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July 22, 2019

Billy Napier

New Orleans, Louisiana

BILLY NAPIER: Well, it's 4:00. We're in the fourth quarter and we've got to finish strong. I want everyone to know I'm honored and humbled to be here today representing the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns. I think we've got a tremendous place. It's an honor to represent Acadiana, UL, the university community, our staff and our team.

Before I get going here a little bit, I think I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Tony Robichaux and what the UL community has been through the last couple weeks. I know for me just being with Coach Robe for a year and a half basically, I would just sit and listen and observe and ask questions. So sincere, so authentic, so genuine. I think we all would say, and some of you guys have gotten a chance to cover Tony over his career, we're better because we knew that man, and he was a heck of a leader, a heck of a person, a heck of a father, a heck of a husband, and I think his legacy, in my opinion, an icon in college baseball coaching, will live on for a long time.

I think for me, it's given me great perspective about the profession, what an impact a coach can make, and I'm excited about Coach Diggs and his hire. Certainly him being from Tony's tree of coaches, I think it's going to be a great transition. Our thoughts and prayers are with Tony and his family.

It's great to be at Sun Belt Media Day. You know, it's a unique time in the passing of the torch. I think Carl Benson did a really, really good job of kind of creating some stability within the Sun Belt Conference. You can see that the football continues to be more and more competitive in this league and the passing of the comp from Carl to Commissioner Gill and all the things that he's done in his short time.

We're excited about hosting Commissioner Gill on the 24th of July. He's going to come over. I know he's visiting all the campuses of the institutions throughout the Sun Belt, and we look forward to that opportunity to host him.

This league keeps getting better. We've got four new head coaches this year. My first venture into the Sun Belt was last year, and I was very impressed with the quality of coaches. Neal had an opportunity to move on to West Virginia and Coach Satterfield had an opportunity to move on to Louisville, and tremendous respect for the coordinators and the head coaches that we ran into last year.

I love this divisional format that we have. I think it's ingenious. I think the championship game brought so much exposure to our league. I love the footprint. We go from Texas to the Carolinas. I think it's basically an SEC footprint, and it's great exposure for our league.

We have -- I really believe that great organizations start with great leadership, and I'm thankful for our administration, with President Savoie and our stud AD, Dr. Maggard, who is 52 years old today. Happy birthday, Dr. Maggard. So many special people. We've met, Ally and I and the kids, something that I think you really appreciate when you're a college coach and you move throughout the country is the people that you come in contact with. We've had so many people really help us with our transition, and I think that's the unique neck thing about Acadiana and Lafayette is the people that we have here. So we appreciate that.

Our 2019 team is a new team. It's new players, new coaches, new staff members. We're going to have new leadership, especially within our players. It also comes with new opportunities and new challenges. I think that's the approach you've got to take.

One thing I do know is this team has worked really, really hard. We've worked extremely hard, and it's been a very productive off-season. We kept our staff intact, which I think was huge. It was very competitive. We had guys that had numerous opportunities, not only coaches but support staff, to go other places, and we kept them at home, and I think that was a big deal, and it was a big win for our team.

We've also added a lot of quality people. We've added assistant coaches, graduate assistants, quality control guys, every area of the organization we've added really, really good people. I've been impressed with the impact that they've made so far, and we're in year two. We're more efficient. I think there's more urgency, more intensity throughout each and every phase of our off-season, and from the beginning, going all the way back to January, we've executed each phase of our off-season with more detail, I think more efficient -- the coaches are getting more out of their time, and we continue to improve in all areas of the organization.

I think where are we right now? We've got a week and a half left of work to do in our summer program, and that's where our focus is at. We need to finish really, really strong. In particular this week is the last week of the summer. We're still very much a work in progress. We have lots of work to do.

