BOWL COVERAGE: LA Tech Seniors Leave Legacy in Ruston

Dec. 19, 2017

By T. Scott Boatright

RUSTON -- It's been an incredible journey for the seniors on Louisiana Tech's football team as they've become true trailblazers, leading the Bulldogs to an unprecedented four straight bowl games.

Also unprecedented is the three straight bowl wins they've chalked up along the way. Of course, these are all firsts since Tech joined the Football Bowl Subdivision level back in 1989.

This year's senior class is comprised of Jonathan Barnes, Elliott Blankenship, Deldrick Canty, Secdrick Cooper, Jarred Craft, Roland Dunn, Russell Farris, Cedric Johnson, Demarion King, Ronald Lewis, Cameron Linck, Quanta Moore, DeJuawn Oliver, Josh Outlaw, Boston Scott, Tyler Spears, and Marlon Watts.

In 2014 this senior class helped Louisiana Tech go 9-5, and reach the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl, where the Bulldogs defeated the University of Illinois 35-18.

The Bulldogs followed that up with a 9-4 campaign in 2015, going on to defeat Arkansas State 47-28 in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

Then the Bulldogs went 9-5 in 2016 and downed Navy 48-45 in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, with current senior Jonathan Barnes kicking a walk-off, well maybe run off, field goal as time expired to seal the victory.

Thus, Tech was one of only four FBS programs entering this year with at least nine wins and a bowl victory in each of the last three seasons, joining only Clemson, Utah and Wisconsin. Impressive company.

 

 

And now, after battling through a hard fought and at times downright bizarre 6-6 campaign this season, the Bulldogs will play in their fourth straight bowl game on Wednesday as they take on Southern Methodist in the inaugural Frisco Bowl in Frisco, Texas. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN.

Barnes said that when he first came to Tech, reaching a bowl game wasn't really on his mind at all.

"I don't think I ever really thought that far ahead," Barnes said. "I just have fun playing. Winning and going to bowl games makes it even better, but I don't remember thinking about those kinds of things when I first came to Tech. I was just happy to be able to play."

But fellow senior Russell Farris, a linebacker, played his first season as a Bulldog with a different perspective.

"That first year I came here I knew we had some big-time players like Kenneth Dixon, Vernon Butler, Kentrell Brice and a couple of other guys who were getting close to finishing out their college careers," said Farris, who chalked up a pair tackles as a freshman in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. "But to win nine games and go to a bowl that year was huge for this (program)."

Senior defensive end Deldrick Canty also had postseason bowling on his mind when he joined the Bulldogs.

"When I first came here all I heard about was the season before when Tech went 4-8," Canty said. "When they were recruiting me, the coaches kept preaching that we were going to do better and were going to get to go to a bowl game. So my first year, making it the Conference USA championship game and going to (the Heart of Dallas Bowl) was really special."

Running back Jarred Craft, another Tech senior, said he felt early on as a freshman that Tech would reach a bowl game that season.

"I felt like we had all the pieces and we worked hard, so I really felt from those first few practices my first year here that we would go to a bowl game that year," Craft said.

Senior running back Boston Scott wasn't thinking about bowl games when he joined the Bulldogs in 2013, redshirting and serving as a member of the scout squad.

"Louisiana Tech is a good fit for me," Scott said. "It has a good engineering school and that's what I was looking for. I had to walk on to the team before finally earning a scholarship. I really didn't know a lot about the football history here, so becoming a part of it has been a whole lot of fun."

Senior safety Secdrick Cooper, a 2017 All-Conference USA selection, said that the 2015 New Orleans Bowl is one of his favorite moments as a Bulldog.

"The New Orleans Bowl was probably my favorite, because I got to go back home," Cooper said. "I probably had about 20 friends and family members there to watch me play. That was a wonderful experience for me."

Canty said it's the closeness of the team -- the brotherhood possessed by the Bulldogs -- that has helped them earn four straight bowl berths.

