Former prep basketball player Ladarius Green excelled on gridiron for Cajuns and in the NFL

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Ladarius Green

Rickey Bustle and his UL football staff never saw Ladarius Green play in high school.

That’s not entirely correct. Bustle, who coached the Ragin’ Cajuns from 2002-10, and a couple of staffers watched him suit up for Pensacola, Fla.’s Booker T. Washington High more than once … on the basketball floor.

“I’m not even sure how much football he played in high school,” Bustle said. “But he was such a good athlete, we took him just watching him play basketball. He was a man playing with boys there.”

Green wasn’t heavily recruited and may have caught the Cajuns’ eye while playing hoops, but once he put his full attention to the gridiron, he more than fulfilled the UL staff’s expectations.

“You don’t see many guys that long and that athletic, that can run like he could,” said fellow former Cajun coach Mark Hudspeth, who coached Green in his 2011 senior season. “He had a high football IQ and was just a pleasure to coach. I knew big things were ahead for him.”

Green became the most productive tight end in Cajun history during his four-year career and was a major weapon in UL’s rebound from a 3-9 record in 2010 to a 9-4 mark in his senior year, a season that also included a win in UL’s first-ever Division I bowl appearance at the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

Green ranks sixth on UL’s all-time receiving list with 149 catches, fifth in receiving yards with 2,201 and second all-time in receiving touchdowns with 22, trailing only Brandon Stokley’s 25-touchdown career mark. All of those are far and away the most ever by a Cajun tight end.

Those numbers alone were enough to ensure selection to the UL Athletics Hall of Fame, not to mention a notable five-year NFL career. But it was his ability to make big plays and produce in big games that made “Pee Wee” – a nod to his athletic 6-foot-6 frame – a Cajun fan favorite.

His final collegiate home game was an example. UL needed a win over state rival ULM to get to eight victories and six Sun Belt Conference wins to ensure a bowl invitation, but the Cajuns found themselves down 35-24 with 3:08 left and were that close only because Green had two first-half touchdown catches. But UL scored one minute later to make it a one-score game.

A following Brett Baer onside kick bounced high over the ULM front wall, and Green outran everyone to the loose ball. One minute later, Alonzo Harris scored from three yards out and the Cajuns had an improbable 36-35 win.

In that game, Green had 13 catches for 136 yards, both of which are still UL records for tight ends.

“His talents just spoke for themselves. You didn’t have to know much about football to see that he was special,” Hudspeth said. “He was just instrumental in all the success we had in 2011. He had to buy into a whole new culture his senior year, which is sometimes hard for seniors to do. But he did that, and he kept that great work ethic which was why he had success in the NFL.”

Green finished with 51 catches for 606 yards and eight touchdowns in that senior year, after a 44-catch, 794-yard junior season. His eight TD’s as a senior tied him for second nationally among FBS tight ends behind only Stanford’s Coby Fleener (10). He led the nation’s active tight ends in touchdowns at the end of his final season, and still ranks fifth in Sun Belt history in career touchdown catches.

Twice a top-eight semifinalist for the John Mackey Award presented to the nation’s top tight end, Green was a two-time first-team All-Sun Belt and All-Louisiana pick in a collegiate career that ended with participation in the Senior Bowl.

He was a fourth-round NFL Draft selection by San Diego, the third tight end taken, and played four years for the Chargers. His best season was in his final year in San Diego when he started 11 of 13 games and had 37 catches for 429 yards and four scores in playing more than 70 percent of the Chargers’ offensive plays. He also played in six games with two starts for the Pittsburgh Steelers including a career-high 110 yards on six catches in his second game in a Steeler uniform.

He had five catches for 72 yards in his final game in 2016 against Cincinnati before suffering a concussion that eventually ended his NFL career, one that included 95 catches for 1,391 yards and eight touchdowns.

“I was so impressed that he got so much better that first year,” Bustle said of Green’s freshman UL season. “The only thing he was having trouble with was being a good route runner. He was trying, he’d just never done it. I told him if you get to where you can make these cuts and be a good route runner, you’re going to play at the next level. That’s how much I thought of him. Some guys can run but aren’t great at routes. He made himself good.”

Green was part of a military family (he was born in Berlin, Germany) and his commitment to that family was shown by a gesture not long after he’d become an NFL regular. His mother had worked at a day-care center for many years, and with his first NFL financial windfall Green bought the center for his mom, elevating her from staffer to owner.

“Didn’t surprise me at all,” Bustle said. “He was such a good athlete and so coachable, you could get on him a little and make him bear down and he’d do that. But more than that he was a great young man.

“When I think of what a Ragin’ Cajun football player should be like,” Hudspeth said, “I think of Ladarius Green.”

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