4 Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns football freshmen running backs to know in 2021

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

A handful of running backs were among the freshmen scheduled to report Tuesday for UL football summer workouts.

All were high school standouts before signing with the Ragin’ Cajuns, who’ve lost running backs Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas.

Mitchell was selected by San Francisco in the 2021 NFL Draft; Ragas signed with Las Vegas as an undrafted free agent.

Whether any of the newcomers are ready to contribute immediately, however, remains to be seen.

UL’s top returnees are proof of that.

Chris Smith was talented enough to play as a true freshman, and we spotted him there,” running backs coach Jabbar Juluke said. “Emani Bailey was talented enough to play as a true freshman.

“But then there were certain things they were not able to do. It’s not just talent. We have to make sure they can handle all the mental aspect of what we have going on.”

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Smith is expected to be UL’s feature back this season and Bailey is expected to help in his second season.

T.J. Wisham could contribute after missing most of 2020 with a wrist injury. Michael Orphey Jr., who arrived as a walk-on, had perhaps the best spring among all Cajun backs. And Jacob Kibodi, who played previously at Texas A&M, has transferred in.

Ragin' Cajuns signee Kendrell Williams (7) runs for Carencro High during a Nov. 13, 2020, game.

But it’s not just veteran presence that could make playing right away difficult for the freshmen.

“We’re getting some very, very talented young men. They have an opportunity be very special,” Juluke said. “But this is college football, so you’re going to have a learning curve to be able to come out and contribute as fast as we would like.”

That in mind, a look at the freshmen:

Montrell Johnson

A De La Salle product from New Orleans, Johnson had four scores in a 2020 state championship game loss to St. Thomas More.

The former Arizona commit, according to Juluke, is “very loosed hip” and “can change direction very well.”

Dre’lyn Washington

Washington ran for a school-record 5,390 yards and 68 touchdowns at Hemphill (Texas) High.

Juluke said the 215-pound Washington is a speedster who recently ran 10.5 seconds in the 100 meters. Washington chose UL over Arkansas State.

Dre'lyn Washington, a running back from Texas, and other UL freshmen football players reported Tuesday for summer workouts.

Kendrell Williams

Williams won state championships in wrestling and in track running the 400 for Carencro High.

The Cajuns signed him despite a late offer from Iowa.

Terrence Williams

Signed as an athlete, Williams will get a look at linebacker, coach Billy Napier said. But he rushed for 1,179 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior while leading Many High to a state title, and Juluke said “he’s going to play running back as well.”

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Many High running back Terrence Williams (1), a UL signee, scores on a 15-yard touchdown run during the 2019 LHSAA Class 2A football state championship game at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Bottom line

Proving pass protection and receiving skills is just as important for the freshmen as running ability.

That’s also what typically slows freshmen the most.

“When they were in high school, (it was) ‘just run the ball,’ ” Juluke said.

“I have to see what their ball skills are like as well because those guys played in Wing T option football, so they didn’t have to (make catches) on a regular basis. We just have to make sure they’re able to do it.

“We’ve got to make sure these young men are physically and mentally prepared,” he added, “to … handle the rigors of a college football season.”

De La Salle's Montrell Johnson (3) a UL signee, runs against St. Thomas More during the 2019 LHSAA Division II Football State Championship game.

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That’s what June’s all about for them.

“The speed is different from high school to college,” Juluke said, “and very few freshmen play as soon as they walk in.

“But if they’re ready we’re gonna be looking forward to have them out there.”