Coach long enough and you’ll experience the joys of a mostly injury-free season and the tribulations of being snake-bit. Neville head coach Mickey McCarty experienced the latter in 2019.
That’s when players like Neville’s Andrew Cagle become that much more invaluable.
For McCarty and the rest of Neville’s coaching staff, Cagle was a utility player that could hover around the line of scrimmage like a linebacker, man up a receiver like a corner or command the high safety position like the senior vet he was. Whatever Neville needed with its rotating door of injuries, Cagle was able to provide it. And that's why he's the 2019 Ouachita Citizen Defensive Player of the Year.
“The thing that stands out to me about him is his consistency,” McCarty said. “He’s really been that throughout his career for us, but as a senior, he stepped up his game another notch. He’s really a gamer. When it came to big games and big environments, he continued to rise to the top.”
In Cagle’s senior season, he did a little bit of everything. Cagle led the team with 73 tackles, amassed a team-high 12 tackles for loss and recorded the second-most interceptions on the team with three.
Amongst Cagle’s teammates, he was known by an endearing nickname, “White Boy Rick.” Because Cagle’s long-lost doppelganger, Richie Merritt, played Rick Wershe Jr. in the 2018 feature, “White Boy Rick,” Neville players thought they’d tease Cagle about his Hollywood carbon copy. But the comparisons didn’t stop with the similar facial features.
“A lot of people call me crazy because I have that kind of energy,” Cagle said. “I’m always yelling at practice and in games. They call me that because I’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Call him crazy. Call him a gamer. Call him Mr. Dependable. When Neville kicked off in Bill Ruple Stadium or any other stadium across the state, Neville coaches knew Cagle was going to bring the juice to their team.
“He played with a chip on his shoulder,” McCarty said. “He was a critical piece of the defense. He brought so much versatility to the defense. Offensively, it’s like a slash athlete. For guys like him, you just have to get creative to use him in different ways.”
Cagle’s play in 2019 earned District 2-4A Defensive MVP honors. But Cagle’s accomplishments on the field extend beyond district play.
Cagle gave the Tigers a spark right from the jump. With the offense struggling to maintain possession for the better part of the game against rival Ruston, it was a defensive play that ultimately gave the Tigers the victory in Bill Ruple Stadium on opening night. Trailing 20-14, Neville linebacker Javon Carter forced a fumble before Cagle scooped it up and returned it for a 36-yard game-winning touchdown. The Tigers ended Ruston’s two-game win streak against Neville with a 21-20 victory.
“I have to give credit to Javon for that one,” Cagle said. “He forced that play and I was able to pick it up.”
Neville started the season at 3-0, but then the injuries started and seemingly never stopped. Iken Tankchell, who many thought was going to be the breakout player on this Neville defense in his new pass-rushing role, suffered a season-ending knee injury against Ouachita in the third game of the season. Then Carter suffered an injury one week later against St. Thomas More that kept him sidelined for multiple games.
“I did feel like a little bit more was on my plate when they went down,” Cagle said. “Everybody had to step up. The new players had to step up and play with confidence. You can’t play scared.”
Neville’s defense allowed 35 points to St. Thomas More before surrendering 41 points to West Monroe the following week. But then the Tigers hit district play, and the defense returned to form even with those missing players. The Tigers allowed 27 total points over the next four weeks, including seven to a Minden team that was riding a five-game win streak ahead of playing the Tigers.
“That was one of my best games,” Cagle said. “I remember it being built up as a big game, and I was so intense.”
The Tigers entered the playoffs and cruised to wins against South Lafourche and Deridder before edging Westgate in a 26-24 classic. That set up the Tigers final home game of the season, a semifinal matchup against old rival Edna Karr.
Win or lose, it was going to be Cagle’s last time to run onto Bill Ruple Stadium, and growing up as a Neville fan, that meant the world to him.
“(Former Neville quarterback) J.T. Jackson spoke to us before the game, and he told us to just take it all in,” Cagle said. “I was the very last one coming out onto the field and it was just a surreal feeling. It felt like I was playing in front of a college stadium. I knew I was going to give it my all in my last game.”
Neville ultimately fell to Karr, 40-21, but Cagle went out on his shield. Cagle recorded a team-high two tackles for loss and was second on the team in tackles with eight.
Now that the season is over, Cagle plans on studying pre-med at LSU, where is brother Luke Cagle, 20, attends. Like Andrew, Luke was an active disruptor on Neville’s defense and is one of the many reasons as to why Andrew became the player he was.
“He was always rough with me, so I think that’s where I get my physicality from,” Andrew said. “He would always make sure I did everything right.”