We've got 86 players on our team that are either in their first or second year in the program, but we also have a core group of players that are coming back that have experienced the highs and the lows of Ragin' Cajun football, and certainly last year was no different. We experienced lots of success, but we also went through a lot of failures and experienced some adversity and battled through that. I think that we understand expectations, and we have better intangibles in the building. I think we're a more disciplined team. We're going to play with better effort. We're tougher. We're in better condition, and we're certainly a more tight-knit group.

We report on August 1st for training camp, and then 30 days later, we open our season right here in this facility, in this venue, which I think is going to be a tremendous opportunity for UL, all Ragin' Cajuns, certainly got a terrific group of alumni right here in New Orleans. Great way to start the year and one heck of a weekend for Ragin' Cajuns.

I think it presents a great challenge. Mississippi State has a terrific team. They're a big, fast, long, physical team. Certainly didn't play very well against them last year, and it's an opportunity to play better in our second attempt.

One thing that gets overlooked, a lot of the kids on our team, they're from the state of Louisiana and they grew up in this state dreaming of playing in the state championship game in this venue. So it's going to be a unique opportunity for a lot of our guys.

Before we get going here with questions, I want to thank you guys for what you do. Certainly this is a great game. Being 150th year of college football, the things that we heard this morning, the history, the tradition of this game, the impact it has on so many people, there's no question that you guys are a part of that. You get to tell those stories, and we're hopeful that we'll continue to give you guys good stories with the players on our football team. We appreciate the coverage, you covering their hard work, and it really is hard work for these guys. It's 24/7, 365. They're truly student-athletes, and the investment they make is impressive, and we appreciate you covering their work and their effort.

With that, we'll take some questions.

Q. Year two, what are some of the major adjustments that you found that you're happy about, that you made between last year and now?
BILLY NAPIER: Well, I think the big thing that you learn when you get put in this position is it's important to put really good people around you. We're fortunate to retain a number of our staff, and I think that gives us an advantage because we don't have to start over in a lot of areas. All those lessons that we learned last year, we put those away. We've quality controlled the season.

Just a couple things off the top of my head would be we need to throw and catch the ball better. I think we need to play better at certain positions on offense without the football. I think on defense we need to continue to work on eliminating explosive plays. We've got to get more takeaways. We've got to tackle better. And on special teams we need a little bit better execution by some of our specialists.

And again, we've got to limit big plays on special teams.

But in general, we've got a lot of work to do is what I would tell you. New team, we're going to start over here on August the 1st. 50 new football players on our team that are in the first year. This is a -- we spent quite a bit of time on the personnel, but we also have spent quite a bit of time on the coaching, as well.

Q. One of the guys that you brought with you was Deuce Wallace, a redshirt senior, and he grew up right there in Lafayette, Louisiana, and is really playing for his hometown team. Can you just talk about what he's meant to your program and the city of Lafayette?
BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, Deuce is -- I failed to mention that, but I think we've got great player representation here today. I'm glad that you asked that question because Deuce and Bam both are exactly what we would want of our football players. Not only are they selfless players, they're guys that maybe are not on the cover of the media guide or at the top of these award lists, but they do the dirty work. They're coaches on the team. They bring great positive energy each week. They had a lot to do with our turnaround last year, some of the leadership that they showed.

Deuce is unique in that he's a legacy. He's a guy that chose UL and chose to come there as a walk-on and earned his way. Deuce was a walk-on when he first got to UL and has earned a scholarship and has become one of our major contributors on defense and on special teams. Voted team captain by his teammates last year.

These are guys that we want our other players to emulate. They go about it the right way. They represent themselves well in the community. They're both graduating in December with their degree from UL, one in management and one in business.

This is a special group. These two guys are exactly what we want of our football players.

Q. What went through your mind first when you saw that the coaches picked you to win the West division? And two, I know you're counting on some new players and you like your talented new players, especially on defense, but what are the concerns of maybe counting on a lot of guys who are freshmen or young players?
BILLY NAPIER: Well, I think when the coaches pick you to win the West, I think it's humbling to some degree. I think we're mature enough as a football team and hopefully as a staff to handle that. I think that some people would think that maybe it's a negative. But I think it's a sign that we're improving. I think it's a sign of respect for the coaches that we have on our staff and the players that we have coming back.

