Center Huval calls shots on offensive line
LAFAYETTE — There’s no football rule that says a team can’t play two quarterbacks at the same time.
That’s a good thing, since Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth plans to have two on the field every time his Ragin’ Cajun offense hits the field this season.
One is Baton Rouge product Terrance Broadway, who took over under center early last season and ended up leading the Sun Belt Conference in total offense in league games.
The other is Scott product and senior center Andre Huval, who handled the football on more plays than Broadway last year.
“He’s a quarterback that just happens to be playing center,” Hudspeth said of the only senior on the Cajun offensive front wall. “He’s the guy that has to get everyone on the same page. He does everything that Terrance does except throw and run.”
Huval is content to leave the toting and pitching to Broadway. He’s got a few other duties ... and those tasks have increased exponentially since he took over as ULL’s starting center before the 2011 season. Before that, he played guard in his freshman season, getting one start and playing 300 snaps despite missing two of 2010’s first three games while recovering from a concussion.
Now, he’s the first Cajun to yell out calls and schemes when the offense comes to the line of scrimmage — something he’d never done before.
“At first, I kept wondering why I had to know what everybody else was doing,” the former St. Thomas More standout said. “I wasn’t a quarterback. It was hard to adjust to that. But now, when I see something, I communicate that to Terrance and everyone else.
“We’re reading coverages just like the quarterback does, and most centers aren’t doing that. The most important thing in our offense is to get good pre-snap looks, and then we can get on the same page as a unit.”
What Huval and the Cajun offense is doing has obviously worked. Last year’s squad set school records for season scoring and total offense, both snapping the marks set only one year earlier. In the past two New Orleans Bowls that have ended nine-win seasons, ULL has put up 75 points and has accounted for 568 and 591 yards respectively.
Huval took every snap in each of those games: the 32-30 win over San Diego State in 2011 and the 43-34 victory over East Carolina in December. That’s not unusual, though. In his 26 starts over the past two years, Huval has missed a total of 23 snaps, all of them after games had been long since decided one way or the other.
That kind of consistency is part of the reason he’s one of 17 repeat members on the watch list for the 2103 Rimington Trophy, which goes to the top center in the country. He made that list as a junior during a season when ULL’s offensive front allowed only 13 sacks in 13 games — just over half of the 25 given up in 2011.
“That’s a testament to coach Ro (ULL offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue),” Huval said. “He is such a great teacher.”
“We ranked in the top 10 in giving up the fewest sacks, and he (Huval) is a big part of that,” Hudspeth said. “He’s excellent at making sure we’re lined up properly and we don’t have any assignment mistakes on the offensive line.”
It helps to have a center who won the team’s Awardmasters Academic Excellence Award and earned Capital One Academic All-District honors. But Huval’s experience is also a big factor in the Cajuns’ offensive success, and that experience was never more important than early last season when starting quarterback Blaine Gautier went down with an injury and Broadway was forced into action.
It was the second straight year that ULL had to insert its backup quarterback early in the season, and in both of those years, that replacement went on to earn bowl MVP honors.
“He (Broadway) had a lot to take in last year,” Huval said. “But at the end of the year, we really knew what each other was thinking. ... We were both seeing the same things, and we could get to the right play pretty easy. And this spring, we picked up right where we left off, the same tempo that we had last year.”
The Cajuns won four of their last five to end 2012, with only a final-play blocked punt and touchdown return in a 27-20 loss to fifth-ranked Florida marring the season-ending streak. Those wins are part of 18 over the past two seasons, the most in back-to-back years in ULL history. For the first time since joining the SBC, the Cajuns go into fall camp on Monday, Aug. 5, as the preseason pick to win their first league title.
Huval said that title is the primary goal, but he also said the hardest thing might be making the new Cajuns realize it hasn’t always been like this.
“The toughest part may be to get that message to the younger players,” he said. “They’ve got two rings, and they don’t know what it’s like. I remember 3-9 (ULL’s record in his 2010 freshman season). We all remember where we were, when we were ranked 120th (out of 120, by one magazine that year).
“We’ve accomplished something, but the pressure’s on. We’ve never won the Sun Belt, and we’ve never gotten into the Top 25. We got close ... we were two plays away from 11 wins last year, but nobody remembers the team that almost beat Florida. We slipped up and lost two conference games, and we can’t let that happen this year.”