"We've built a brotherhood, and we work hard," Canty said. "And when we do that, we feel like we have to do more. We push each other. We work hard on the practice field. We work hard in the classroom off the field. It's a repetition thing. We just try to do right in everything we do. So to make it to four straight bowl games is something we're very proud of."

This season has been the toughest part of the journey for Tech's senior class, with the Bulldogs losing three games by only one point and falling to Southern Miss in another game in double overtime.

But they all said they believed the whole time Tech could make it to the six-win plateau and become bowl eligible, even when the Bulldogs had to win their final two final regular season games -- 42-21 at Texas El Paso and 20-6 against Texas-San Antonio -- in order to do so.

"It all starts with us coming out here to practice, working hard and taking things one day at a time," Farris said. "Just focusing on things one day at a time is what really led up to this -- the chance to play in a fourth-straight bowl game."

Canty said winning the Frisco Bowl is just as important as earning the berth.

"It'll feel very good if we can get that fourth straight (bowl game) win," Canty said. "It's been a tough season and a lot of people stopped believing in us. They didn't think we could really make it to a bowl game. But that just makes this senior class want to work even harder and go out with a win."

Prior to this senior class, no other Tech football team on the FBS level had played in two straight bowls (although the national championship teams of the early '70s did play in multiple postseason games with bowl names as part of a playoff system and the 1977 and 1978 Bulldogs played in back-to-back Independence Bowls).

But now the current Tech seniors are looking for their fourth straight bowl win.

"It's just a great testament to the kind of guys who are at Tech," said Barnes, who earned All-CUSA honorable mention this season after being a second-teamer the previous two years. "There's been good teams in the past here that didn't get the opportunity to go to bowl games, so to be able to be put on that kind of display is huge. It's very humbling.

"We're excited to make this fourth bowl for sure, especially in a tough season. I wouldn't say it was down season, we just didn't catch a bunch of breaks and things didn't go our way in a number of close games. So to win that last (regular season) game and earn a bowl berth is definitely rewarding."

Putting a twist in their final bowl game is the fact that the new head coach of SMU is Sonny Dykes, who left Louisiana Tech after the 2012 season to take over as head coach at California.

After being fired by Cal in January, Dykes spent the 2017 regular season as an offensive analyst at Texas Christian before being named the new SMU head coach on Dec. 11.

"It's not that big a deal because I redshirted my freshman year and he was already gone by the time I got here, so I didn't play for him," said Barnes. "But the fact I was recruited by him and his staff will make it kind of interesting for sure seeing him over there on the opposite sideline. I'm actually kind of excited about it. It should make things fun."

And as they play their final game, the Tech seniors will have a lot of growth and change to look back on.

"Being here during a season that wasn't so hot and still ending up going to a fourth bowl game says a lot about the seniors we have here and what we've built in our careers here," Scott said. "Watching all the growth during our time here, with the building of the Davison Athletics Complex and the new press box has been amazing. Seeing those built right in front of our eyes has been an incredible experience.

"And now playing Sonny Dykes and SMU is a great way to close things out. This group of seniors really wants to go out on a winning note. I knew a lot about his system before he left here, It is going to be interesting to see him on the other sideline. I know it'll be exciting for him to face a team he used to be head coach of, and I know it'll be exciting for us to play against a team coached by someone who used to be head coach here."

In the end, it's the love of the game and their teammates that has fueled the journey for Tech's trailblazing seniors.

"I'm really thankful for being part of this team because the seniors really didn't have to push the underclassmen, even during this tough season," Scott said. "They knew what it was going to take. We just had to keep competing even after those one-point losses and the double overtime against Southern Miss. We just came back every week ready to work.

"That's why I love this team so much. Tech has had a lot of great teams, but what makes me so proud about this year's squad is the obstacles we overcame and how hard we had to work to do so. We just kept clawing and fighting and never gave up. That's what I'm most proud of."

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