But a wise man once told me that fish are wrapped in yesterday's newspaper. I think maybe we were picked fourth last year in our division or something like that.

It doesn't really matter. You know, the games are going to be played this fall, and that's what will decide who wins the division and who gets an opportunity to play in the championship game. We do have young players that are going to contribute on our team. There's no question about that. Great opportunity for lots of guys. We played with young players last year and had success, and we'll continue to play with young players.

And I think our coaches have done a really good job of adjusting as the season goes and getting the pieces in the right place, and that's one of the reasons that we played better football in the second half of the year last year. It'll be no different this year. It's going to be much more competitive, in my opinion, and you're going to see more players play, and I think there'll be much more promote and demote, depending on how they practice and prepare each and every week throughout the season.

Q. You said yourself your first year you were picked to finish fourth and ended up winning the West. With all that entails, have you talked to the guys about what it takes to go from being the hunter to the hunted and what it's going to take to accomplish those goals?
BILLY NAPIER: Well, I think sometimes we get a little bit too consumed with the result. I think we need to get consumed with the work that we have to do. I think that some of the coaches that I've worked for in the past, I think that's one of the reasons they had success is they don't worry about necessarily what the result is going to be. We talk about what we're going to do to get there, not necessarily what we're going to do.

We're just going to continue to show up and execute the plan. We've got a week and a half left of summer. We need to have the best week of summer we've had this week, and then we'll turn the page to training camp and we'll develop the identity and the personality of this team. It'll be our first opportunity for this group of players and this staff to be together for the first time. You know, so we've got lots of work to do, and I really believe your team kind of develops who they're going to be. You develop lots of leadership and a personality as the season goes.

There's so many adjustments that you make as the season goes, and we're going to enjoy the journey, and certainly that's what I'm excited about most is getting back with these players and getting back to work.

Q. Was that wise man named Saban or Danny Napier?
BILLY NAPIER: I can't remember which one it was, but I do think that there's something to be said for that.

Q. With the running backs that you guys have, how do you not allow teams just to key on those guys and to kind of keep them honest?
BILLY NAPIER: Well, I think we've proved over time that we've got plenty of weapons around those guys. That's one of the things I'm pleased with right now is I think we've developed some good playmakers around those guys. We've got good players in the receiving room. Certainly Ja'Marcus Bradley and Bam Jackson coming back is a big deal. Both were consistent, productive players.

Our tight end room is a room that I think is getting overlooked a little bit. I think Johnny Lumpkin, Chase Rogers are both really, really talented. To go along with the addition of Nick Ralston there, Arizona State grad transfer. I think that room is going to be much improved. The tight end position is probably the most difficult position outside of quarterback in our system. They've got the most to learn, and I think we saw them in year two make the most improvement.

Tight end and quarterback are two positions where we need to play better, and I think you saw that, a product of being in year two in spring practice.

You put those guys to go along with Levi and his legs, I think we've got plenty around those guys to have balance. But I think you're right, at some point you're going to have to throw it to win it, and you've got to have different ways to win games, and that's one of the areas where we've really put a focus in the off-season.

Q. I know we talked a little bit about this earlier, but what positions on defense are you most excited about getting out there and just seeing compete this year?
BILLY NAPIER: I think we've got tremendous competition in the secondary. I think that that's where a lot of our young talent is. Certainly got some good-quality players coming back, but I think we're going to have depth there, and we're going to be able to creation competition and reward playing time based off of what we see each and every day. That's the best scenario as a coach is when you can promote and demote based off of what you're getting each and every day.

Very competitive environment. It was that way in spring, and I think it'll continue to be that way with some of the new players that we've added. We've added quite a bit of young talent in the secondary, and I think it's going to make our team better.

