Ex-Detroit News Dream Team player Lorenzo McCaskill gets fresh start in Louisiana

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit’s Lorenzo McCaskill could have been the middle linebacker for Michigan State, preparing for the Spartans’ Big Ten opener with Rutgers Saturday.

Or McCaskill could have been the middle linebacker for Minnesota, getting ready to do some damage against Michigan Saturday night.

Lorenzo McCaskill (2) makes a tackle against Georgia State in September.

Instead, McCaskill is getting things done as the middle linebacker for the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, leading the nation in tackles earlier this month after making 10 stops in a season-opening 31-14 win over then-No. 23 Iowa State, 12 tackles in a 34-31 win over Georgia State and 14 more in a 20-18 win over Georgia Southern, resulting in the Cajuns cracking the top-25 before a loss to Coastal Carolina last week.

“I didn’t even know where Lafayette, Louisiana, was or what a Ragin’ Cajun was at first, but it turned out for the best,” McCaskill told The Detroit News on Wednesday night. “It’s night and day compared to Detroit. I’ve learned so much, I’ve seen so much. I mean, I can wake up and see an alligator on campus. It’s a whole different world. The weather is hot and this past year I really experienced two bad hurricanes, but the people have been great to me.”

McCaskill and Louisiana (3-1) will play at Alabama-Birmingham (4-1) Friday night (8 p.m., CBSSN).

McCaskill, a member of The Detroit News Dream Team after his senior year at Southfield A&T in 2016 when he got in on 141 tackles, has followed a long and winding road to get to Louisiana.

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After leading A&T to the Division 1 regional finals in 2016, McCaskill was all set to play for the Cincinnati Bearcats, but then head coach Tommy Tuberville resigned and McCaskill reopened his recruitment.

McCaskill also held an offer from Michigan State and then P.J. Fleck left Kalamazoo after guiding Western Michigan to the MAC championship and wanted McCaskill to play for him at Minnesota.

Still, McCaskill loved the setting at Cincinnati, and when Luke Fickell made a home visit he again decided to play for the Bearcats. Some ill-advised posts by McCaskill on social media prevented that from happening, however, and he would up at Holmes Community College in Mississippi, where former Bearcats defensive coordinator Jeff Koonz’s father, Jeff Koonz Sr., was the head coach.

“Lorenzo was all set to play at Cincinnati, but never got the chance, and then was the best linebacker in JC ball and received interest from Michigan State, Pitt and Ole Miss,” said A&T coach Tim Conley, who coached McCaskill at Southfield before the merger with Southfield Lathrup. “He got tired of waiting around and talked with me and Reggie (Wynns of Rising Stars), and we told him he should take a look at Louisiana, who gave him an offer, but he wanted to play for a Power Five school.

“Well, the next thing you know Lorenzo packed up his car back in Southfield, drove 20 hours to Louisiana and committed on the spot. … Things are going well now. His goal is to play in the NFL, and he’s set to graduate this spring.”

McCaskill believes that playing far from home has helped him grow up.

“I love playing middle linebacker,” he said. “I play with a high motor just like I did in high school, have a nose for being around the football and I love to tackle and hit. We have a bunch of Power Five-type guys who play with a chip on their shoulder.”

Lorenzo McCaskill in action for Southfield A&T in 2016.

McCaskill was kicked off Louisiana’s team his first season in 2018, but coach Billy Napier gave him a second chance and he has made the most of it, finishing second in tackles last season (57) while helping the Ragin’ Cajuns reach the Sun Belt championship game (45-38 loss to Appalachian State), then defeating MAC champion Miami (27-17) in the Lending Tree Bowl. He now leads the team in tackles.

“Lorenzo is a wonderful kid, easy to like and he has that charisma and fire in him,” Conley said. “He takes things hard. We had a player drown during his junior year, then a team manager was killed his senior year. He has a different fire burning in him, things leave an impression on him, that’s his makeup. He goes through things, had a coach die down there (31-year-old D.J. Looney from a heart attack during team workout Aug. 1).

“He’s had a bit of a rocky road down there at times. He talks to Reggie (Wynns), me or his dad. I love to hear from him. I always look forward to it.”