LAFAYETTE – Head coach Billy Napier earned Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year honors and running back Montrell Johnson was named the league’s Freshman of the Year to highlight Louisiana Football’s postseason honors, the league office announced on Thursday morning.
In addition to the superlative awards, the Ragin’ Cajuns secured 16 All-Conference selections with offensive lineman Max Mitchell, offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence, punter Rhys Byrns and Chris Smith (All-Purpose) earning First Team recognition.
The 16 selections are the most in program history, surpassing the previous best of 14 from the 2020 season.
Napier guided the Ragin’ Cajuns to a fourth consecutive Sun Belt West Division title and the right to host the Sun Belt Championship Game on Saturday, Dec. 4, after compiling an overall record of 11-1 and a perfect 8-0 record in league play, the first time the team has been perfect in conference play in the Sun Belt era.
Under his guidance, the team is one of just 10 programs in the country this year with 11 or more wins. With Napier at the helm, the team is 39-12 since 2018 and an astounding 32-5 since the start of the 2019 season.
Entering the title game, Napier has the squad ranked No. 20 in the AP Top 25, No. 21 in the USA Today/AFCA Coaches Poll, and No. 24 in the College Football Playoff Top 25, marking the second-straight season the team has found itself ranked in all three national polls.
Napier is the only coach in program history to pick up Coach of the Year honors twice in his career.
Johnson has been stellar as a rookie, boasting 776 rushing yards on 135 carries and a team-best 11 rushing touchdowns. He is the fourth player in program history to be named the league’s Freshman of the Year, joining Tyrell Fenroy (2005), Alonzo Harris (2011), and Elijah McGuire (2013).
The freshman’s 11 scores are the third most on the ground in the Sun Belt this season and are the second-most by a Louisiana freshman since 2000 behind Fenroy’s 12 scores in 2005. He also owns a 99-yard rushing touchdown, which he recorded against Arkansas State on Oct. 21, making him one of 13 players in NCAA history to accomplish the feat.
Mitchell, who has been invited to the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl and was named the Pro Football Focus (PFF) Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, has started in every game for the Ragin’ Cajuns at right tackle this season. According to PFF, Mitchell has only allowed nine pressures in 12 games this season and boasts the highest PFF grade (95.1) in all of FBS.
His partner in crime, Torrence, has appeared in 10 games this season at right guard and has been equally as productive for the O-Line, which was named a Joe Moore Award Semifinalist for the second consecutive season and ranks second in the league and 35th nationally in sacks allowed (1.67).
Byrns was masterful punting the football this season with an average of 46.3 yards per boot, a mark that ranks 11th nationally and first in the Sun Belt. The Australian has sent has pinned 19 balls inside the 20 and sent 16 balls over 50 yards.
Smith, who also picked up Third Team honors as a running back, led the team with 834 rushing yards on 144 carries and scored eight touchdowns on the ground, while leading all running backs with 14 catches for 75 yards and a receiving score. Smith was also active as a kick returner with 20 returns for 427 yards, moving his season all-purpose yardage total to 1,336 yards.
Levi Lewis (Quarterback), Johnson (Running Back), Shane Vallot (Offensive Line), Zi’Yon Hill (Defensive Line), Chauncey Manac (Linebacker), Lorenzo McCaskill (Linebacker), Eric Garror (Cornerback), and Percy Butler (Safety) were all named to the league’s Second Team, while Smith (Running Back), Tayland Humphrey (Defensive Line), Andre Jones (Defensive Line) and Mekhi Garner (Cornerback) picked up Third Team honors.
Additionally, Michael Jefferson (Wide Receiver), Johnny Lumpkin (Tight End), Ferrod Gardner (Linebacker), and Bralen Trahan (Safety) earned Honorable Mention All-Conference honors.
Louisiana now turns its attention to the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game on Saturday, Dec. 4, when it hosts App State at Cajun Field. Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. and will be broadcast to a national audience on ESPN.
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