No matter how talented or heralded a true freshman player may be, often times, opportunity is the true determining factor for how much playing time the player will see in his first season. Usually, freshmen need to be entering favorable circumstances, where there’s a dearth of proven talent at their position in order to see substantial game action in their first year.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Louisiana RB Elijah McGuire, who arrived on campus last offseason knowing full well that he was facing plenty of competition for carries from his new backfield brethren. The Ragin Cajuns were bringing back their three top rushers from the previous season, including featured back Alonzo Harris, who ranked fifth in the Sun Belt with 881 rushing yards in 2012.
The odds of making an early impact seemed slim for the once lightly recruited prospect from Louisiana’s Vandebilt Catholic High School. McGuire didn’t seem phased by his potential lack of opportunity, though.
It only took a few preseason practices for coaches to realize they had a potential diamond in the rough to polish. During camp, running backs coach Marquase Lovings immediately recognized that McGuire had the special physical skills, coupled with the personality and work ethic it takes to be great.
“Elijah has natural gifts as a running back, something that god gave him—Something that I can’t even coach. He’s got great balance. He has great vision. Those are two things that he brings to the table. He’s a conscientious kid. He’s willing to work at it each and every day. He has a great attitude about life. He’ll end up seeing some time (in 2013). As far as the run game goes, he’ll be involved.”
Lovings’ preseason comments about his young back’s potential role in the offense certainly seem a bit understated now. The 5’11’’, 185-pound freshman ended up flourishing during his dazzling debut campaign. Though he had to defer carries to his veteran backfield mate Harris, McGuire still managed to make the most of every opportunity he was given. Every time the gifted playmaker had the ball in his hands, it seemed like he was creating a big explosive play.
Not only did McGuire display the balance and vision his coach talked about, he also showed off his elusive speed on game-breaking runs like this 42-yard touchdown scamper against Nicholls State and this 70-yard sprint against Arkansas State.
Ultimately, he finished the year with 863 rushing yards on just 103 attempts (his 8.3 yards per rush average ranked fourth in the nation), 22 catches for 384 yards (his 17.4 yards per reception average ranked second in the Sun Belt) and 11 total touchdowns. His performance earned McGuire widespread praise and numerous honors, including a spot on the first team of the FWAA Freshman All-American team and the 2013 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year award.
If “big chunk” plays are the equivalent of home runs in football, then McGuire has to be considered one of the most feared hitters in the country. In just one year at the college level, the former high school quarterback, who led the state of Louisiana with 2,603 rushing yards in 2012, has already proven that he can bring a special type of exciting energy to an offense.
On the field, McGuire is a spectacle to behold. However, it’s all that he’s endured away from the gridiron throughout his personal life which made his breakout 2013 campaign all the more remarkable.
From the second he breathed his first breath on earth, McGuire has faced a long list of obstacles and turmoil that would break the spirit of most kids. After overcoming being born with a hole in his heart, McGuire was raised in a neighborhood on the east side of Houma—a city in Southeastern Louisiana—where he was surrounded by constant drug activity. He lost his father before he reached the age of 12, and his mother has dealt with debilitating vision problems, which sadly prevents her from seeing her son excel out on the field.
When you throw in an ACL tear, which cost him his entire junior year, and a schooling issue, which basically forced him to cram four years of high school into three in order to stay eligible, it just goes to show the type of endurance that has shaped McGuire’s spirit and soul. He’s faced threats away from the field that not even the biggest, scariest would-be-tackler could come close to replicating.
After persevering through so much adversity throughout his maturation process, obviously, arriving at college and seeing a few names ahead of yours on the depth chart didn’t seem like such a big deal. That’s why last offseason, when it looked like there wasn’t much of an opportunity to make an initial impact, McGuire seemed unfazed. Instead, he did what he’s always done. He went about his business in persistent fashion, let his talents shine and let his play on the field do all the talking.
Already an established star in the Sun Belt, heading into his sophomore season, McGuire will no longer catch opposing defenses off guard this time around. Still, that doesn’t mean that they’ll have any better of a chance of slowing him or the Ragin Cajuns offense down in 2014.
After totaling nine wins in each of the previous three seasons, Louisiana has a great chance to top the double-digit win mark for the first time in the program’s history this fall, thanks in large part to the return of the veteran senior trio of QB Terrance Broadway, RB Alonzo Harris and WR Jamal Robinson to lead an offensive attack that averaged 33 points per game last year.
Still, while Broadway, Harris and Robinson will all play a pivotal role in the team’s success this season, it’s no secret that McGuire is the player that everyone will be talking about once again. The dynamic sophomore speedster is ready to step out onto the national stage and soak up the spotlight in 2014.