LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth and his players subscribe to the notion that offseason turbulence that included 13 arrests has brought the team closer and made it stronger.
''Life gives you the test first and the lesson second,'' Hudspeth explained recently as his team neared the start of fall camp. ''These young men have learned an awful lot and I think they're going to be better men for it and I know our team is much better for it because we've come together.''
Whether that's reality or just spin will become evident before long.
For practical purposes, the team is largely intact because of an agreement with prosecutors that allowed players to enter a diversion program following their alleged burglary of a former teammate's dorm room. Players initially booked with felonies had charges reduced to misdemeanors which are scheduled to be dropped entirely following a six-month probationary period that includes, classes, drug screening and community service.
The ordeal ''killed a lot of the cancers that we had,'' senior safety Tracy Walker said. ''We'll definitely be a lot better. ... We came to a conclusion as a team: If you're not handling your stuff off the field, you can't handle your stuff on the field.''
In essence, players say, they are more emotionally invested in one-another's success than before. That feeling has been further enhanced, offensive lineman Grant Horst said, by other initiatives such as assigning players a rotation of workout partners from different position groups on both sides of the ball.
Now an offensive lineman, who otherwise might not spend much time with a defensive back, could have one as a workout partner and get to know him better.
''More guys are working with each other toward one common goal,'' Horst explained. ''It's been a really good summer for us jelling-wise and I think we're a really close group.''
Now, Horst says, the Ragin' Cajuns, who were picked fifth in the Sun Belt Conference's preseason coaches' poll, are primed to beat that prediction and play in a sixth bowl in seven seasons.
Here are some on-the-field story lines surrounding ULL in 2017:
EXPERIENCED FRONT: Four starters are back on the offensive line and the Cajuns see that as particularly important while they transition to new starters at quarterback and running back. ''It all starts with offensive line play,'' Horst said. ''If we make holes and protect the quarterback, they're going to be perfectly fine.''
NEW QB: After one season with LSU transfer Anthony Jennings at QB, ULL has elevated junior Jordan Davis to starter. The former red shirt is in his fourth season with the program and knows what's expected of him, Hudspeth said. ''He's what we want - a guy that can spin the ball, a guy that can get you out of trouble and run the football,'' Hudspeth said. ''He is what I call a true dual-threat quarterback.''
DILLON'S DEFENSE: Defensive end Joe Dillon quickly developed into one of the Cajuns' best players as a freshman with a team-high seven sacks and more than a dozen tackles for losses. Now the 6-foot-3, 208-pound sophomore has been named preseason all-conference and more QB pressure from him will be needed as ULL breaks in new starting cornerbacks. ''He will be, to me, a guy that can really be a game-changer,'' Hudspeth said. Dillon will be expected to grow as a leader as well following the departures of veteran linebackers Otha Peters and Tre'maine Lightfoot, who combined for nearly 200 tackles last season.
TOUGH SLATE: The Cajuns have a difficult road schedule that includes games at Texas A&M and Mississippi of the Southeastern Conference, as well as at Appalachian State and Arkansas State, picked first and third in the Sun Belt preseason poll.
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