WATCH: Ragin’ Cajuns Players Embracing New Orleans Bowl Experience
Players and coaches never get tired of going to play in the postseason. Even though the Ragin' Cajuns won the New Orleans Bowl before, the experience is still special.
For the seniors, this is their last game wearing the vermilion and white. They're familiar with the Superdome, so they're basically leaving the way they came in.
Elijah McGuire is on of the greatest individual talents to ever play for the Ragin' Cajuns. He has one game left before embarking on his NFL career, and he's going to soak in every minute of his encore performance in the New Orleans Bowl.
"It's bittersweet. I thought I would never get to this point in my college career. It just seemed like yesterday I was a freshman coming in, in 2013, and three or four more years later, I'm going into my last game as a Cajun, so I have to make the most of it," McGuire said.
It's been a difficult for McGuire and the rest of the team. McGuire dealt with a foot/ankle injury almost the entire season and played through pain, and the team as a whole suffered from a damaging locker room video that created a rift and some antagonism with their fan base. As a whole, they pushed through the issues and emerged out the other side of the darkness with another bowl bid. It was an uphill climb, but they reached the summit.
"The whole season, our back was against the wall, and Coach [Jorge] Munoz always says, when our backs are against the wall, we always play great," McGuire reflected. "We fought through this season, we came out victorious against ULM and were able to get bowl eligible."
The magnitude of this matchup isn't lost on McGuire, even though it probably won't be his last football game in the Superdome.
McGuire broke the 1,000 yard rushing mark for the third time in his Cajun career against ULM, and he is looking to add onto his total before leaving the college ranks to play on Sundays.
This turnaround wouldn't have happened without leadership. Without Al Riles and Otha Peters, the Ragin' Cajuns might not have pulled it off.
Peters is the heartbeat of the defense and the center of intensity, but if it weren't for Riles, Peters may not have ever stepped foot on campus. They go back all the way to childhood, and Riles was one of the main reasons Peters committed. Peters is a massive leader on the field, but Riles might be the strongest personality in the entire locker room.
Riles is never afraid to speak his mind. This game means a lot to him, and it's the final chapter of his career.
"It's like a Cinderella story. It's a storybook ending. We finally get to go back home and play in front of my friends and family, Cajun Nation, and a lot of my family," Riles shared, pointing out that his family only lives 20 minutes away from New Orleans. "It's perfect."
The team is carrying a chip onto their shoulder into the New Orleans Bowl this year too. Let Riles explain.
Teams will find any way to create motivation, and it appears the Ragin' Cajuns turned doubt into fuel for their improved play and focus down the final stretch of the season to reach bowl eligibility.
Riles and Peters turn up the temperature on the Cajun sideline, but don't forget about Tre'maine Lightfoot either.
Lightfoot leads the team in tackles at linebacker, and Coach Hudspeth said Lightfoot is the most underrated player on the entire defense. Peters gets most of the attention, but Lightfoot's piece of the puzzle is just as large.
He is trying to get noticed by NFL scouts, but his main motivation for the New Orleans Bowl is to prove the people that questioned them wrong.
Most of the veterans are familiar with the New Orleans Bowl experience, but not their starting quarterback.
Anthony Jennings joined the team so close to the beginning of the season, he basically had to learn about his teammates and build chemistry on the fly all year long. His development, along with the receivers, helped increase the productivity in the passing down in the final games of the year, and it earned Jennings his first trip to the New Orleans Bowl.
The rest of the players on the team educated him on how hight the bar is set.
"Every time we've been there we won, so we want to keep that tradition going," Jennings said.
With Southern Miss' explosive offense, Jennings will have to play well for the Ragin' Cajuns to win. He feels relaxed heading into the huge matchup.
A few weeks ago, the chances of the Ragin' Cajuns reaching a bowl looked slim. They saved their best football for last though, and all of Acadiana gets an extra gift this holiday season for their efforts.