Alexandria product Carlos Rubio ready when needed by the Ragin' Cajuns

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Carlos Rubio played outside as a youngster, doing this and that, but had no specific passion, nothing with which he could truly identify.

He wasn’t into fishing, or hunting.

He wasn’t a basketball guy deep down, or a track-and-field guy, and he certainly wasn’t a baseball guy.

He did play a little backyard tackle football – on concrete, because the grass wasn’t exactly green – but didn’t really know much about that game, either.

So, what was Rubio – who got his first start as a Ragin’ Cajun when now-No. 23 UL beat Georgia Southern on Sept. 26 at Cajun Field – before he got to high school?

“I was literally nothing,” he said.

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Carlos Rubio (65) lines up to protect quarterback Levi Lewis during UL's win over Georgia Southern earlier this season at Cajun Field.

But then he got to Alexandria Senior High, and the coaches and kids in the hallways there saw his size, and they were compelled to steer Rubio into a sport.

Some sport. Any sport.

“You’re walking around above 6 foot (tall),” Rubio said, “they want you to play something.”

Rubio bought in.

He played some hoops, which was fine.

But he also began to play football, on a real field, much more seriously, and that is where Rubio – now a redshirt junior at UL – found his calling, setting him onto the path he’s following now.

“I was like, ‘Man, I really should try to start playing something,’ ” Rubio said.

“And, to be honest, I never really thought about college. I was just playing to play. Then I started to get people looking at me, and it was just a big process.”

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"Big" being the operative word.

Rubio stands 6-foot-5 and now carries somewhere around 296 pounds.

But at Alexandria, he actually was a bit undersized – everything’s relative – in the 220-to-240 range.

So Rubio fancied himself an athlete of sorts, a big fella with hands to match.

But the coach at the high school through his junior season, Sam Goodwin, was an assistant at Arkansas in the early 1980s who also was coach of Northwestern State from 1983-99.

Goodwin and his successor late in 2015 at Alexandria Senior High, former offensive coordinator Thomas Bachman, both saw something different.

“I feel like if it was a normal high school coach, they would have stuck me at tight end or even receiver – because I was a lengthy guy,” Rubio said. “But the ‘college coach’ … had experience. So he knows the body frame I had, and he said I was an offensive lineman – which was true.”

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First, though, he spent some time on other side of the line.

“We originally had him on defense, to be honest with you, when we first got there,” Bachman said. “He was playing with his hand in the dirt at end as a junior.”

He eventually jumped over to offense, though, and the next season – with a lean, tough-to-project body build that him had looking like more like a basketball player than a football player – he had, Bachman said, “a phenomenal year.”

The position decision, then, was a good call.

That much was verified when college coaches started phoning.

Admittedly, however, it took some time for them to finally seek out his number.

“I didn’t have any schools looking at me until late my senior year,” Rubio said.

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Northwestern State, Goodwin’s former FCS program, offered the 2016 All-Cenla pick.

So too did Sun Belt Conference member UL Monroe, where Rob Sale was the offensive line coach at the time.

Then Ryan Trichel, a recruiting specialist at UL from 2011-18 who now is player personnel director at Auburn, caught a glimpse of Rubio powerlifting, and things started looking up.

“I remember, when UL came through recruiting right before Signing Day, watching a guy with that length and that height, get under the squat rack,” Bachman said, “and you could see the flexibility, the mobility, in his hips and ankles.

“You could see Carlos’ athleticism just when he got under the bar.”

The decision to sign with UL was sealed when Rubio saw the Cajuns’ football facility and well-equipped weight room and – perhaps more importantly – his mother, Zethelda, gave her seal of approval.

“My mom loved it,” said Rubio, who signed with UL when Mark Hudspeth still was head coach of the Cajuns. “They liked how they put school first. That’s the first thing they told her about; it was about academics.

“That’s when my mom was like, ‘OK.’ … My mom was big on academics. She was hard on me.”

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But Zethelda did allow Carlos to make his own decision, he’s quick to say.

“She just told me how she felt about it,” Rubio said, “and I felt the exact some way.

“She loved the way everything looked. She loved the way they treated me, how they accommodated me, how they approached academics, how they approached the football program.

“Coach Hud had multiple bowl game wins; he was showing his rings,” Rubio added. “Everything was flashy and lifelike. … I really liked it.”

But life hits hard sometimes and Hudspeth was let go after Rubio’s redshirt freshman season, which he spent on the Cajun scout team.

Now Rubio had to impress a new set of coaches, including head coach Billy Napier and, coincidentally, Sale, who, Napier had hired to be UL’s offensive line coach/offensive coordinator.

It took some time.

Rubio appeared in a couple of games as a redshirt freshman in 2018, when UL went to the Cure Bowl in Orlando, where they fell to Tulane, and in eight games as a reserve last season, when the Cajuns went 11-3 and won the LendingTree Bowl in Mobile.

Rubio played a bunch in Mobile, where UL beat Miami (Ohio) of the MAC.

