Expectations for the UL-Lafayette football team are not high. One recent publication ranked the Cajuns 119, out of a possible 120 teams. But the program does have a one big claim to #1.
He wears number 89 and his name is Ladarius Green.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again," senior ULL quarterback Chris Masson says, "He's the most talented tight end in the country. It's a privilege to play with him. I'm glad he's on my side."
"Best tight end in the entire country," agrees junior quarterback and former WAFB-TV "Warrick Dunn Award" winner Blaine Gautier, "He's so explosive. There are so many things you can do with him. You can spread him out wide like a wide receiver and he can go vertical."
The Cajuns' new head coach agrees wholeheartedly.
"I've only had the chance to coach him for six or seven months," Mark Hudspeth told a nice gathering at Media Day, "Let me tell you, that kid's a special human being. Hard worker, 'yes sir', 'no sir', team player. It doesn't matter if he catches 10 passes in a game or one. The thing he wants to do more than anything…is WIN."
UL-Lafayette didn't do much of that last season in Ricky Bustle's final hoorah. The Cajuns suffered through a nightmarish 3-9 campaign that included a seven game losing streak. Bustle was launched after doing some positive things in Lafayette, but never getting the team to a bowl game after flirting with the postseason several times. Now the Cajuns have a fresh start, with a veteran tight end you could hear from early in the 2012 NFL Draft.
"If the team has a good year," says Green, "I have a good year. Anything I can do to help the team win, I'll do it. If that means catching a ton of passes, or just being a decoy."
Green can certainly tower over the competition, standing a lean and mean 6'6" and weighing 236 pounds. Despite last season's team struggles, he still managed to haul in 44 receptions, for 794 yards and 7 touchdowns. Green logged 4, 100-yard games and snagged 4 passes for 87 yards and a score against SEC foe Georgia. And it's not just Masson tossing the tight end bouquets. Most NFL scouts indeed agree that Green is top prospect at his position the country has to offer.
Green is first team preseason All-American by BleacherReport.com, a Top-5 draft-eligible tight end by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., and on the preseason watch list for The John Mackey Award and The Fred Bilentnikoff Award. He was a semifinalist for The Mackey Award last year.
But the humble Pensacola, Florida native hardly believes he's perfect.
"I need to be more physical blocking. I also could work on my route running. I'm always looking to improve. I don't see myself as perfect in anything."
And as for all the preseason prognosticators beating up the Cajuns?
"That's great motivation for our team," Green adds, "It just pushes us to prove ourselves."
Green's journey is very similar to LSU's living basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal. He grew up in Germany, in a military family before coming to the US. And while Green was a talented basketball player like Shaq, he decided football was his destiny.
"Everyone has their own interesting path," adds Masson, "And his certainly worked out for the best. He's going to have a great season."
"It's a big change," Green says of the new regime, "Everyone's working harder and practicing harder. He's a great man (Hudspeth) and an energetic coach. He pushes us to the breaking point."
Green and the Cajuns open their season with quite a challenge, traveling to #8 Oklahoma State on September 3rd.