Louisiana Gators return to Bayou State looking to trip up rival LSU

Trevor Etienne’s last trip to Tiger Stadium was spent on the LSU sideline as a top recruit seemingly destined for his state’s flagship program.

By day’s end, the Jennings native had changed his mind, despite Florida’s failed comeback bid sparked by redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson off the bench. Even before Richardson nearly saved the day with a 4-touchdown effort, Emory Jones’ 42-yard scoring pass to Justin Shorter as the first half ended sold Etienne on the Gators — decked out in their all-orange uniforms.

“I remember that [play], and looked at my Mom and said, ‘Yeah I’m going to Florida,'” Etienne recalled Wednesday. “I’ll never forget that. Even though they ended up losing, I just still fell in love with the program and the game as I still am.”

Etienne returns to the Bayou State proudly draped in orange and blue as the Gators sophomore star looks to upset the No. 19 Tigers.

Saturday’s night visit to Tiger Stadium is a chance for several Gators to return to their old stomping grounds, including former Louisiana coach Billy Napier.

Napier spent four seasons in Lafayette elevating the Ragin’ Cajuns to new heights and establishing deep roots in the community located in the state’s French Louisiana region, Acadiana.

“Our time in Louisiana was fantastic,” he said.

Napier’s wife, Ali, will be in Lafayette rather than Baton Rouge visiting friends and watching the game with the couple’s three kids.

“It’s four years, man,” Napier said “The place was good to me. Acadiana is unique culture and people there. It’s one of the reasons we stayed there a while.

“Good place.”

Against the Tigers (6-3, 4-2), Napier aims to channel the success he experienced at Louisiana, where his teams won 33 games during his final three seasons and played four bowl games. The Gators (5-4, 3-3) need an upset during one of their final three regular-season games to qualify for a bowl and avoid the program’s first losing regular season since 2017.

UF is a 13.5-point underdog at LSU bracing for Heisman candidate Jayden Daniels, who has cleared concussion protocol and is on track to play after he absorbed a nasty hit during last weekend’s loss at Alabama. Earlier, Florida squandered the opportunity to win with a field goal during regulation before falling 39-36 in overtime to Arkansas.

Yet, Saturday’s game will be a mix of football, familiar faces and home cooking for a handful of Gators from Louisiana.

Etienne has requested his mother’s shrimp stew, along with some fried fish, fried shrimp and croissant rolls.

“That would be the meal of the day for me,” he said.

A week after Etienne totaled 206 all-purpose yards, the Gators will need him to burn off some serious calories at the Tigers’ expense.

Fellow tailback Montrell Johnson’s competitive fire will burn a few extra degrees against the Tigers, who snubbed the New Orleans high school star and lifelong Tigers fan.

“I was absolutely an LSU fan,” he said. “But right now I’m against them in any kind of way. They were recruiting me at one point. They were playing some games, though, so there’s a lot of motivation.

“I just want to show … what they kind of missed out on.”

Johnson ended up with Napier in 2021 at Louisiana and followed him to Gainesville after the season. Along the way, Johnson has missed Mom’s cooking and hopes to pig out on her seafood lasagna and “famous red beans.”

Johnson will have about 20 family members and friends in the stands as he tries to avenge his recruiting snub.

Gators defensive tackle Cam Jackson, a Haynesville, La., native who began his career at Memphis, expects to have 34 family members at Tiger Stadium — coincidentally, the same number of tickets Etienne was able to secure.

Players receive four tickets each for home games, but Jackson and Etienne set their sights on Nov. 11, pestering teammates for unused tickets.

“I have been asking for the LSU tickets a long long time ago,” Etienne said.

Jackson’s mom, older sister who is an LSU student, and three younger siblings will be among the clan, which doesn’t get too many chances to see him strut his stuff.

“You really got a lot of people who this is their first time getting to see me play because they’re busy,” he said. “But my mom, she travels to every game. She’s very excited.”

Edgar Thompson can be reached at