A lot of people — most notably, opposing tacklers — are starting to take notice of UL-Lafayette tailback Trey Ragas.
They've started to liken Ragas to big, burly backs like Jerome Bettis and Brandon Jacobs. In three games, the redshirt freshman has made an impact for the Ragin' Cajuns; he leads the team in rushing with 284 yards and three scores.
Ragas’ early production — nearly 100 yards per game and 9.8 yards per rush — certainly rivals that of Bettis’ early days at Notre Dame, but naturally, coach Mark Hudspeth isn’t ready to call his young running back a surefire Hall of Famer.
“Let's don't adore him as the Bus yet,” Hudspeth said when asked Ragas recent performances. “He's just a freshman; had a couple really good games early. He's going to be a good player if he keeps his head on right and keeps working hard.”
Ragas' running style does resemble the Bus, or maybe Bo Jackson, whom Ragas says inspires him. Though he isn't old enough to remember Jackson playing at Auburn or in the NFL, Ragas says he was drawn to Jackson after watching "You Don't Know Bo," an ESPN documentary.
“He had this freak strength, and I'm a strong person myself,” said Ragas, a New Orleans native and Archbishop Shaw graduate. “So I always felt like I can't let a DB or cornerback tackle me by themselves. I feel I'm too big. too strong."
Using a combination of the power he possesses on his 230-pound frame, a low center of gravity and enough quickness to make the first tackler miss, Ragas has punished defenders. He takes pride in that, understanding the effect his beautifully violent running style can have.
“The fact that I play offense and hit people like I play defense,” Ragas said grinning, “defensive players know they have to tackle me the whole game.”
The combination was on display last week at Texas A&M.
Early in the Cajuns' 45-21 loss, they were facing a fourth-and-1 from the Aggies 3-yard line. UL-Lafayette decided to keep its offense on the field. The play-call was a simple run to the left, but the operation did not go smoothly.
Quarterback Jordan Davis handed the ball to Ragas, who was immediately hit. He kept his feet moving. He made it past the line of scrimmage and eventually rumbled into the end zone.
The play summed up Ragas as a runner — a tough, gritty fighter with the ability to create game-changing plays.
Ragas figures to play a big role in the Cajuns' Sun Belt opener Saturday against ULM.
But those dynamic plays almost never happened.
It took an injury during his true freshman year to rekindle Ragas' love for football.
A few weeks after reaching campus last season, he nearly gave up.
“I wasn't sure if I wanted to play football still. I was losing feeling for the sport,” he recalled. “But when I got hurt, it set me back ... then when I realized how mad I was when I got hurt. I knew that I wanted to play football. This is what I really want to do.”
The ankle injury forced Hudspeth and his staff to redshirt Ragas, allowing Ragas to watch and learn from Elijah McGuire, then a senior and now a rookie with the New York Jets. McGuire showed Ragas that there was more to being a good back than just simply just hitting the hole and running over defenders.
“He taught me how to read the safeties, to see the corner pop, to see where the blitz is coming from,” Ragas said of McGuire. “I also learned having the ability to catch the ball really helps you in the long run.”
Hudspeth best summed up Ragas, his journey and his running style in one word: tough.
“And I love kids that are tough," Hudspeth said. "He plays tough and he plays physical.”