For LSU cornerback Mekhi Garner, he always knew he could always compete at the highest level, even if it meant he had to take a different path than the rest. A few stops along the journey, Garner made a pit stop in Lafayette, La. where he was coached by current Florida Gators Head Coach Billy Napier.
Napier, who Garner credits for giving him the chance to take his talent to Baton Rouge, built a Louisiana program from the ground up. But for his former All-Conference cornerback, he admits it’ll be a little different lining up on the other side of the field, but he’s excited for a moment.
“I think it’ll be very fun. He gave me an opportunity,” Garner said.
“He set me up to be here in front of y’all [at LSU]. He found me out in community college and gave me a chance at UL. Now I’m here.”
Garner played a pivotal role in the success Napier had in Lafayette. Creating a new culture while with Louisiana, Garner compared Napier’s model of success to current LSU head coach Brian Kelly.
“Bringing his own culture, like how Coach Kelly is trying to set up here,” Garner said. “But when I came [to Lafayette], everyone was just about bought in just like it’s being built here. When I got in at UL, everyone was bought in, because it was his second year there when I came.”
Napier’s different elements made him so successful when coaching the Ragin’ Cajuns. A players coach, it was the relationships he built that allowed him to bring his program to new heights, and Garner admits to being grateful for being a part of something so special.
His appreciation for his former coach is limitless and the chance to share the field with him Saturday night in the Swamp will be a moment he cherishes for the rest of his life. Though he couldn’t help but reminisce on the past and detail the love people had during his stop in Lafayette.
“They love him out there [in Lafayette],” Garner said of Napier. “Even when he left, his last game when we played Appalachian State, the whole [city of] Lafayette came out giving him thanks and what he’s changed for that program.”
“He was close with the players. On camera, you see it a lot, like everyone is locked in… He’s well-rounded, especially around the city that he’s in, I feel like that’s why me and him connected. We were pretty close.”