Back to the Bayou: Game at LSU returns Lobo quartet close to home

UNM’s Justin Harris (left) grabs Boise State’s Hank Bachmeier during their Sept. 9 game at University Stadium. Harris gets a chance to return to his home state when the Lobos play Saturday at LSU. (Mike Sandoval/For the Journal)

University of New Mexico senior defensive end Justin Harris, one of four Lobos from Louisiana, isn’t shy to say what Saturday’s game at LSU means to him.

“This is a statement game,” said Harris, who is from Lutcher and went to high school at East Ascension High in nearby Gonzales. “I was recruited by LSU and they had wanted me to play tight end. They didn’t believe in my ability to play defensive line. So I want to go back and prove to them that I am a defensive lineman and I am worth playing in the SEC.”

Harris, along with running back Chad Alexander and wide receivers Christian Jourdain and Duece Jones, is excited to play in front of friends and family at Tiger Stadium.

Harris’ cousin is a well-known family member – New Orleans Saints wide receiver and LSU alum Jarvis Landry – who is expected to be at the game.

Ned James, a former UNM quarterback who coached in the NFL, knows Adam Henry, a former LSU assistant who coached Landry. Henry said Landry will be at the game.

“It’s a huge blessing being able to go out and play in front of my entire family,” said Harris, who has 10 tackles, 1½ tackles for loss, a half sack, one pass break-up and two quarterback hurries this season. “I have family that’s buying tickets in a booth for this game. … It’s a huge thing right now. I’m excited.”

Jourdain, a 6-foot, 175-pound speedy receiver, missed the Lobos’ season opener because he arrived as a senior transfer from Southwestern Junior College in Chula Vista, California just one week before UNM beat Maine.

He has yet to record a catch but came close to connecting on deep pass plays against Boise State and UTEP, beating his defender each time. He said he slipped during his deep-ball opportunity against UTEP and the timing was off.

“I’ve never been to an LSU game, so my first time will be playing in one,” Jourdain said. “I have a lot of friends who went there and balled over there. I feel like I can do it too.”

Jourdain grew up in New Orleans under the guidance of his mother, Crystal Jourdain, a single mom and “a very strong woman.”

He first played football at Brother Martin High, then transferred to International, both in New Orleans, because he said he had wanted to go to Archbishop Shaw in Marrero, but Shaw told him to come the next year.

When Jourdain went to Shaw for his junior year, he had to sit out for football because of transfer rules.

After his senior season, he said he felt under-recruited and played for Ave Maria University, an NAIA program, in Florida. After two seasons, a friend told him about Southwestern, where he thought he had a better opportunity to eventually land at a Division I university.

“After JUCO, I stayed patient, prayed up and this opportunity came right before the season,” he said. “My mom was stressed. We were just stressed.”

Alexander said Saturday will be the first time his entire family will get to see him in a college football game. He’s hopeful he’ll get to play, as he has been contributing on special teams.

“I’m trying to make them proud,” Alexander said.

He was back home in New Orleans last month when he missed a week of preseason camp. His older cousin, Kelvin Alexander, who was 50, died, he said.

“When I was little he used to teach me about football,” Alexander said. “He taught me how to be a man for real.”

Jones said he played cornerback, safety and wide receiver while at Broodmoor High in Baton Rouge. Before this season, he moved from cornerback to wide receiver. He said now that he has learned the playbook, he wants to make plays for the Lobos.

He said connecting with Harris, Jourdain and Alexander has helped him while at UNM.

“It’s just like we click because we are all from the same spot and we’re used to the same stuff,” Jones said. “There are a lot of different things out here (in Albuquerque), so us being from Louisiana our bond is already strong.”

UNM coach Danny Gonzales knows the Louisiana quartet is excited to return to Louisiana.

“They’re talking about how good the food is,” Gonzales said. “Justin is a really good cook. They won’t get to eat all that Cajun food. But they can smell it.”

Gonzales said the players usually visit with their families at the hotel lobby “for a bit” the night before the game. He doesn’t want them to be distracted.

“We’re not going there for a vacation,” Gonzales said. “It’s go there to win a football game and come back. That’s the only itinerary on that travel. It’s not a vacation for the people who are playing in the game.”

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