HAMMOND — Southeastern Louisiana senior left tackle Aaron Reed believed Julius Maracalin could have been a part of the Lions running back rotation last season.

As a true freshman.

Each Thursday, at the end of practice, Reed said all players that were targeted for redshirt seasons went toe-to-toe against one another, a forum in which Maracalin flourished and provided a glimpse into the future.

“He did great,” Reed said. “I wondered why he was redshirting.”

It certainly wasn’t a matter of talent but timing.

Southeastern returned all its top ball carriers from a team that rushed for a school-record 3,271 yards and scored 42 touchdowns.

The 6-foot, 215-pound Maracalin arrived from Plaquemine High where he was nicknamed “Juice” with Class 4A all-state credentials. He rushed 315 times for 2,230 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior.

However, for the first time that he could recall, Maracalin had to wait his turn, watching Southeastern’s collection of running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers amass 3,051 yards from scrimmage — the second-highest total in program history. He learned the offense and prepared his body for what he hoped would be a productive four-year run.

The result was a smashing debut last Thursday in the Lions’ 34-20 season-opening victory at Northwestern State, in which Maracalin — who wasn’t listed on the school’s three-deep roster at running back — exploded for 120 yards on 12 carries.

“I wasn’t expecting to have as big of a game as I did,” Maracalin said. “I just wanted to have fun and make plays for the team. I was surprised I didn’t tense up. It felt like a regular old game in high school.”

Maracalin equaled the 64th-best rushing total in school history and surpassed the most rushing yards for a player making his debut since the program was reinstated in 2003.

“I think he did a phenomenal job,” coach Ron Roberts said. “He may have even exceeded our expectations for game one. We knew he was a physical and hard runner, but you don’t know what’s going to happen until you turn the lights on. He’s earned the right to get more carries.”

Maracalin benefited from the run-heavy approach SLU took from the middle of the first quarter through the remainder of the game, resulting in 438 yards on 61 attempts.

Maracalin entered for the first time on the Lions’ third possession. His first three touches resulted in first downs on a drive that gave Southeastern a 6-3 lead.

“It’s really no surprise he did as well as he did,” Reed said.

SLU extended its lead to 19-6 in the third quarter, thanks in part to what was a signature run for Maracalin in high school. He bounced an inside handoff toward his team’s sideline and ran over a defender en route to a 50-yard gain to the Northwestern State 9-yard line.

Kody Sutton scored two plays later from 2 yards out.

“That one just felt good,” beamed Maracalin said.

Roberts said he feels fortunate to have Maracalin a part of his program.

Southeastern was looking a running back in the spring when local signee Jeremy Stevens of Hammond wound up at Fresno City (Calif.) College instead.

Not satisfied with scholarship offers from Texas Southern, Rhode Island and Bryant College, Maracalin initially agreed to a preferred walk-on spot at LSU.

Roberts said Maracalin was on Southeastern’s recruiting board, and once there was a void in the class at running back, the staff targeted him with a scholarship offer, set up an official visit and landed his commitment.

“Thank God it worked out and he’s here,” Roberts said. “I’m looking forward to having him around for four years.”