WATCH: Hudspeth Reflects On 2016, Reveals Plans For 2017
Football season is over for the Ragin' Cajuns. Louisiana Head Coach Mark Hudspeth is going to remember 2016, and the lessons it taught him, for a long time.
Of all his seasons at Louisiana, this year posed more problems off-the-field than any other, on top of the midseason struggles the team went through when they found their record sitting at 3-5. They battled back to reach their fifth bowl in six seasons, and they had to do some soul searching to band together and survive some of the downward dips.
Coach Hud said the problems provided his team, and himself, with some valuable life lessons.
"This year, you learn a lot about your team," Hudspeth said. "You learn a lot about your players, a lot about your coaches and a lot about yourself when you're faced with adversity."
Hopefully, the players learned from the 2016 season. It didn't end the way they wanted to, but life rarely gives you the exact outcome you anticipate.
Now it's time for the team to shift their focus to 2017. For a few players, that involves surgery and recovery to heal the punishment their bodies took throughout the course of a tough season.
The New Orleans Bowl added to the injury list, and Coach Hud went through a laundry list of players that will require surgery, and some who already went under the knife, to get back to one hundred percent before they can get back on the field.
Hudspeth named Matt Barnes, Carlos Robinson, Taboris Lee, Cole Prudhomme, Levarious Varnado and Raymond Calais Jr as players who needed surgery. Luckily, freshman All-American defensive end Joe Dillon, who suffered a hip injury during the New Orleans Bowl, will not require surgical help to get back to playing shape.
The good news is the Ragin' Cajuns will have a lot of familiar faces coming back in 2017.
"We're going to roll into next year with a lot of returning starters on both sides of the football," Hudspeth said.
With young talent at the receiver position (Ja'Marcus Bradley, Michael Jacquet, Keenan Barnes), depth at running back (Calais, Trey Ragas, Jordan Wright, Derrius Hoggins) and a lot of youth on the offensive line, the offense should have pieces to produce next season...but who will play quarterback?
Will Coach Hud go with one of the two QB's who saw action this season or will he look elsewhere for his next gunslinger?
"Jordan Davis and Rion Ray will definitely have to roll into spring ball competing for the position," Hudspeth said. He also added, "We're recruiting quarterbacks, just like we do every year, along with every position."
Hudspeth emphasized if they were going to bring in a junior college player or a graduate transfer, they would need to be ready to join the team sooner rather than later. The team wants to avoid a situation similar to 2016, where Anthony Jennings came in close to the beginning of the season. Hudspeth admitted it wasn't fair to Jennings' development, and it's not something he wants to go through again.
There will be a lot of talent to replace too. Several seniors are leaving the program, and all three starting linebackers, Trey Granier, Tre'maine Lightfoot and Otha Peters, are hanging up the pads. Peters, Lightfoot, and others like center Eddie Gordon could pursue NFL careers, along with their brother Elijah McGuire.
McGuire's time at Louisiana was special. Hudspeth said multiple times throughout the year what an honor it was to coach such a special talent, and he sang his praises one last time before 2016 came to an end.
"He's been the face of our program...he played in his bowl game. He cared about his team, and he's a leader," Hudspeth said. He added, "We're going to miss that guy in more than just one way, more than just on the field. He's been a great ambassador."
Cajun Nation will have their eyes on the NFL Draft, to see where McGuire will go play in the pros. One thing is certain though, he is sure to carry the Louisiana name with class.
Football won't be gone for long. Before you know it, high school players will sign their letters of intent and a new crop of Cajuns will come to campus. Then, it will be spring ball, which will roll into summer camp and on into the fall. Football season never really ends, but it will be taking a short break for a while.