Every snap's for her: Hannah's life spurs Cajuns receiver Devon Pauley

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

He wears her initials, H.P., under his eyes during every game he plays. He has them tattooed on an inner bicep as well.

Whenever times are tough – like they have been quite a bit in recent weeks for his family back home in Lake Charles, where Hurricane Laura ripped through town and left much of it in tatters – Ragin’ Cajuns receiver Devon Pauley thinks of his late sister, Hannah.

It was right in the midst of football season when she died back in 2011, and it’s days and weeks like the present when her inspiration carries the Barbe High product to make catches like the ones the walk-on has had in nationally ranked UL’s first two games of a tumultuous 2020.

“I was 12, she was 15,” Pauley said. “She committed suicide.”

That was then.


“I go out every day in practice, I go practice hard; every game I play is for her,” Hannah's little brother said. “Every snap’s for her. Bigger than football.”

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UL receiver Devon Pauley pulls in a pass in front of Iowa State's Lawrence White IV during an upset win earlier this month in Ames, Iowa.

So too was the hurricane that made landfall at Cameron less than a month ago, then tore through nearby Lake Charles and took pieces of Pauley’s upbringing along with it.

“My mom (Susannah Shaver) actually just had to move to Crowley because of damage to her house,” Pauley said. “My little sister had to transfer to Notre Dame (High) because I don’t know if Barbe (High) is gonna open up again this year.

“My grandpa’s house had a tree through it,” he added with reference to his maternal grandfather, longtime former Barbe High head coach Jimmy Shaver, “so I’m not sure what they’re going to do.”

On the other side of his family, Laura did a number on his father Len Pauley’s pre-owned vehicle dealership in Lake Charles.

“It basically just tore it all up,” Devon Pauley said.

“My dad, he’s jobless right now because of the hurricane. … You know, it’s stressful.

“But I try to just focus on the things I can focus on – control what I can control, and stay focused on the games,” Pauley added, “because I know my teammates need me.”

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The 2-0 Cajuns will need Pauley again when they face 1-0 Georgia Southern in their home opener Saturday morning on ESPN2.

And if the past two Saturdays are any indication, he will be prepared to haul in whatever comes his way.

That blinders-like mentality was on full display when, in the final minute of the second quarter of UL’s season-opening 31-14 win at then-No. 25 Iowa State, he pulled in a 16-yard pass from Cajuns quarterback Levi Lewis.

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Despite a hard hit along the sideline from Lawrence White IV, Pauley somehow managed to get his left foot down in-bounds.

“What a great catch,” ESPN analyst Mike Golic said on air.

After an offseason in which the Cajuns endured not only the scare of Hurricane Laura but also the passing during mini-camp of assistant coach D.J. Looney and all the complications and uncertainty that have come with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it was just the sort of lift UL needed.

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Because after the calendar flipped from 2019 to 2020, all that followed has been a spring and summer that’s taught the Cajuns the necessity to juggle life’s ups and down with all that falls in between.

“Like Coach (Billy) Napier said … we’ve been dealing with adversity all offseason,” Pauley said, “so, whenever we get it we’re just gonna lock arms, put our toes in the ground and fight and do whatever it’s gonna take.”

Pauley’s reception in Ames came early in a drive to that led to a Nate Snyder field goal just before halftime, sending the Cajuns into the break down 14-10 instead of 14-7 and propelling to a win that landed them in the Amway Coaches Poll at No. 21 and in the AP Top 25 at No. 19.

Now ranked No. 25 and No. 19, respectively, they went to Georgia State last Saturday and again Pauley made a circus-like catch, this one a 19-yarder.

It started with a dig route, on 4th-and-10 with UL down 14-0 late in the second quarter of its eventual 34-31 overtime win in Atlanta.

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“We (were) in four-down mode. So no matter what I didn’t want to take a sack,” Lewis said. “Pauley came through, made a helluva catch.”

Two plays later, Lewis completed an 18-yard touchdown toss to Chris Smith to get the Cajuns back in it before halftime.

“The safety played it good on me,” said Pauley, who has watched the replay a time or two or maybe 20.

“I was covered up, and I saw Levi (Lewis) scramble to his left. So I scrambled back, and he scrambled back to the right, and I cut back, and he turned and made the throw, and I knew I had to go get it.”

It took some twisting and turning, but Pauley did just that, prompting Napier to deem the catch “incredible.”

“What a grab,” ESPN2 play-by-play announcer Wes Durham called.

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UL student-athletes including receiver Devon Pauley (center, wearing mask and backpack) brought water and other relief supplies to Lake Charles earlier this month in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura.


What a coincidence?


Pauley – who redshirted as a freshman in 2018, then appeared in 11 games last season, playing mostly on special teams and catching three passes for 37 yards, including one in the Sun Belt Conference championship game at  Appalachian State – has had to work for what’s come his way.

That includes the development of his connection with Lewis.

“He knows how to get open. He knows the scramble drill,” the Cajuns QB said of Pauley, also a sound blocker on the edge for his size. “He’s basically just on the same page with me. We’re in sync. We think alike.”

