may play. Naturally, I clicked over to her Wikipedia page, and saw the most bananas line I think I’ve ever seen: “Before moving to Los Angeles to pursue TikTok, the dancer attended Calvary Baptist Academy.” Moving to LA to pursue TikTok is a crazy move that if you tried to explain to me even a year ago I would have called you insane.
Unfortunately, this is a post about football, not one about teenage sensations, so let’s move on to the second thing that stuck out to me. There is pretty much nothing in this town worth seeing besides the University itself, which could be a positive or negative depending on how you look at it. The obvious positive is that this could turn into a Clemson-type situation, with players on the team being legitimate celebrities due to a paucity of other entertainment options. On the flip side, though, who would really want to go to school in a hot and humid place like that unless the campus has an SEC kind of student body (if you catch my drift). It is up to the staff to sell the city in order to become the dynasty I project them to be in the Sun Belt.
There have been 22 Ragin’ Cajuns selected in the NFL draft, including three in 2020 and long time Chicago Bear Charles Tillman. Guard Robert Hunt, taken 39th overall this year, was the highest selected UL Lafayette player since Tillman. More importantly, though, there have been six taken since 2017, which suggests that it’s becoming more of a regular thing to see guys from this program entering the league in recent years. This is one of the best looks for any program and will lead to the talent level of the program to continue to rise.
This is the Ragin’ Cajuns’ record in each of the last five seasons:
2015: 4-8 (3-5 in the Sun Belt)
2016: 6-7 (5-3)
2017: 5-7 (4-4)
2018: 7-7 (5-3)
2019: 11-3 (7-1)
From ‘17 to now it is clear the progress made within the program. Something critical for the program happened after the 2017 season (which we’ll get into in the next section) that changed the program for the better. The Ragin’ Cajuns probably win 12 or 13 games last year rather than just 11 if Appalachian State doesn’t have their best year in program history, but a double digit win season is still a complete boon for a team that won 4 games just five years ago. They should stay right there, especially with the new coaching staff they’ve assembled in the past few seasons.
After six straight coaches put up career losing records with the Ragin’ Cajuns, it appears they have found their guy in second-year head man Billy Napier. He was hired in December 2017 after serving most recently as the OC over at Arizona State. In the past, however, he was the OC at Clemson and wide receivers coach at Alabama. When I’m an AD hiring the new leader of my program, I want a guy who’s worked at both Clemson and Alabama. Sight unseen, that guy is going to be a winner who does shit the right way. So far, I’ve been proven correct, as he was named 2019 Sun Belt coach of the year.
This is his first stint as a head coach in his career, so we have nothing to go off of in terms of player development really. Nevertheless, this next video makes it clear that his guys like playing for him and that he will get players to buy in wherever he goes, which is like 80% of the battle in college sports.
While at his previous stops, Napier has been the key recruiter for a bunch of the top players in the country, so it’s clear that he can build a good relationship with any recruit. Recognize any of these guys?
Napier happened to be the primary recruiter for all four of these studs. Being in the Sun Belt, the Ragin’ Cajuns will never put up a top class containing guys like this, but they can dominate the conference they’re in and have been doing so since Napier burst on to the scene. Both their 2019 and 2020 classes (the only two full classes he’s been there for) have topped the Sun Belt at averages of .820 and .823 respectively, according to 247 Sports, the leader in this kind of thing.
For reference, here is how 247 Sports defines players in this range: “a low three-star (80-83) is a player that we consider to be a potential contributor at a Power Five program but a probable Group of Five starter with impact potential.” Conveniently, UL Lafayette exists in the Group of Five conferences, and as such is bringing in a class chock full of about twenty impact players each cycle. This is good enough to be ranked well above Power Five program Illinois, right on par with teams like Kansas and Louisville, and in the top ten of Group of Five programs as a whole, which is 100% enough to be successful. This ranking in the recruiting realm is especially serviceable considering the history of strong player development this staff has shown (we went over the abundance of Ragin’ Cajuns in the 2020 NFL draft earlier).
My favorite kids in their 2020 class are Caleb Anderson and Ahmad Johnson. Anderson, while listed as an athlete, projects to be a long, 6’ 2” corner with high school quarterback experience (never a negative). Johnson is an inside linebacker with a good frame to add mass to (6’ 1”, 210) who got an offer from Tennessee yet chose to come to Lafayette. Both Anderson and Johnson are ranked well above the 83 mark and project to be immediate impact kind of guys. If Napier can keep landing kids like these with his coaching chops, watch out.
While recruiting is the lifeblood of any program, the players currently on the roster are just as important. The Ragin’ Cajuns return six (!!) 2019 all-Sun Belt players, but I want to spotlight one in particular, Zi’Yon Hill, who really spells out what UL Lafayette football is all about. A two-star 2017 DT recruit with only a few D1 offers, Hill took a redshirt year to get his body in a better place and add some agility to his skillset. In two years, he went from a 79 rated two-star to a second team All-Sun Belt player poised for a huge 2020 season alongside an increasingly skilled roster of Ragin’ Cajuns. There are plenty of stories just like him on this team, and it really goes to show that development is how you build a program that sticks, not just recruiting.
There you have it. I managed to stick in 11 Ragin’ Cajun mentions (now 12) in this blog. If that’s not efficiency I don’t know what is. I personally will be hammering the OVER 10 wins for them in the 2020 season (assuming it happens at all).
What dynasty in the making should I write about next? Let me know @jziller17.