By Bruce Brown
Pictures submitted by Louis Roth
There are different ways for a university to build its football tradition.
One important step along the way is to remember those who came before, those who helped lay the groundwork for current and future success, and to let them know their efforts were appreciated.
Louis Roth arrived at then-SLI in 1952 as a 5-foot-8, 145-pound halfback from Redemptorist High of Baton Rouge, an unheralded walk-on who had to prove his worth to coach Raymond Didier.
He left four years later with 1,630 career rushing yards, twice leading the Bulldogs in rushing, three times pacing the squad in punt returns and with several long-distance touchdowns to his credit.
Elected to UL’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1976, Roth was one of those who should be remembered.
Present and future Ragin’ Cajuns will be reminded regularly, with Louis Roth’s name attached to the running backs meeting room at the Athletic Performance Center.
There could be other such dedications in the future, as coach Mark Hudspeth draws lasting links to the program’s history.
“I wasn’t that fast,” Roth said recently, “but I was shifty. I could stop, and in one step be full speed again.”
He parlayed that shiftiness into 500 yards and 8 touchdowns as a junior in 1954 and led the team again with 607 and 5 scores the next year, and his waterbug style kept things interesting.
“I think I led the world in lateral yards,” he said. “I would cross the field two or three times on one play – run 300 yards to gain 5. In fact, we had a guard named Jimmy Hebert who told a freshman, ‘When you block for Louis, get ready to block again’ because I would pass that way at least three times.”
One such dash ended in a typically wild score.
“I went around end, stopped, and reversed my field twice,” Roth said. “Finally, they had me pinned to the sideline, so I threw a hook pass back to Frank Foreman (trailing the play with Choo Choo Fondren), and Frank ran it in for a touchdown.”
Then there was Roth’s Houdini-like ability to return punts. He averaged 17.6 yards on 16 runbacks in 1952, 14 per attempt in 1953 and a whopping 26 yards each time he ran one back as a senior in 1955.
“Returning punts was my asset,” he said. “I had a lot of confidence in my ability. I never felt the first guy would tackle me, and if I got in behind a (blocking) wall I was in good shape.”
The most dramatic such moment was a school-record 95-yard touchdown against McNeese State in his final contest.
“We had a return called to the right, and when I got the ball and looked, everybody had gone to that sideline,” he said. “They had spread out to stop me and the middle was wide open.
“It was just me and the punter. I can still see his eyes. I gave him the old one-two and I was gone.”
Roth, an all-conference performer in college, enjoyed three more years of football while in the military, stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
He also received inquiries from the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, but by then he and wife Margaret had started a family that eventually grew to eight children.
“I knew it was a longshot,” said Roth, who coached for a year but built his career in vocational education.
Sons Louis, Rusty, Matt and Chuck were all athletes, with Matt a predictably small wide receiver on Lafayette High’s 12-1 state semifinalists in 1978 who played for UL’s Ragin’ Cajuns, 1979-83.
Matt’s son Andre is a linebacker for Ascension Episcopal.
They know the tales of Louis Roth at SLI in the 1950’s. Now, current and future Cajuns will, too.