Mickles: Mark Hudspeth has the Ragin’ Cajuns pointing up

LAFAYETTE — Progress doesn’t always come as quickly as one would like.

If you’re fortunate enough, though, one positive step leads to another — especially in trying to build a Division I football program like Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth has over the past three seasons.

You take progress any way it comes.

So when a rash of injuries to his offensive line prevented the Ragin’ Cajuns from holding a true spring game — or even a scrimmage — to wrap up their spring drills Saturday, Hudspeth looked for a silver lining.

He found it in a modified “spring game” in which UL-Lafayette worked for about an hour, mostly on individual drills and kicking, before turning his attention to something else.

While his team continues to make progress on the field, as seen in three consecutive nine-win seasons — each capped by a New Orleans Bowl victory — there was evidence of more progress in the south end zone of Cajun Field.

By the time the Ragin’ Cajuns open the 2014 season Aug. 30 against Southern, Cajun Field will feature 5,900 extra seats in that end zone to bring the stadium’s capacity to 36,900.

Hudspeth took an on-field microphone and challenged his team’s fans to fill the seats for their first two home games against Southern and Louisiana Tech as they have in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the New Orleans Bowl.

“If we can travel 45,000 (fans) to a bowl game, we can put 45,000-plus in Cajun Field for our first two games,” he said. “Get your tickets now, because they’re going to be the toughest ticket in town. Help us take that next step to being a big-time program.”

Hudspeth said he saw similar progress throughout the 15 practice sessions allowed in the spring, which he hopes will mean another step in the right direction going into his fourth season.

“I thought we progressed, but more importantly, I thought we created some depth,” he said. “We were really able to evaluate the kids that redshirted last year, and then, some of our younger kids really stepped up. A lot of guys really, really showed that they can help us in the fall.”

Among them, he said, were tight end Matt Barnes, a redshirt freshman, and cornerbacks Dominick Jones and Antoinne Adkins, who are competing for a starting job opposite incumbent starter Corey Trim.

“This is the deepest team we’ve had even though we didn’t have a lot of linemen the last few weeks,” said Hudspeth, who lost six offensive linemen over the course of the spring. “But luckily, they’re out for only a few weeks. We were able to get through the spring still a deep team because sometimes you have those season-ending injuries during spring practice.”

Hudspeth deemed the spring a success because his team improved fundamentally despite not being able to scrimmage a lot during the 15 practice sessions.

“We were able to really concentrate on fundamentals and execution,” he noted. “I think we did that with the exception of tackling. Hopefully, we can get a lot of that in fall camp.

“We’ll still get three scrimmages before the first game, so it’s not like we’re going to play the first game without scrimmaging or tackling.”

The important thing, he said, is to make sure they’re making progress as they have since he arrived in the spring of 2011.

“This thing is growing, the expectations are growing, and now you can see actual improvements being made — progress being made,” Hudspeth said, noting a new football facility will start to take shape in the next 30 days.

“That’s going to be something that’s also going to take our program to a whole new level. So it’s just one step at a time trying to make our program better. … We’re definitely making a lot of strides.”