The Florida Gators are preparing for a highly anticipated match against the LSU Tigers. This game holds special meaning for head coach Billy Napier and some players on UF’s roster who have ties to Louisiana. As they strive for improvement on the field, the storylines for Montrell Johnson, Trevor Etienne, and Cam Jackson are both personal and competitive.
Billy Napier’s Louisiana Connection
Head coach Billy Napier, who spent four years in the state of Louisiana while coaching the Ragin’ Cajuns, also has fond memories of the area. He acknowledges the warmth and support he and his family received during their time in Louisiana. For Napier, returning to his home state is a significant element of this matchup.
As the Gators prepare to face LSU in Death Valley, the sentiment of their players, especially those with strong Louisiana ties, adds an extra layer of meaning to this cross-divisional rivalry. Despite the competitive nature of the game, the love for the state of Louisiana remains strong, not only for the players but also for Coach Napier.
“Our time in Louisiana was fantastic. Really appreciative of the people in Acadiana and Lafayette for the first-class experience for not only myself, but our family as well. My wife, Ali, and our kids really enjoyed our time there. One of the reasons we stayed there as long as we did,” Napier said. “We’ve got some kids from Louisiana, and I think anytime you go back to your home state there’s an element of that, that’s significant. I know our guys will be excited.”
Montrell Johnson Jr.: A Point to Prove
One player to watch in this contest is Florida running back Montrell Johnson Jr. For Johnson, this matchup holds a deeper meaning as he once played under the helm of head coach Billy Napier in 2021 while with the Ragin’ Cajuns in Louisiana. But despite his skills and the attention he garnered, the previous coaching staff at LSU passed on him. Johnson recalls, “The previous coaches that were at LSU, they’d come visit me at the school and be like ‘I’m the best back in the state,’ but no offer, you know what I’m saying? It’s not making sense. I kind of took that personal.”
Johnson, a native of nearby New Orleans, is determined to use this game as an opportunity to demonstrate what he’s capable of and show LSU what they might have missed. He’s motivated and ready to make a statement on the field.
A Shift in Allegiances
Growing up, Johnson was a fervent LSU fan, just like many of his close friends and relatives. He fondly remembers watching LSU stars like Ja’marr Chase and Joe Burrow lead the team to a national championship. However, life has a way of changing allegiances, and Johnson’s journey to the Gators has brought about a shift in his loyalties. He now proudly dons the orange and blue, and he believes he’s influenced those around him as well. Johnson confidently states, “I feel like I made them Florida fans because I’m here, if that makes sense.”
Trevor Etienne: A Strong Support System
It’s not just Johnson who has experienced this shift. Teammate, sophomore running back, Trevor Etienne, who hails from Louisiana and plays alongside Johnson in the Florida backfield, has a significant fan base attending the game. Etienne has reserved 34 tickets for friends and family, with hopes of securing even more. He’s been relentless in his quest for tickets, even turning to his fellow Gators in Gainesville to help him meet the demand. His dedication to his family is heartwarming, as he eagerly anticipates reuniting with relatives and savoring some home-cooked Cajun cuisine.
“I plan on having the family come by the hotel when we get a little down time. It’s a later game so, you know, the Florida game, so I’ll be able to meet with some of the family,” Etienne said, “so I’m hoping they can bring a couple of dishes.”
For Etienne, this game is not just about winning on the field; it’s about celebrating the bond of family and heritage off the field.
Cam Jackson: A Dream Realized
For defensive lineman Cam Jackson, this game is particularly meaningful. Hailing from Haynesville, Louisiana, he’s eager to play in front of his family and friends at the iconic Tiger Stadium. Jackson shares the sentiment of his teammate Johnson when it comes to his desire to defeat the Tigers. “It means a lot to me, being from Louisiana, being able to go play in Death Valley,” said Jackson.
As he anticipates the game, Jackson is also looking forward to some home-cooked cuisine. Gumbo is at the top of his list, and he’s hoping his uncle can provide enough for him and his fellow defensive linemen.
The upcoming clash between the Florida Gators and the LSU Tigers is more than just a football game. It’s clear that the trio of Louisiana natives on the Gators’ roster have a deep connection to their home state and are taking this one a little more personal.