“He did a great job for us at the end of last year,” Sale said, “because we had a couple guys banged up (for) our bowl game and he played a lot.”

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Offensive lineman Carlos Rubio (65, right) celebrates UL's Sept. 26 win over Georgia Southern at Cajun Field with teammate Blair Brooks (26) and the Ragin' Cajuns.


When the 2020 offseason rolled around, however, Rubio was still a reserve.

Sale, though, seemed high on the backup.

He especially loves the versatility of someone who, perhaps save for center, can play anywhere along the line.

“You’re talking about a guy who is a stud,” Sale said with a hearty laugh the day before preseason camp opened.

“He was like 275 (pounds); he’d get to 280, and couldn’t hold it. But now he’s holding the weight and he looks good. He’s bright-eyed, and he’s a breath of fresh air.”

But wait.

Like any multi-tool worth its price tag, there’s more.

“Always when you come in,” said Sale, who followed Napier, a former Arizona State and Clemson offensive coordinator, to UL from Tempe, “there’s that one guy or two guys (you tell), ‘Alright, I need you to go play left tackle.’ Then, ‘I need you to go play left guard.’ Now, ‘You’re going to right guard.’ Then, ‘You’re going to right tackle.’

“The guy that’s been that since I’ve been here is Carlos Rubio.”

It’s the sort of presence some may overlook.

But not all.

“We appreciate Rubio,” offensive tackle Max Mitchell said back in late August, a few weeks before the Cajuns opened with a 31-14 upset win at Iowa State that vaulted them into the Top 25. “He can fill anywhere.

“Wherever we need him – somebody rolls an ankle or something, goes down at left tackle or left guard – he can go there. If I need a breather, he can come in for me.”

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Mitchell’s preseason praise would prove prophetic.

Before UL’s late-September game against Georgia Southern, with the Cajuns nationally ranked for their first season since 1943, Rubio was told to go play right tackle.

The usual starter there, Mitchell, was one of 13 UL players out that week due to COVID-19, so Rubio was called on to protect the blindside of left-handed Cajuns quarterback Levi Lewis.

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It would be his first time playing an entire college game.

He called the opportunity “an amazing feeling,” and suggested he felt prepared largely because Sale – an ex-LSU offensive lineman who also has coached the position  at Georgia and McNeese – has had him on his toes.

“He just makes sure everybody is ready to play, just in case anything happens, like the situation that is going on right now,” Rubio said, referencing the COVID pandemic.

“I was ready for it, I believe. Coach Sale had me ready for it. Coach Napier had me prepared for the moment. … My teammates really brought me together. They motivated me.”

Napier, whose 3-0 Cajuns play Coastal Carolina  on Wednesday (ESPN, 6:30 p.m.), mostly liked what he saw.

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“He did a lot of good things in the game and certainly, like most young players, there’s a handful of plays where he can do better,” the Cajuns coach said a few days ago. “The good thing is he’s got a good attitude. He works really hard at it, and it’s really important to him.”

The older he gets, the more Rubio shows just that. 

“I think Rubio has improved a lot in the last year, year-and-a-half,” Napier said. “He’s gotten bigger, stronger.

“I think there for a while he kind of felt like, ‘OK, I’m gonna wait my turn.’ But now, knowing that this year he would have an opportunity, I thought he had a good offseason.”

Carlos Rubio (55, left), now an offensive lineman at UL, blocks for Alexandria Senior High quarterback Matthew Beck (9) during a 2014 game.

A season ago, UL’s offensive line was stacked.

Both right-side starters from the beginning of the year, guard Kevin Dotson and tackle Robert Hunt, were drafted and now are playing in the NFL, Dotson with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Hunt with the Miami Dolphins.

When Hunt got hurt midway through the season, the highly regarded Mitchell moved from the left side to the right.

This season sophomore O’Cyrus Torrence, an NFL prospect in his own right, has moved into Dotson’s old spot at right guard. Ken Marks, a sixth-year senior who missed most of 2019 with a knee injury, has slid into his old spot at left guard. And ex-Arizona State starter Zach Robertson was brought in as a graduate transfer to start at left tackle, where then-senior Rico Robinson was starting after Mitchell moved over.

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“That’s something I’ve been dealing with since I got here, and I accept,” Rubio said of all the talent ahead of him. “I learn from them.

“Coach says, ‘Work while you wait; study what they do, what they do right and what they do wrong, so when your opportunity comes you can adjust and play to the best of your ability.’

“I was waiting, and I worked,” Rubio added, “and it paid off.”

Rubio takes great pride in being someone who can be plugged in wherever needed.

“Our coaches install in us ‘You have to be a student of the game,’ ” he said, “and it really helps you, because if you know every position, you know what everybody else has to do, you know how they’re gonna block, so you know what you have to do in order to have a successful drive, a successful play.”

Which is something to say for a guy who, before he started playing high school football, was, in his own words, “literally nothing.”

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