LAFAYETTE, La. -- Louisiana-Lafayette is the only team in the nation not to lose back-to-back games. The Ragin’ Cajuns haven’t lost a weekend series, either.
That’s one way to reach the nation’s best record -- 58-8 entering Sunday’s Game 2 of the Super Regional against Mississippi.
Another way? Beards. No one would’ve seen this coming just a few months ago.
ULL saw a series of brutal workouts this fall, in which head coach Tony Robichaux put his team through Navy SEAL training. No one could have facial hair then -- that was a team rule.The strict no-facial-hair policy is nothing new in baseball. But a complete about-face that now sees some trying to impersonate those from Duck Dynasty. We’ve seen that too. We’ve seen teams ride it all the way to Omaha, in fact. Trevor Fitts brought a PowerPoint presentation to Mississippi State head coach John Cohen last season to get him to change his stance.
It worked for the Bulldogs. And so far, ULL’s deal with their head coach has stayed true. Even though they didn’t get to the point of having to make a PowerPoint, in large part because of Robichaux’s son -- ace Austin. But it almost did.
“Luckily we have Austin here, so he has a little leeway with Coach,” Michael Strentz said. “We made a pact in the beginning. If we lose two in a row, we have to shave the beards. We’ve lived up to it ever since.”
It was actually Austin Robichaux’s appearance without a beard that helped steer his dad to lift the facial hair ban.
“The guys came to me and told me that our Friday night starter looks like a 12-year old without facial hair,” Tony Robichaux recalled. “Our biggest thing was that we had to hold on to something -- the season is too long. Every team that will be in those dugouts in Omaha will have something, whether it’s a stuffed pet monkey or a pet fish like South Carolina had. There’s been ropes and crystal balls. All of that comes from that this season is such a grind.”
Strentz isn’t shy about who has the best beard on the squad. He says it’s his. The worst?
“Riley Cooper, but Jace [Conrad]’s is nasty,” Strentz said. “I’m not sure what you call that but it’s nasty.”
“I have trouble growing up here so I’ll leave it to these guys,” Caleb Adams said. “But Riley Cooper has tried for about four years and all he has is a little bit on his chin.”
A local radio station handed out 4,000 beards for fans to wear during ULL’s Game 1 victory against Ole Miss. There must be something about the water in this state. They love their beards.
“Somewhere along the line you have to find something to come back to, and I think it evolves,” Tony Robichaux said. “You don’t pull up the first day and say this is what we’re going to do. It evolves.”
Perhaps the best part -- Tony himself has some facial hair now, albeit grey.
“Jace said I needed to take a Sharpie to it because it’s too gray,” he said.
The team has names and ratings for the different beards. Below are five that the Ragin’ Cajuns are hoping become household fixtures next week on the #RoadToOmaha.
• Ryan Leonards | 3B
Mountain man beard | 8.5/10
• Blake Trahan | SS
Chin strap beard | 7.6/10
• Tyler Girouard | DH
Scruffy/patchy beard | 6.0/10
• Chase Compton | 1B
"Sabertooth-esque" beard (from X-Men) | 8.0/10
• Nick Thurman | C
Seal pup beard | 4.8/10