LAFAYETTE — In his words, Lafayette is where Elijah McGuire became a man, and he’s not quite ready to leave yet.
Louisiana-Lafayette’s star running back announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday, a full week before the Jan. 18 deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft.
“I will be officially returning for the 2016 season with the Ragin’ Cajuns,” McGuire said in a statement released by the university. “It was the best decision for me being that it will be my senior season, and I want to be able to talk about my last season as a college football player when the game is over. I want to thank my family, friends and everyone in the Houma and Lafayette community for the support. Most importantly, I want to thank God. Lafayette is a place where I grew up and became a man. I want to enjoy my last season as a Cajun with a great group of men.”
That’s big news for a Ragin’ Cajuns team that’s getting its best player back after going 4-8 in 2015.
“We are excited about Eli’s decision to return for his senior season,” coach Mark Hudspeth said in the school’s news release. “I know he has had a lot on his mind, and I’m sure he is excited that it’s finally over. Elijah is a great ambassador for the university, and I know he is looking forward to working with his teammates to get our team back to the top.”
McGuire entered his name to the NFL College Advisory Committee this offseason to test the NFL draft waters, but he opted to return for his final season.
Though he carried the ball a career-high 209 times this season, McGuire is coming off the least productive year of his career — and he still ran for 1,047 yards and accounted for 16 touchdowns.
The Cajuns offense took a step back as it dealt with numerous injuries along the offensive line and ineffectiveness at quarterback.
McGuire seemed to suffer from the departure of Alonzo Harris to graduation after the 2014 season. McGuire torched defenses his first two seasons as a complement to Harris’ bruising style, but he was forced to carry the burden himself as a junior.
Defenses made slowing McGuire a point of emphasis. Without the threat of a down-field passing game, opponents routinely crowded the line of scrimmage to take away McGuire’s breathing room.
The result was a career-low 5.0 yards per carry — still 85th in the nation, but down from 7.6 yards as a sophomore and 8.4 as a freshman.
The Cajuns will be breaking in a new offensive coordinator, a position that has yet to be filled, and Hudspeth said the offense will be focused on taking advantage of his best players’ strengths, specifically with McGuire.
McGuire was named Sun Belt Freshman of the Year in 2013 and Player of the Year in 2014. He earned preseason Player of the Year honors in 2015 and finished the season as an honorable mention All-Sun Belt performer.
By coming back for his final season, McGuire has a chance to leave a lasting mark on the Cajuns record book.
He is 1,472 yards shy of Tyrell Fenroy’s school career rushing yards record. But McGuire is only 161 yards behind Brian Mitchell for second place.
McGuire is 13 rushing touchdowns behind Fenroy for the record in that category. McGuire has averaged 11.7 rushing touchdowns per season.
He’s one of two active college players with more than 3,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in his career.