Q. I know it's your second year with the program. What are you most looking forward to in the second year?
BILLY NAPIER: I think it's just another opportunity to compete. It's a new team. It's a new set of challenges. And that's what I love about ball is you start over, everybody is undefeated, everyone has got hope. Everybody is positive, and I think we're excited because we've got some pieces to work with. We've got a good group of players that I think understand what it's about. They had tremendous experience both positive and negative last year, and just having that group back I think we'll be further along, and it's time to put the ball down and go play a little bit. I'm looking forward to that.

Q. You always talk about culture and just character. How much more equipped do you think this team is to deal with adversity this season, just in a game and leading up to games?
BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, that's probably in my opinion had as much to do with the success we had last year as anything was that I think we improved in the intangibles. And when I say that, what am I talking about? I'm talking about your mindset, the attitude, the effort you bring every day, the discipline that you go about your life with, and certainly a certain level of integrity, and I think we have that.

Do we have problems? Do we have things we've got to correct on a consistent basis? Absolutely. But I think our kids are -- they've grown as people just as much as they've grown as football players. We're just a much more tight-knit group. I think our players look forward to coming to work, and the staff is the same way. And I think we've built relationships. That's where you start. There's got to be a certain level of trust, and there's got to be strong communication. We spent a ton of time with that the first year, and we continue to work on that, and I think you have to do that with each and every team, and I think it leads to better ball, and I think it leads to better people down the road, whether it's five, ten, 15 years from now.

Q. Can you address the quarterback situation heading into camp?
BILLY NAPIER: Yeah, Levi Lewis is kind of our leader in the clubhouse. Certainly is well-deserving of that. Levi played for us last year as our No. 2 quarterback, played in every game, and certainly has had a tremendous off-season. I think the more that you get to know Levi, the more you would understand why maybe we have so much confidence in him. He's a tremendous person. He's a tremendous leader on our team. Probably the most respected guy in our football building, and a guy that's really set the standard for how to work.

He's contagious, man. He rubs off on people, and he's -- I talk about it all the time, the quarterback should be the standard bearer in the organization, and he has certainly done that.

But we do have competition in that room. Jai'ave Magalei is a terrific talent. He's a big strong guy that's been cleared from his injury, has terrific arm talent. He showed that he's a great passer. He processes well and can move the team in spring practice, so we're excited to work with him.

Then you start talking about Clifton McDowell, Chandler Fields, Braden Hawkins. We've added four new quarterbacks to our team, and I think all these guys are going to get an opportunity to compete. Certainly some are a little bit ahead of others, but it's going to be an interesting battle here to see who can get in position to push Levi a little bit.

And we are open to playing two guys. I know we played two last year. If we played today, we wouldn't, but as time goes, if one of those guys proves that he's good enough to be a contributor and play winning football, we are open to that idea.

Q. What is it about the two-quarterback system that you necessarily don't subscribe to the fact -- the saying if you have two quarterbacks you have none? What is it that makes you comfortable playing multiple guys back there?
BILLY NAPIER: Well, I think it's a trend you're going to see in college football as time goes. You know, you play multiple players at about every other position on your team. I think that you need depth there. I think it's a reality that you're going to have attrition, you're going to have injury. And if we had Drew Brees, that would be a different story.

But I think it's all about who's your starter and what type of backup do you have. I think you saw several teams in college football play multiple players over the last couple years and have tremendous success doing it and needing that backup at critical moments.

I like the idea that our backup at times last year -- Levi Lewis knew every week when he was practicing and in meetings and walk-throughs and tests and tips and all the things he did to prepare, he knew he was going out there to play and he had to be ready, regardless if Andre got hurt or not. He was going out and he was going to get his opportunity.

Let's say Andre gets injured, now we're in position, we've got a well-prepared guy. With the way we practice and the reps that we put in the bank throughout the entire year, it's very feasible to do, and as long as we have those types of players, we'll continue to do it.

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