Photo by Mark Lagrange
At the 2013 New Orleans Bowl, Katie Wolpert sported her Ragin' Cajuns pride right down to her rouge colored lips.

Ten years ago I stepped foot onto the campus of UL Lafayette — all I really knew of this place is it once was called USL and that my parents met here in the ’70s at The Keg. UL looked a lot different back in 2003 — many of the buildings were in need of renovation, and there was a lot less spirit and pride than today. As a transfer student from UNO (I grew up on the Northshore), I was accustomed to a lifeless commuter campus where the biggest draw was the city itself. But UL, man, this school had everything I needed: campus life, strong academics and a football team. Home games were something we all looked forward to — hospitality ran deep with strangers inviting you to share something to eat or drink at their tailgates, and the Redzone student section was always a wild time, my favorite part the painted manly (and not-so-manly) chests. We’d win some, we’d lose some, but around mid- to late-season the talk turned to becoming “bowl eligible.”

The Ragin’ Cajuns were always the bridesmaid, never the bride, when I was in college.

Years passed and I continue to call Lafayette my home — I’m now raising a family here and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, thanks to what I’ve learned over the years from a few Cajuns football fans. These people, the people of the Ragin’ Cajun Nation, are like an extended family of thousands of brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles (most of whose names I’ll never know). Whether it’s a Saturday afternoon under the oaks at Cajun Field, grocery shopping or waiting for an oil change, you don’t have to look far to see a group of individuals passing on the spirit of UL.

Not a day passes that I don’t have an encounter with  alumni impacting the community in hopes of making Lafayette a force to be reckoned with. I’d say we’re doing a pretty good job of winning popularity contests. The accolades for the city have been pouring in for years, but there now seems to be a lot more attention directed at the impact UL has on the overall community. In December we were named one of the 20 best college towns in America by Travel + Leisure magazine, and Washington Monthly says UL is one of the best in the nation at helping low-income students earn degrees, ranking it among the top 10 national universities in its social mobility category.

Yep, we’ve got a lot to be proud of.

And then there was the New Orleans Bowl. Three years, three trophies and three straight attendance records for the bowl. Jay Walker, one of the legendary voices behind every Ragin’ Cajun football game on Sports Radio ESPN 1420, blogged about the fans and the New Orleans Bowl: “The passion of Cajun fans was best put into perspective by Karl Benson, the commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference during halftime of the game on Saturday. He said there is no other school in America that travels its average attendance to a bowl game. ... The Cajuns in 2013 averaged 25,975 fans. This year, they sold over 21,000 tickets to the game in New Orleans. That’s just at the UL ticket office. That doesn’t count those who bought the tickets online through Ticketmaster or those who purchased tickets the day of the game. Trust me, no other fan base in America comes close to that. Then, add to that the fact Cajun fans went into another school’s home stadium and took it over, drawing three to four times more fans than their ‘home’ opponent. You’re not going to find THAT anywhere else at a bowl game, either.”

I’m proud to have been one of those fans in the Superdome, and I’m even prouder that I call Lafayette my home. This city never ceases to amaze me, and its future has never been brighter. There is life beyond football, and while the Cajuns are on cloud nine with a three-peat, it’s the beginning of 2014, and I know for a fact the world’s looking at us — on and off the field.

Lifestyle Writer Kari Walker has a 2-year-old daughter, Stella. When she’s not photographing her food or twerking, she loves CrossFit, running, travel and hashtags.

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