There was no way University of Louisiana at Lafayette senior linebacker Jake Molbert was going to let a little thing like a torn anterior cruciate ligament derail his career.
If he had it his way, he wouldn’t let it wreck his day.
“He tore his ACL and actually went back into the game,” said Cajuns kicker Hunter Stover, who also was Molbert’s high school teammate at Notre Dame. “If you know Jake, that’s not really surprising. That dude’s about as tough as they get. He’s a very rare breed.”
That was two seasons ago, when Molbert tore his ACL and part of his medial cruciate ligament against South Alabama, ending a promising sophomore season and starting a difficult yet rewarding journey to where he is today.
“I had a lot of positive people around me,” Molbert said. “I didn’t want to just stop right there. Every time I went to therapy, I’d work hard, and the people out there kept pushing me. There was never really a negative moment for me.”
Molbert missed last season’s spring camp to recover from his knee injury, but through some hard work was able to get back out there in the fall. He played in all 13 games last season as a reserve while he worked his way back to being the player he was before the knee injury.
“He’s tough,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “He embodies what a Ragin’ Cajun player is.”
Defensive coordinator James Willis, who was hired during Molbert’s rehab, highlighted the dramatic difference between the Molbert he saw when he first got to UL-Lafayette and the one who’s currently starting on his defense with three emphatic words: “Night and day.”
“You get goose bumps just knowing where he was on day one,” Willis said. “And look at him now. He understands what we’re doing, he disguises well, he plays great with his hands, he does everything he needs to do at that position, and right now he’s penciled in as the starter.”
Hudspeth was a little more succinct.
“That guy is going to help us this year, man,” Hudspeth said. “I’m a Jake Molbert fan.”
Molbert has a tendency of making coaches a fan of him, though sometimes they can find reasons to be happy he’s not there.
He played his high school ball under coach Lewis Cook at Notre Dame in Crowley. Cook has kept tabs on his former standout player, tracking him as he worked his way back from the injury.
Cook said he’s happy for Molbert, that he deserved a chance to start because hard work pays off. He also doesn’t necessarily miss having Molbert and his disruptiveness around on the practice field.
“Ever since he left for UL, we’ve actually been able to get some offensive plays off in practice,” Cook said.
That’s right in line with what Stover remembers from Molbert’s high school days: a player who went at full-go game speed no matter the setting.
“Oh my god, in high school? I could tell stories for days,” Stover said. “Even in jerseys and helmets. I think he gave a guy a concussion once the day before a game in walk-throughs. In high school. It’s like, ‘Chill, bruh.’”
It carried over into his college playing days.
Senior linebacker Christian Sager has been working with Molbert for years now. The two were part of former Cajuns coach Rickey Bustle’s last recruiting class, what Sager jokingly calls, “the Bustle Era.” Sager’s gotten used to seeing Molbert set the tone in practice.
“He brings it every single day,” Sager said. “People usually don’t like to go up against him because he’s always putting his head into you and knocking you back. I’ve never seen somebody be able to bring the hat every day even if we’re not in pads. He’s just hard core.”
Now healthy, the hope is that Molbert’s physical ability can match his tenacity. It should be made easier by being in Willis’ scheme for two years, allowing him to react rather than think on the field.
“The first year he was here, I was learning on the go,” Molbert said. “But over the offseason and this past spring, I got to learn everything and memorize everything. That’s what helped me the most, because on the field, you don’t have time to think, you’ve just got to know what’s going on.”
A healthy and starting Molbert could put up numbers like he did in his freshman season, when he started the last eight games of the year en route to being named a member of the Sun Belt Conference All-Freshman Team.
But in his last crack at being a healthy college football player, Molbert’s expectations don’t concern what he can individually accomplish on the field.
“Just to win,” Molbert said about what he wants in his senior season. “I want to win every game that we play.”
Now he’s healthy enough to help the team reach that goal by being his disruptive self.
“He’s definitely a guy you want to root for,” Stover said. “Just behind the scenes doing his job and causing a lot of trouble for the other team.”