LAFAYETTE — Sophomore receiver Gabe Fuselier doesn’t fit the prototype.
When coach Mark Hudspeth recruits receivers to work on the outside of the Cajuns offensive formations, the first trait he identifies is size, someone in the mold of the 6-foot-4, 205 pound Jamal Robinson. At a generously listed 5-foot-11, Fuselier is the shortest of the Cajuns offensive bookends.
“He’s not as long as some of the outside guys that we’ve recruited,” Hudspeth said. “That’s been sort of our calling card.”
But there aren’t a ton of Jamal Robinsons out there, so there is one other thing Hudspeth looks for in his outside receivers: Speed. And Gabe Fuselier can fly.
Just ask cornerback Jeryl Brazil, who ran a leg on the Cajuns’ 4x100-meter relay team that competed at the NCAA Outdoor Track championships.
“When I have to guard him on a fade route, I’ll be like, ‘Ugh! I’ve got to keep up with him!’ ” Brazil said.
Slot receiver Al Riles can’t help but chuckle when he thinks about the first route Fuselier runs against an unsuspecting defensive back. Riles said they’ll line up across from the little guy and think about how easy they’ve got it, right up until the point where he’s running by them.
“That’s what you’re going to love about him, is the element of surprise,” Riles said. “Gabe is an athlete. … I think he’s going to surprise a lot of the defenders and a lot of the (defensive backs). He’s not that tall, he’s not that big, they’re not going to think he’s that fast.”
This wasn’t all part of the original plan, though. Fuselier worked primarily out of the slot last season, where his frame does fit the prototype, and he was expected to line up there again this year. His move outside was born out of necessity.
The Cajuns were expecting big things out of 6-5 junior wide receiver Jared Johnson this season, so when he was lost for the season with a knee injury, Hudspeth needed to find a replacement fast.
Instead of moving the next man on the depth chart up a peg, Hudspeth saw Fuselier’s speed as a weapon and shifted him out. He immediately got the sense that he’d made the right move.
“Gabe Fuselier’s on fire, that guy is going to be something special to watch this year,” Hudspeth said. “He’s just taken off and become a weapon out there.”
Life is a little different on the outside. Fuselier had to learn an entirely new route tree and adjust to the different types of coverage he’d be running against.
But after a couple weeks developing a feel for the position, Fuselier has found out he prefers it there.
“You get single coverage, you don’t have to worry about safeties and linebackers when you’re blocking,” Fuselier said.
His speed is his main weapon, but Fuselier is also an instinctive player. Hudspeth has been impressed with his knack for coming back and fighting for a ball and finding ways to get open.
“Some people are weight lifters and they can’t play dead in a John Wayne movie, but this guy, he’s a football player,” Hudspeth said.
Fuselier was one of only a few true freshmen to see the field for the Cajuns last season, and he performed well in a reserve role, catching 30 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns.
Those numbers should see a jump in 2015, particularly in his yards per catch average, as Fuselier will be able to use his speed to stretch the field vertically rather than horizontally.
And that height, or lack thereof? Fuselier doesn’t see it as a problem.
“There’s people who make it pretty far in the game and you don’t have to be that tall,” Fuselier said.