UL-Lafayette star running back Elijah McGuire joining basketball team for remainder of season _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- UL-Lafayette's Elijah McGuire

LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette star running back Elijah McGuire is waiting for an outside opinion before he makes a decision whether he’ll be running against Sun Belt defenders or NFL defenders next season.

Coach Mark Hudspeth said Wednesday that he met with McGuire earlier in the week and learned that McGuire is planning to submit his name to the NFL draft advisory board.

“McGuire is testing the waters,” Hudspeth said. “He’s going to … submit his name to the (NFL Draft Advisory Board). He is going to do that and evaluate that and see where he falls.”

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2016 NFL draft is Jan. 18, but Hudspeth said he should hear a decision back from McGuire by the first week of the new year.

The coach isn’t planning on pressuring his best player to return for his senior season, either.

“I told him, ‘I want what’s best for you,’ ” Hudspeth said. “If it comes out to be a situation better than we expect and he’s got some guaranteed money, I’d be the first one to shake his hand.

“But if it’s not to what he could do if he came back, we could really increase his status, then we both agreed that coming back would be the best thing for him and our team.”

McGuire ran for 1,047 yards while compiling 16 total touchdowns in his junior season, but those numbers were somewhat disappointing based on what he’d done in his previous two years.

As a sophomore, McGuire ran for 1,264 yards and 14 touchdowns with a 7.6 yards per carry average to earn Sun Belt Player of the Year honors. That followed up a Freshman of the Year campaign when he averaged 8.4 yards per carry and gained 1,247 yards from scrimmage.

Heading into this year, the Cajuns were breaking in an inexperienced quarterback and would no longer have bruising running back Alonzo Harris around to split carries with McGuire.

That led many to assume McGuire would be on tap for a monster junior season, but it never materialized.

This season, McGuire dealt with nagging shoulder pain and an offensive line that was ravaged by injury. His overall season numbers were still solid, but he averaged a career-low 5 yards per carry and his trademark explosive offensive plays happened infrequently.

After the season finale against Troy, Hudspeth said McGuire had spoiled those who watched him in his first two years and that expectations were a little unfair for him heading into his junior year.

This year’s NFL draft figures to yield a solid crop of running backs, with a number of highly-touted juniors expected to forego their senior seasons.

Running backs, as a draftable position group, were devalued roughly over the course of the last decade. It hit a low point in 2013 and 2014, when no running backs were selected in the first round of the draft. It was the first time in history the NFL went back-to-back years without having a running back selected in the first round.

But that trend reversed last year, when Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon were selected in the first round.

While McGuire certainly wouldn’t be considered a first-round pick, he’s still going to find out a likely range where he could land. If it’s not high enough, he’ll come back for his final season, but it doesn’t hurt to be armed with information.

“I think he’s obviously pretty adamant he would like to come back and help his teammates win a championship and be a leader of this team,” Hudspeth said. “But he also wanted to test the waters and see where it may fall.”