Where there’s a ‘Will,’ there’s a new guy

LAFAYETTE — A step too slow for safety. A step faster at linebacker.

That was the bottom line coaching decision that moved Darius “Tig” Barksdale into the Louisiana-Lafayette starting lineup Saturday at Kansas State.

Barksdale, a junior whose college football career has had several detours since 2008, responded to his first start ever at linebacker with the best performance in his two-year ULL career.

Against Kansas State, Barksdale, who originally signed as an Ole Miss safety but never played for the Rebels, had four tackles and an interception.

Barksdale’s performance against Kansas State received praise from ULL coach Mark Hudspeth.

When he signed with ULL in 2012 after playing the 2010 season at running back at Jacksonville (Ala.) State, Barksdale began last season as a starter at one of the Cajuns’ safety positions.

Last year at ULL, Barksdale started the first three games and three others toward the end of the season. He had 21 solo tackles in eight games.

Barksdale, 23, who was named the state of Mississippi’s Mr. Football in 2007, didn’t make an immediate impact with ULL last year, mainly because of a sports hernia injury that required him to get pre-game injections that alleviated pain for only an hour.

This season, when ULL’s coaches considered candidates for the vacancies at safety, Barksdale’s name was never mentioned.

That’s because Barksdale was part of the experiment at the Cajuns’ “Will” linebacker position under defensive coordinator James Willis.

The position still remained unsettled since the team started practicing in August, and it still was under review after ULL’s 34-13 loss at Arkansas Aug. 31.

Seniors Andrew Hebert and Jake Molbert were projected to compete for the “Will” spot, but by game time at Kansas State, the coaches felt Barksdale, (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) should be the starter instead.

That was fine with Barksdale, but there was a problem of experience.

“I’m a safety. I’ve played safety my whole life,” Barksdale.

“When the coaches told me I was going to linebacker and that I was starting, you have to be excited about that.

“They told me I was going to linebacker, and I said to them, ‘Whatever. I’m going to help this team.’ It didn’t matter where I was going to play. Linebacker? I don’t mind.”

Barksdale said he knew something was amiss as soon as he reported for the start of the season.

“Since camp started, I’ve been at linebacker, learning,” Barksdale. “I had to learn what kind of positions the D-line gets in and what kind of technique they play.”

“Other than that, everything was coming together.”

Barksdale said his status as a first-time linebacker starter didn’t create any desire by Kansas State to target his inexperience.

“I was just trying to keep them from getting their hands on me,” Barksdale said. “I just had to beat them before they started getting to me,

“Getting the start at linebacker, I was nervous about it. It was really my first experience, but I’m good now.”

At Ole Miss, Barksdale was dismissed in August 2010, just before the start of the season. Barksdale emerged at Jacksonville State shortly after leaving Oxford and gained 414 yards there as a running back.

During Barksdale’s senior year at South Panola (Miss.) High, he gained 2,917 yards and scored 35 touchdowns and was a Parade All-America selection.

After high school Barksdale when to Hargrave Military Academy for a season before arriving at Ole Miss.

Following his one season as a running back at Jacksonville State, Barksdale was dismissed from the team by coach Jack Crowe.

Barksdale said his connection to arriving at ULL was Cajuns defensive assistant coach David Saunders, who was at Ole Miss when Barksdale first arrived there.

“I’ve been knowing coach Saunders since then, and he’s the one who got me here (to Lafayette),” Barksdale said.

With so many exit ramps and position changes in his college career, Barksdale said he hasn’t lost his taste for the offensive side.

“I’ve been a running back all my life. I wouldn’t mind being there again,” Barksdale said.

Barksdale said his unusual nickname is one that has followed him since he was a child.

“My auntie and my grandmother, they started calling me that since I was real young,” Barksdale said. “I was real goofy and I kept knocking things around, so they named me after the character Pooh, and it stuck.”