Cajuns center Prudhomme strives for perfection in 2019
Coming off of offseason shoulder surgery, Cole Prudhomme — for all practical purposes — sat out spring drills in 2018.
He watched, but there was no contact, none of what it takes to hone his craft.
This year, the senior-to-be from Eunice High is all in.
But with a coaching staff change from that of Mark Hudspeth to that of Billy Napier following the end of the 2017 season, the inability to jump in feet first and with hands extended cost the Ragin’ Cajuns starting center last season.
He was a bit behind in new system, and it showed initially.
“You know, he was inconsistent earlier in the year,” Napier said. “He was a guy that we were really pushing.”
On occasion, Napier even suggested Prudhomme was not a shoe-in to retain the starting job he held in 2017 — even though there was no obvious contender to replace him.
After the season, though, the Cajuns coach looked at film and realized just how far Prudhomme had come from August through December.
“In our cut-ups,” Napier said, “he was very effective the second half of the year — partly because his effort improved.
“He played with a lot better motor. His technique was better. His hands were better. And I thought he did a nice job communicating to the other four.”
Now here it is late March, and Prudhomme is the key piece between Kevin Dotson and Robert Hunt to his right and Ken Marks and either Rico Robinson or Max Mitchell to his left.
“He’s a much-better communicator,” Napier said. “(Has) a very thorough understanding of what we’re doing."
Prudhomme, according to Napier, also is “much leaner, much stronger.”
But the largest difference lies in all that he learned following the transition.
“There’s only so many ways you can run the ball,” Prudhomme said. “So a lot of it carries over.
“But the biggest thing to me, personally, was the technique and how they want you to implement the blocks — you know, how to step properly, where your eyes need to be and things like that.
“I’d say that was the biggest thing just (to) me, and I guess as a whole offensive line,” he added, “was just learning how to step different.”
Sure, he was a bit behind physically — out of shape, simply put — because of the missed time.
But Prudhomme took mental reps when he was out, learning new plays and new ways of doing things that way.
By the time preseason camp rolled around early last August, he said, it was a simple matter of “going out there and actually practicing, just getting in the groove of doing the things.”
“No doubt, I was behind. But not like, ‘Oh, man, I’ve got so far to catch up,’” Prudhomme said. “It was just ‘get back into shape’ and ‘get back in the feel of things.’”
By season’s end, at Prudhomme’s own admission, there were a few regrets.
“Coach Napier came in with a new culture,” he said. “It’s a culture shock to anybody, just changing the way you’re doing things, period.
“So it was just me buying in each and every day, just learning how they want to do things. If I could look back, I wish I was more head-first in everything, you know?
“But as I sit back and re-watch all the games, I can see myself each week doing things better and better,” Prudhomme added. “And I’m proud that I made progress. I just wish I could have made more progress, or made the progress faster.”
The ultimate proof that things got better is in the results.
“I like the fact that he made lots of improvement,” said Napier, whose Cajuns held their first spring scrimmage Thursday, will practice Saturday and hold their spring finale April 13.
UL finished 7-7 in 2018, but the Cajuns managed to win the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division, make it to the league’s first championship game with a regular season-ending win at UL Monroe and got to Orlando for a loss to Tulane in the Cure Bowl.
The big fella takes great satisfaction in one particular play last year, as running back Raymond Calais Jr. — with the Cajuns backed up at the 8-yard line late in the opening quarter — broke a 92-yarder for a touchdown in a November win over Georgia State.
UL’s offense went on to finish with 3,062 yards on the ground, with running backs Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Calais combining for more than 2,900 of them.
“That really says, ‘Hey, we were pushing people around,’” Prudhomme said.
THE NEXT STEP
Now — heading into his final season as a Cajun, as are Dotson, Hunt, Marks and Robinson — the plan is to produce more of the same.
It all begins with proper preparation.
“Last spring we were learning how to do things,” the 6-foot-3, 293-pound Prudhomme said. “This year, we’re training ourselves to do it perfect.
“Last year, it was a new offense, new way. So everything was, ‘What is this play? What does this play mean? ‘How do you do this play?’
“Now we know all the details of why we run (these) plays,” he added. “Now it’s, ‘Hey, I didn’t take the right step. I stepped too far. I didn’t step enough.’ Things like that.”
Now, too, it’s largely about critiquing, and then refining, technique under the watchful eye of offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Rob Sale.
That goes for the entire line, and for himself. And for Prudhomme, things really did get better with time.
“It all keeps coming back to the same — footwork, and hand placements,” he said.
“I started getting better with my steps, and I started seeing things better, picking up blitzes a little better.
“When you’re more confident on a play,” Prudhomme added, “you’re gonna go even harder on it.”
With all that in mind, what’s the next step?
“Perfect,” Prudhomme said. “Being perfect.
“I mean, that’s very hard to achieve. But it’s something we’ve got to do every day in work. And with the coaches we’ve got, and the way coach Napier lays everything out, as long as you keep coming every day, rolling up your sleeves and going to work, the perfectness is gonna come.”