As the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns 2023-24 football season approaches, one of the more debated facets of the team has swung into full view. On Aug. 24, the Advocate reported that several members of the university’s athletic staff, including men’s basketball head coach Bob Marlin and softball head coach Jerry Glasco, had received fresh contract extensions for their part in winning their respective squads the Sun Belt Conference.
Second-year football head coach Michael Desormeaux received no such extension as his team ended last year with a 6–7 record (4–4 in conference). A make or break season for the coaching staff, and thus the entire program, could be on the horizon.
Improving a team like the Cajuns will inevitably start at the trenches with the offensive line. Desormeaux spent a lot of time discussing the off-season work on that part of the offense in an Aug. 9 press conference: “It’s way ahead from last year. We’ve got four no-doubt pieces in place from right guard all the way over to left tackle, and they have looked really good.”
“They’re on the same page, communicating really well,” Desormeaux said. “I feel really good about where this group is right now, you got really good leaders in that group and the intent behind the practice is different than it has been. The fact that they’ve been able to practice together continuously since you get this thing started in February certainly made a difference.”
Junior tackle Nathan Thomas commented on the progress made in training this offseason, adding, “A big thing is chemistry. I would say that our chemistry is there.”
Thomas continued, “The class that I came in with, we were all playing together, we all built that chemistry coming up throughout the years, so I think that’s one big thing that we have from last year to this year.”
A bright spot in last year’s offense was the production of veteran tight ends Neal Johnson, Johnny Lumpkin and Pearse Migl, who combined for 58 receptions, 566 yards, eight touchdowns and a lot of first downs.
“These quarterbacks, we love them as a tight end group, and they love us,” said Migl. “I think we’re kind of a security blanket for them. That’s a good feeling to have. There’s no shortage of love coming from the quarterbacks as well. I think to be able to count on this team and count on this group of tight ends, starting now in camp, we’re gonna start early and start strong, showing that you can count on these guys.”
Cajuns’ tight end coach Jorge Muñoz said of the group, “I think any time you have returning players that have played, you’re talking about Neal Johnson and Pearse Migl, have been here for five years now, one going on six years.”
“When you have experience like that it makes my job easy, and the fact that the offense hasn’t changed since the day that they got here, it really hasn’t… The terminology is all the same, the rules are all the same.”
“It’s probably one of the best rooms depth-wise I’ve had at any position.” The departure of Lumpkin for the NFL opens a window of opportunity for one of several fresh faces, like sophomore Jathan Caldwell or Baton Rouge natives Caleb Bonine and Rhett Guidry to fill in.
Wide receivers like sophomore Robert Williams also attested to the difference this camp made: “Paying attention to details. I feel like I took that serious, more serious this summer. Me being out for a little minute, I took that more serious, so leading into fall I was able to play fast.
“I didn’t really think there was any pressure, I just knew it was an opportunity that I could grab, so I just took advantage of that opportunity and worked hard,” Williams continued. “They teach us a lot so them teaching us, talking us up and getting us ready for practice and stuff just makes us play way faster… It builds all our confidence if the older guys have confidence.”
Desormeaux then summed up his thoughts on the team’s growth: “We’ve had a camp I think that puts us in position to figure out what our identity is on offense and on defense, who we are on special teams. Start putting those pieces in place… we’ve got another couple weeks to get it all tuned up before we gotta go do it for real.”