Easier said than done: Ragin' Cajuns feel dual-sport pursuit is difficult but doable

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

When one is not enough, what’s a college kid to do?

That’s the quandary for some Ragin’ Cajun athletes – past, present and future. Their solution: be a dual-sport athlete.

Iowa High product Cejae Ceasar, for one, is intent on it.

“That factored in a lot,” Ceasar, also one of the state’s top 400-meter sprinters, said of his decision to join the UL football team during the NCAA’s recent December early signing period. “I want to be a two-sport guy in college.”

Not everyone does.

Jalen Clark, who remains unsigned, is a point guard on Montgomery’s Alabama Christian Academy basketball team.

“Basketball is fun and all,” he said shortly after committing to the Cajuns in late July, “but I’m football all the way.”

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For a while, Ouachita Christian’s Hunter Herring was committed to UL Monroe for baseball. The quarterback instead in December signed with UL for football.

UL football coach Billy Napier hasn’t heard Herring ask about playing both sports.

“I do think he’s good enough,” Napier said. “But, as of now, he’s gonna start his career as a football-only player this spring.”

Then there’s Jaden Williams, a receiver/point guard from Hendrickson High in Pflugerville, Texas. He briefly was committed to UL for football, then pledged elsewhere, tweeting, “It’s been a crazy process, but … I will be continuing my Football AND Basketball at TULANE UNIVERSITY!!”

What did Williams ultimately do? He signed to play football – with Boston College.

UL recruiting:Class of 2021 Cajun signee bios

Napier saw it work at Alabama and Clemson

No matter why they try, or may want to, Napier knows a multi-sport athlete realistically is easier in some sports than others.

When he worked at Alabama, including a 2013-16 stint as receivers coach, multiple Crimson Tide athletes dabbled in more than one. The case was the same when he a Clemson assistant coach, recruiting coordinator and later offensive coordinator.

So Napier was game when Golden Eke III transferred from Oklahoma, where he was on the track team, to UL to play football, too.

“Golden, we’ve got a great plan going forward for him to be a track athlete for us here as well,” Napier said. “I’ve been around it in about every stop I’ve been at.

“Go all the way back to the Clemson days where we had (former NFL running back) C.J. Spiller and (ex-NFL receiver/return man) Jacoby Ford that ran track, and we had Kyle Parker that was a first-round draft pick in the major leagues.”

Parker was a starting quarterback in 2009 and ’10, when he also played college baseball. Selected 26th overall in the 2010 MLB Draft, he hit .182 over 64 games for the Colorado Rockies from 2014-15.

“We had (Arizona Cardinals receivers) DeAndre Hopkins at Clemson who played basketball for his first year,” Napier said. “That seems to be the one that’s most difficult. … (Hopkins) couldn’t sustain that. He did it for one year.

“We always had four, five, six guys at Alabama that ran on the track team. And then we’ve had baseball guys throughout the years. ... So, we’re open to that and certainly have worked hard with both the track-and-field staff and baseball staff here when that does come up in recruiting.”

UL receiver Jalen Williams (18), who played minor league baseball prior to college football, makes a move after a catch in a win at Iowa State earlier this season.

Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t

For Eke, a redshirt sophomore who’s played sparingly this season, there’s still time – and hope. But jumping back to football isn’t as simple as 1-2-3.

“I do think he’s extremely athletic and talented,” Napier said, “and much (like) you would think about a guy who hasn’t played football in two, two-and-a-half years, some of those basics may be just a little bit behind.”

Jam Williams was a football standout at Farmerville’s Union Parish High. Also a raw baseball player, he initially chose UL baseball. The outfielder was used largely as a base runner in 71 games; in 2017 he hit .200 in 15 plate appearances with seven runs scored and three bases stolen.

In June 2017 ex-UL football coach Mark Hudspeth and late Cajuns baseball coach Tony Robichaux jointly announced Williams would play football too – becoming the Cajuns’ fifth dual-sport athlete in a four-year span.

Robichaux expressed how happy he was Williams could “fulfill a dream of being a dual-sport athlete at the collegiate level.”

But Williams sustained a major knee injury during preseason camp later that year, underwent surgery and didn’t make UL’s 35-man baseball roster the next spring. He did, however, play on the Cajuns’ kickoff coverage unit in 2018.

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Football/basketball double is 'the hardest'

The fifth UL dual-sport athlete during that four-year span went a different route.

Running back Elijah McGuire, who played in 24 games for the New York Jets in 2017-18, recently was re-signed to the Kansas City Chiefs  practice squad after time with Dallas and Miami earlier this season. 

The former football and basketball standout at Vandebilt Catholic in Houma played basketball for only the second semester of his junior season in 2017. He averaged 0.6 points in 16 games.

“I was always a basketball guy,” McGuire, who won a Super Bowl ring as part of the Chiefs practice squad, said in 2016. ‘“Football was just something I did because my friends pushed me into it, because I was fast.”

Hudspeth was seemingly reluctant about McGuire playing basketball. But coach Bob Marlin willingly gave McGuire a shot, saying “people from Houma have called us every year wanting him to play.”

The calendar simply isn’t friendly for a football/basketball double. But Jalen Williams thinks football/baseball is “very doable.”

A 2013 16th-round MLB Draft pick, he spent three seasons as a Boston Red Sox Rookie League pitcher before deciding to give college football a shot.

Eight school years after leaving Westminster Christian, the Opelousas native is one of UL’s top receivers. He’s certain he could have played both sports in college.

“You just have to be able to manage the time and compartmentalize everything you do,” Jalen Williams said.

Napier agrees.

“The football/basketball dynamic is very difficult, due to the transition in the year,” he said.

“You basically miss about two-and-a-half months of the basketball season, and you’ve got to try to jump in right there in the second half of the year at tournament time. That one seems to be the hardest. But, overall, baseball and track-and-field – there’s no question that can be done successfully.”

More:Cajuns throw shade at Iowa State, College Football Playoff committee

Cajuns signee Ceasar is on track for two

Which is why the Cajuns are excited about Ceasar doing both. It’s also part of why the safety picked UL over Tulane and others.

“I think he can be just as good in track as football,” said Tommy Johns, who coaches both at Iowa High near Lake Charles.

“I know in college it’s a little bit more difficult, because of the demands for both sports. You have spring football going on pretty much at the end of indoor track going into outdoor, and I know that probably can present some issues with the coaches there.

“I don’t know what their real plan is going to be at that time,” Johns added, “but if he’s given an opportunity to focus a hundred percent on track during track season I think he can be as good as he wants to be.”

Iowa High safety Cejae Ceasar (7), a Ragin' Cajuns football signee who also plans to run track at UL, closes in for a tackle at Westlake last season.

Clarence Ceasar, an ex-LSU basketball starter who played professionally internationally for five seasons before scratching his football itch with some indoor football in Lake Charles, has no doubt. Yet the elder Ceasar had no interest in seeing his son Cejea play basketball and football.

“Because while kids are playing basketball, he’s in the weight room getting bigger and stronger,” Clarence Cesar said.

“When track starts, he’s bigger than everybody else when he gets into the blocks – because he’s been in the weight room for three, four months after football.

“So, for what Cejae wanted to be, basketball was not part of the equation,” Clarence Ceasar added. “And I’m not upset about it one iota.”

But the football/track double makes perfect sense to him.

“I look at it like this: He’s always going to be in shape, because he’s running outdoor (track) in college,” Clarence Ceasar said. “And when … football kicks back up, he’s gonna be in prime shape. He’s never going to be out of shape. Never.”

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