USA AMERICAN FOOTBALL NFL

UL running back Raymond Calais was picked in the seventh round of the NFL draft Saturday by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

When UL coach Billy Napier arrived in Lafayette two years ago, the college career was speeding Ragin’ Cajuns running back Raymond Calais was floundering.

In his first two seasons at UL, Calais combined for only 38 carries for 205 yards and two touchdowns with one reception for nine yards.

Since then, Calais has exploded, culminating in the former Cecilia High Class 3A All-State Offensive Most Valuable Player being selected No. 245 overall in the seventh round of the NFL draft Saturday by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I was outside at the time,” Calais said. “I took a moment to just go outside and get some air. I saw the area code from Tampa Bay, and the general manager called me to officially say that I was part of their organization. I immediately started crying, and I ran back inside and saw it on TV. Everybody in my family was screaming and hollering and crying. It was very emotional.”

Several of the mock drafts that included Calais had him going in the sixth round, so it was a little later than he was hoping.

“I was definitely losing patience,” Calais admitted. “I was just watching TV in disbelief at some of the guys that were going before me that I thought I was better than. But I waited my turn, and Tampa Bay came calling.”

Not only is Calais going to get a chance to live out his NFL dreams, but he’ll be doing so on the hottest new team on the NFL scene since Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski joined the Buccaneers in the offseason.

“That was my first initial thoughts — Tom Brady,” Calais said. “I get to team up with Tom Brady. I get to pick his brain. I get to learn from him. Then also, I get to watch Gronk do what he does best. I’m really excited just to get to work with those guys.”

The Buccaneers were not among the teams seemingly most interested in Calais.

“I was really surprised that they picked me,” he said. “I maybe had two phone calls with them. Bruce Arians told me to just come in ready to be used in multiple ways — as a running back, a receiver and even on special teams. They really want to get creative with me.”

Calais opened some eyes across the nation when his 4.42 speed in the 40 at the NFL combine was the third-highest among running backs at that even. That came after his 100-yard kickoff return in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl game in Pasadena, California, on January.

At the NFL level, his attraction is both his speed and his multiple skills on special teams. Calais was voted as the first-team All-Sun Belt return specialist.

“I just want to give a huge thank you to coach Napier and his staff for just making me a better football player,” Calais said. “These past two years, my life has changed, and it’s definitely changed for the better

During his college career, Calais had 99 kickoff returns for 2,493 yards and two touchdowns.

“He’s also a great special-teams player,” Napier said. “The guy played gunner for us, and he was a great kick returner for us.”

Napier said he has individual meetings with players twice a season, and Calais was always among the most impressive during those meetings.

“He’s got a plan, he’s goal-oriented, he’s making the most of his time," Napier said. "He’s made drastic improvements since we’ve been here, and I think he’ll only continue to get better."

Over his final two seasons at UL, Calais played a major role in helping the Cajuns develop one of the most potent rushing attacks in the nation. Over his last two seasons, Calais rushed for 1,640 yards and 13 touchdowns on 198 carries, adding 16 receptions for 136 yards and a score during that time frame.

“He’s one of the players that we’re probably most proud of, kind of an unheralded guy coming in,” Napier said. “We stayed the course and he bought in. He’s much more physical, he’s much more consistent and disciplined with his eyes and his footwork.

"You get the guy to the second level and he’s a home run threat. He impacts the game in lots of ways, and certainly he’s improved his stock as a guy who has a future in this game.”

Calais getting selected — after teammate Robert Hunt in second round and Kevin Dotson in fourth round — makes it only the second time in school history three Cajuns were picked in the same draft and the first time for three in a seven-round draft.

The other time came in 1989 when Chris Gannon (third), Mark Hall (seventh) and Thomas King (eighth round) were selected.


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.