LAFAYETTE — University of Louisiana at Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth and his starting running back Alonzo Harris agree their Saturday night visit to Troy University resembles more of a business trip than a social excursion.
While Hudspeth and Harris have ties to Alabama football, the significance of beginning ULL’s Sun Belt Conference schedule at perennial league power Troy supersedes visiting family and friends, each said.
“This game is big for me, not only because I’m returning home state, but this is our first week of conference play, and we’re playing a good opponent,” said Harris, who was the SBC’s freshman of the year after running for 700 yards in 2011.
For Hudspeth, it marks his first return to an Alabama football field since he left the head coaching position at North Alabama to become a Mississippi State offensive assistant in 2009.
At UNA, Hudspeth’s teams won 66 of 87 games in seven seasons and reached the Division II semifinals four times.
“It’s not a homecoming for me,” Hudspeth said. “In fact, I hadn’t thought about (coming back to Alabama) until (a reporter) brought it up.
“I know it’s the first time I go back up to Alabama since I was at North Alabama. I know coming back to play at Troy is going to bring back a lot of memories for me.
“When I was a player at Delta State, we came to play at Troy when the teams were in the old Gulf States Conference. Since then, Troy’s made many improvements to its stadium and upgraded the (football) program.”
Hudspeth’s former UNA offensive coordinator, Kenny Edenfield, is Troy’s offensive coordinator.
“We are big fans of each other, except for the one day of the year we play,” said Hudspeth.
For Harris, an all-state player at Gadsden City High School, playing Troy will be perhaps the Cajuns’ key early season game.
Harris said Troy doesn’t see the ULL game any differently.
The Trojans, he said, may be especially eager to play again after the Cajuns defeated the them 31-17 last year in Lafayette.
“Last year, it was a big game. They were leading the conference with championships five years running, and we put a whipping on them in our stadium,” Harris said. “That kind of ruined their season, and things for them went downhill from there.”
Although Harris expects to see some old acquaintances at Troy’s Veterans Memorial Stadium on Saturday, it’s not the chance to socialize with family and friends that’s significant, he said.
“It’s also a big deal because I’ve been against Troy before, and I know what to expect from them,” Harris said.
Harris said the game will bring some added responsibility for him, since the Cajuns lost running back Montrel Carter with a season-ending knee injury during Saturday’s 40-0 win over Lamar.
Carter, a redshirt freshman, was expected to relieve Harris of some of the running burden.
“It puts more pressure on me for sure, since I have to stay healthy and prepare to play more downs,” said Harris.
Harris is 15 pounds heavier this season than last, weighing 220 pounds now.
Hudspeth said the Cajuns have depth at running back to alleviate the rushing load on Harris and freshman redshirt Effrem Reed, who played at Dutchtown.
For now Hudspeth said ULL won’t move linebacker Qyendarius Griffin back to running back, where Griffin played part of last season.
Hudspeth said Harris features speed and durability.
“(Harris) can run inside the tackles or he can turn on the jets once he gets past the line of scrimmage and take it to the house,” Hudspeth said.
“He can also break tackles. There’s a reason why he was the Sun Belt Conference freshman of the year.”
Harris laughs now when he recalls the pounding he took last year at Cajun Field when he played Troy for the first time.
In that contest Harris carried 22 times for 81 yards.
“Last year, I think they kind of put a target on me,” Harris said. “Troy put a beating on me every play, whether I was with or without the ball.
“I think they were upset because I didn’t choose to go to Troy.”