It doesn’t take very long into an interview with Nick Ralston to notice his maturity level.
It's a little higher than most.
He is, after all, a fifth-year senior, having graduated from Arizona State before he transferred to UL.
The tight end speaks like a coach on the field as he discusses the transition period into becoming a Ragin’ Cajun.
“We spend a lot of times up here in meetings and working out, so I’ve gotten close with a lot of the kids on the team,” Ralston said. “It’s been really fun being a part of a team again.”
Ralston's years of Division I experience, and the adversity he has overcome, should be beneficial to the Cajuns this season.
While Ralston was still trying to learn everyone’s name, the top two names on the Cajuns' tight end depth chart, Johnny Lumpkin and Chase Rogers, went down with injuries. Rogers has already decided to transfer to Ole Miss. Meanwhile, the Cajuns are waiting to see how Lumpkin’s separated shoulder heals.
Suddenly, Ralston’s presence on this new team is much more than spot duty, much more than a lagniappe role. He just may be starting at a spot that’s not quite his normal position. (He was a running back at Arizona State.)
“Once these injuries starting happening, in that room, we saw it as an opportunity for other people to step up,” Ralston said. “Nothing changed for me. Nothing changed for the other guys. It’s a next-man-up mentality.
Some of the younger kids in the room just have to step up and get the job done.”
While UL coach Billy Napier didn’t exactly predict the injuries to the tight end depth chart, Ralston’s transfer to UL is an indication he was prepared for it.
“Nick Ralston will go to the forefront,” Napier said when addressing the tight end issue. “He’s a guy that certainly we’re happy we took him as a grad transfer, and we took him for this very reason, because of durability concerns in that group.”
Ralston and Napier, of course, weren’t strangers. Napier was the offensive coordinator at Arizona State the year before accepting the head coaching position at UL.
“At ASU, they were transitioning to a different type of offense that didn’t really fit my style of play,” Ralston said. “When coach Napier was there at ASU, his philosophy on offense fit my play-style. That was definitely one of the first things I thought of when I decided to transfer, as well as finishing my MBA here.”
Ralston signed with the Sun Devils as a three-star running back out of Argyle, Texas. During his stay there, he played running back, fullback, H-back and even linebacker.
Over the 2016-17 seasons at ASU, Ralston ran it 36 times for 161 yards and two touchdowns. He then moved to linebacker, then back to fullback.
So having to become more of a traditional tight end — even at 6-foot-1, 240 pounds — doesn’t concern Ralston. He's accustomed to change.
“I’ve played on the ball in certain situations over the past couple of years, but mainly it’s been running back, fullback, H-back … a lot of stuff off the ball, but I have played on the ball quite a bit,” Ralston said.
At times, blocking a much taller defensive end could be an issue, but Ralston is confident he can handle that as well.
“Going up against maybe some 6-5, 6-6 with their length, it’s a little bit more difficult to get your hands on them,” he said. “But with good technique, it doesn’t matter.”
As for the receiving side of the job, Ralston did have 12 receptions for 60 yards and a score in four years at Arizona State.
“I can definitely receive,” Ralston said. “I’m an athlete. I’ve played running back, fullback, H-Back, linebacker all in the Pac-12. At ASU, they never specifically needed me to be a receiver, but I can 100 percent be an effective receiver.”
Whatever’s asked of him this season, Ralston plans on accepting the challenge like a professional.
“I am a fifth-year senior, and I have seen a lot over the last four or five years,” Ralston said. “I think one of the things I take pride in is being a pro every day, whether it’s in meeting or practice or treatment or being in the weight room.
“It’s just setting an example for these young kids on how to prepare for the season, prepare for games and take care of their body. That’s probably my main emphasis: just being a pro every day.”
That was helpful during the dog days of August camp in South Louisiana.
“I’ve never sweated more than since I’ve been here,” Ralston laughed. “I mean it’s 115 (degrees) in Arizona, but this swamp humidity is something different for sure.”
The truth is, though, he was enjoying every second of it.
“That six-month period when I wasn’t at ASU, it was kind of miserable not being part of a team,” he revealed.
So when August camp ended Wednesday, the moment wasn’t lost on Ralston.
“Just savoring every moment of it,” he said. “It’s been a long, long journey for me. When we got done with fall camp the other night, I kind of stayed after and just kind of savored the moment and looked around.
“I’ve been in Arizona for the past four years and I look up and see Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. It’s a lot different. It’s been a long journey, but I’m excited for the season.”
His ‘big brother’ approach on this UL team will be quite beneficial as the staff tries to get third-year sophomore Hunter Bergeron and true freshman Neal Johnson ready at tight end if needed.
“We’ll have to ramp up their readiness to play,” Napier said. “The good thing is they’ve got ability and they’ve showed that they can do it. It’s just a matter of being inexperienced. The exciting thing for me is all the players around them are talented and have experience.”
And Napier warns against counting Lumpkin out too soon.
“Johnny (is) making significant progress,” Napier said. “If I’m going to bet on a guy, I’m going to bet on Johnny Lumpkin in terms of the way he goes about his business — his attitude, his approach and his mindset. If anybody can overcome a situation like this, it’s that guy.”
He’ll certainly accept all the help he can get. But if not, Ralston’s ready to carry a bigger load.