When the University of Louisiana at Lafayette named Billy Napier as head Ragin’ Cajuns football coach in 2017, he opted to not only retain the team’s longtime chaplain, Eric A. Treuil, but also task him with something new: to create a Scripture-based theme for the year.
The first, “The Best is Yet to Come,” connected with Jesus turning water into wine in John 2:1-11. Another year’s theme focused on Matthew 19:26: All things are possible.
Treuil, 60, recalls chatting mid-summer 2020 with assistant football coach D.J. Looney about the newly revealed theme, “For we know,” based on Romans 8:28: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
On Aug. 1, 2020, during Treuil’s first at practice at a workout, he suggested he and Looney go out for a meal afterward.
Seconds later, Looney ran across the field and collapsed.
Looney had a massive heart attack in front of the team and died instantly. He was 31.
Even amid the tragedy, both the year’s theme and Treuil’s presence as chaplain and head of the Cajuns 4 Christ athletic outreach seemed providential.
Treuil conveyed his confidence to the players that Looney had been right with the Lord before he died. Treuil walked the team through dealing with grief and players contemplating their own mortality, leading to spiritual conversations with the team and individually.
Treuil and his wife, Anabelle, restarted Chi Alpha at the University of Louisiana in 1987. He is network director of Louisiana Chi Alpha, South-Central Chi Alpha area director, as well as AG Louisiana Network Ministry assistant superintendent. Additionally, he is AG U.S. Missions director for Louisiana.
The ministry to the school’s athletes is Cajuns 4 Christ co-sponsored by Chi Alpha and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Since 1994, Treuil has led a Cajuns 4 Christ Wednesday Bible study for University of Louisiana athletes across every sport.
In 1999, the school’s new coach invited him to travel with the team as volunteer chaplain to present pregame messages. Neither players nor staff is required to attend, but Treuil says the head coach never misses.
“I can’t start until he gets in, sits on front row, and gets out his notepad,” Treuil says. In addition, his week includes attending practices, going to the weight room, being present whenever the team gathers.
Now with 27 years of tenure through a succession of coaches, he and Cajuns 4 Christ have influenced multiple salvation decisions in Jesus. That included Charles “Peanut” Tillman, whom Treuil describes as a devout student with no church background.
After overhearing Treuil leading a Bible study, within three weeks, Tillman joined. In time, he gave his life to Christ. After graduation, Tillman played for 13 years in the National Football League, 12 of them as a cornerback with the Chicago Bears. He played in Super Bowl XLI for the Bears and his final year in 2015 with the Carolina Panthers, a team that went to Super Bowl 50.
Tillman sponsored construction of a Chi Alpha indoor soccer arena to help reach international students in particular with the gospel.
“It’s a way to draw people in and talk about God and talk about Jesus,” his website notes. Tillman states that, beginning as an 18-year-old freshman, Treuil mentored him.
Conversions among college athletes have ripple effects. Treuil remembers player Otha Peters telling him that the Lord convicted him of his need to be baptized in water. On an away game, Peters asked Treuil to baptize him in the hotel’s swimming pool. After YouTube video of the baptism circulated around an East Texas high school, “Next thing we know, 25 kids got saved and water baptized,” Treuil says.
Napier, the head coach, believes part of Treuil’s ease in ministering to student athletes is because his own testimony is one with which they can identify.
“It’s a pivotal time in young peoples’ lives,” Napier says of Treuil, “He’s certainly making an impact for Christ. He’s become a good friend, a trusted member of our staff. He’s doing work that will have an eternal impact.”
Cajuns 4 Christ’s theme for this school year, Strong and Courageous, centers on Joshua 1:9.