Tristan Wiley thought Hunter Herring was ignoring his phone calls.
For an estimated week, Wiley tried to get in contact with his former Ouachita Christian teammate after the news broke in late December that Herring was transferring from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette to become a ULM Warhawk.
“He finally got ahold of me and said, ‘You been ignoring my calls or what?’ And I said, ‘Man, I’ve been in the Bahamas,’” Herring said, laughing. “He asked me when I was starting at ULM, and I told him the (Jan.) 11th. He said, ‘OK, same.’ I was like, 'Wait, are you serious?'”
Terry Bowden knows the value of recruiting local talent to his ULM football team, but adding players for the sake of proximity isn’t enough. The talent pool is rich in Northeast Louisiana, sure, but Bowden believes it’s arguably even more crucial to hit when offering scholarships to local talent.
"You don't want to sign the local quarterback if he's not good enough to help you win,” said Bowden in a recent interview with The Morning Drive with Aaron and Jake. “If you don't sign him, people will get mad at you for six months. If you do sign him and he sits the bench, they get mad at you for four years."
NELA football fans might agree that Bowden and ULM have potential impact players in former OCS stars Herring and Wiley.
After the 2019 football season, Herring captured the Class 1A Offensive MVP. With his 6’4”, 200-pound frame, Herring became the first quarterback in OCS history to pass and rush for more than 1,000 yards in the same season, while accounting for 52 total touchdowns. He was also a two-time Ouachita Citizen Offensive Player of the Year Award winner.
Herring averaged a rushing touchdown per every fifth carry of his 2020 football season, and he capped his career by connecting with Wiley for a Division IV/Class 1A State Championship Game record 13 times in a 62-41 loss against Calvary Baptist. Wiley also had 218 receiving yards and two scores in that game, as well.
Could that be a preview of what’s to come at ULM? Herring wouldn’t mind tossing touchdowns to his old teammate again in the near future, and whether that happens or not, Herring believes their return home has fans in the community excited.
“Yes, 100 percent. I think the biggest thing for ULM would be to try and get the community back into it,” Herring said. “When you bring in these local guys who can make a difference, that’s going to be the biggest thing. I know when I committed, I kept hearing from a lot of people saying, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to have to catch a game.’”
Herring left OCS ranked as the 47th best dual threat quarterback in the country by 247 Sports, but he didn’t get to see the field the last two seasons. Herring sat behind Levi Lewis his freshman year, as Lewis led the Cajuns to a 13-1 overall record. Then in 2022, Herring had surgery on his groin in April, which forced him to miss spring, summer and fall camp.
“If you miss camp, you’re really not going to get a chance to play,” Herring said. “It was pretty humbling. So the last two years were pretty frustrating, but I have a bunch of people in my corner. I have a bunch of people pulling for me. I want to prove everybody right, but more importantly, I want to prove myself right."
Because of a relationship previously established with ULM offensive coordinator Matt Kubik, Herring saw an opportunity for a fresh start.
“I thought about transferring, so I talked to him,” Herring said. “He recruited me at ULM and then took the job at Southern Miss and offered me at both places. Sure enough when he came back to ULM, I thought, ‘Man, I want to come back home.’ It made it full circle. I’m happy to be back with my people.”
OCS’ former quarterback heads to ULM with a chip on his shoulder, while the Eagles’ former All-State wide receiver journeys back to Monroe after getting a taste of military life on campus and an offense that featured the triple option.
Wiley signed to play football at Air Force in 2021 after finishing his career second in school history in receiving yards (2,997), catches (138) and receiving touchdowns (35). Though Wiley admits life at Air Force was rigorous, structured and downright difficult, Wiley said he didn’t hate going there. But he also loved the idea of playing football in Monroe again. So he threw out a feeler to ULM receivers coach John Carr during the holiday break.
“When we talked, it was kind of like, ‘Yeah, there’s some interest there. Let me get back to you,’” Wiley recalled. “He called (OCS) Coach (Steven) Fitzhugh and a couple other couches and called me back. I met with him and Coach Kubik, and they offered me the full ride. I was like, ‘Shoot, I can’t ask for more than that.’ I had full intentions of staying at Air Force for the rest of this year, but then they offered me like that. I want to be a part of spring football.”
During his time at Air Force, Wiley played for the Air Force Academy Preparatory School, where he grew in his physicality and blocking on the edge. He hopes to bring that at ULM, and it goes without saying, Wiley hopes to see the ball in the air more in a spread offense.
“I love the offense (ULM) runs. I’m excited about it,” Wiley said.
Herring mentioned it all coming full circle for his football journey, and Wiley agreed with that. In fact, Wiley recalled conversations in high school when the two standout Eagle players were being recruited.
“We wanted to play with each other. UL actually showed interest in me at the time, and we thought it would be awesome to play on the same time,” Wiley said. “We played on two separate colleges and now here we are back on the same team.”