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Napier thinks a lot of Pauley, who was put on scholarship before UL’s LendingTree Bowl win over Miami (Ohio) last January but then had to be taken off for apparent COVID-19 roster management-related reasons.

“Devon has been one of the more inspiring players on our team,” the Cajuns coach said of the 5-foot-8, 174-pound Pauley. “Devon ain’t the biggest guy, but he’s extremely intense. Focused. Very deliberate. Intentional with everything he does.

“He works extremely hard – in the weight room, in the conditioning program. And he’s been a very effective player for us. He’s quick, he’s fast. … And certainly he’s tough and fearless.

“He has character. He comes from a great family of people, and (is) a guy that just shows and does his job,” Napier added. “He might not be what you expect, but the guy can do it – and I admire him.”

Ditto for Lewis, whose mind meshed with Pauley’s thanks to passes followed by passes and more passes during voluntary workouts in UL’s indoor practice facility this past offseason.

“We would stay as long as we could before we had to get out,” Pauley said. “We would just work on routes and timing, and we would just talk through ‘situations.’

“We always talked about if Levi gets to scrambling, just scramble and stay in his vision, and if he sees you open, go make a play.”

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It wasn’t the first time Pauley heard that expression.

“My high school coach used to always say, ‘You’re number’s gonna eventually get called, so when it does, be ready to make a play,’” Pauley said. “So I knew I had to make a big-time play (at Georgia State). … I had to go up and be strong and make a catch.”

It’s often been about having to be strong.


There’s another connection, though, that’s played an equally important part in Pauley’s penchant for making plays.

A member of the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Famer, Jimmy Shaver – according to his induction bio – began his coaching career in 1971 at Immaculate Conception School in Lake Charles, then spent four seasons as an assistant at St. Louis Catholic High there. Pauley’s maternal grandfather started at Barbe as an assistant in 1978, and after four seasons he became head coach – a gig that lasted 29 seasons before his retirement.

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Shaver went 230-100 over that span, making 27 playoffs appearances including one in each of his final 19 seasons and winning district Coach of the Year honors 13 times.

“I was blessed to grow up around football,” Pauley said.

“I used to get my mom to bring me to Barbe to watch practice from the time I was in kindergarten until I started playing in middle school, and just learned the game very well and learned I can pick up playbooks fast.”

Ragin' Cajuns receiver Devon Pauley poses with his mom, Susannah Shaver, during UL's 2019 Fan Day.

That’s not all Pauley has picked up via the power of observation.

Known for his locker room dance moves, he likes to hype his teammates by bringing what he calls “positive, good energy.”

Much like Pauley’s football knowledge, some of it stems from good eyes and the rest is in his genes.

“I’ve always loved to dance,” Pauley said. “My mom, she can dance a little bit.

“Growing up, we’d always have dance competitions at our house. Then … going to dances in the middle school, I’d see people dancing in the middle – like, circles around them – and I always wanted to do that.

“So I would go in and just start dancing, try to copy what they were doing, and I just kind of got a good rhythm for it,” he added. “If they do something I think looks good, I’ll take a little piece of their move. I’ll take a little piece from somebody else’s moves, and just put it all together.”

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Keeping it together following his suicide’s sister was no easy task, however.

Hannah Pauley, according to her Johnson Funeral Home online obituary, was a sophomore at St. Louis Catholic High who “enjoyed hunting and followed her dad on duck and deer hunts.”

A varsity volleyball, softball and track athlete, she “enjoyed rodeos with her favorite horse 'Mandy'” and “spending time with her dog ‘Tucker,’ who obeyed only Hannah.”

“Hannah adored her brother and sister, Devon and Haleigh,” according to the obituary, “and spent many hours riding the 4-wheeler at their farm in Sweet Lake.

“She had many friends and never met a stranger. She loved baking brownies, getting her nails done, and spending time with her family.”

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Hannah Pauley is, her little brother suggested, how and why he can burrow himself in a game and wash all the troubles away. She stays with him, too, as the red and white flowers and Cajuns flag flying by her gravestone marker in a 2019 photo on his Twitter timeline shows.

“I lost my sister when I was younger,” Devon Pauley said, “and football’s just always been outlet for me.

“It always has been, due to tough times.”

Times like then.

Times like now, when the sting of Hurricane Laura was still fresh as Pauley and several of his Cajun teammates recently were part of a caravan from UL that took a semi-trailer loaded with relief supplies to Lake Charles.

 It was a tough trip.

“It’s heartbreaking to go back to your hometown and not even recognize your hometown, you know?” Pauley said.

“It meant everything to me that Coach Nape (Napier) allowed us to do that and (student-athletes from) the other sports came along with us to come and help and provide for Lake Charles.”

Once back in Lafayette, which dodged most of Laura’s wrath, Pauley poured himself back into the sport that has become his personal shelter.

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“I can go to practice and clear my mind, and games – there’s nothing like a Saturday night, there’s nothing like a Friday night,” he said.

“You can’t exchange that for anything, and it’s definitely been an outlet for me, just to get away.”

Yet the reminders always stay, constantly pushing him up, evidenced by the initials on Pauley’s arm, and the passes he pulls down.