Football: Hudspeth on returner Calais - 'What a night he had'
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Sept. 5, 2017
As he spent his offseason recovering from shoulder surgery, Raymond Calais Jr. sometimes would talk to himself.
It’s a good thing for the Ragin’ Cajuns that he listened so well.
“When I going through my rehab,” the Cecilia High product said, “I would tell myself, ‘I’m gonna come back stronger, faster, and I’m gonna come ready to play.’
“That’s what I did (Saturday night).”
Did he ever.
Calais returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, the first one going 97 yards on the first play of UL’s 2017 season and the second one going 100 yards late in the first quarter of Saturday’s 51-48 win over Southeastern Louisiana at Cajun Field.
After that, the Lions essentially gave up on kicking to Calais — opting to pooch the ball short instead.
“What a night he had,” UL coach Mark Hudspeth said.
That it was.
“It was amazing,” Calais said.
Calais’ 97-yarder initially tied him for the fourth-longest kickoff return in Cajun history, and the 100-yarder tied him with Darryl Surgent (against Kansas State in 2013) and Jeryl Brazil (against Texas State in 2015) for the longest all-time UL return.
It also was the first time in UL history that two kickoffs were returned for touchdowns in the same game — and it’s one of 20 times that’s happened in NCAA FBS history, with Marshall’s Keion Davis also doing it last Saturday against Miami of Ohio.
For his performance, Calais on Monday was named Sun Belt Conference Special Teams Player of the Week.
Buckley's Breakdown: UL vs. Southeastern Louisiana
He and his return unit also were on the receiving end of plenty of praise from Hudspeth, who spent much the preseason preaching about the need to improve that facet of Cajun special teams play.
“We worked awfully hard with our return team and our guys,” Hudspeth said.
“I know he would be the first one to give his teammates credit for a job well done.
“But he’s got a lot of speed,” Hudspeth added, “and that helps overcome sometimes when you don’t even block it perfectly. He’s a dynamic kid, and I was really proud of him.”
UL's Raymond Calais Jr. races down the sideline with his second kickoff return for a touchdown, this one a 100-yarder, in Saturday's 51-48 win over Southeastern Louisiana. (Photo: MICHAEL O. CURLEY/SPECIAL TO THE ADVERTISER)
Hudspeth was right about both Calais’ knack for fast and his quick willingness to give credit where credit is due.
A multiple-time state-champion sprint track star at Cecilia, the Cajun sophomore worked hard to maintain — and perhaps even improve — his impressive speed while working to get the shoulder right post-surgery.
UL assistant strength and conditioning coach Dylan Cintula, Calais said, “really pushed me every day.”
“We did sled, sprints. We did it all. We did 1,000-yard lunges,” said Calais, who in high school was named — among several honors — Class 4A All-State Offensive MVP, Daily Advertiser All-Acadiana Offensive MVP and Gatorade Louisiana Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year.
“It was a long recovery,” added Calais, who after Week 1 leads the nation in total kick return yards at 229. “But he (Cintula) was a huge (help) to me.”
So too was the work teammates provided Saturday for Calais, who said backs Jordan Wright and Elijah Mitchell had key blocks on the first return while Matt Barnes and Ashton Johnson had the same on the second.
“This is very exciting for me,” said Calais, who ran 23 times for 117 yards and had 15 kickoff returns with a long of 37 in nine games before his 2016 season ended prematurely. “And I just want to give all the credit to my guys up front for blocking for me.”
Related: Hudspeth wants return success
The reserve running back also had a shout-out for what was drawn up by — and sought after from — Hudspeth, who doubles as UL’s special teams coach.
“Coming into this game,” he said, “Coach Hud really emphasized getting the ball and getting it past the 50.”
The Cajuns did that, and then some, twice.
“We’ve been working on returns,” Hudspeth said, “and I was glad to see we had a little bit of success.
“We’ve been working hard to get our best guys on the field that we think can make blocks in space, and we really did a good job.”
But it wouldn’t have happened without Calais finding, and taking advantage of, the seams he did.
“We schemed them up for a couple of things we wanted to with some double-teams … and our guys got the right angle and leverage on their blocks and, man, he hit it,” Hudspeth said.
“That’s the thing that makes a great returner — when you can hit it full-speed, and you don’t stutter your feet. And that’s one thing that makes him so effective.”
Taking one, let alone two, to the house wasn’t necessarily the expectation for Calais going into Saturday.
But after all he went through with the shoulder, he wasn’t about to talk himself out of it either.
“I wasn’t really thinking about scoring,” said Calais, who recalls bringing two kickoffs back all the way for Cecilia.
“I was just thinking about hitting the hole as fast as I can and really exploding. That was my main focus, and I’m pretty happy that it worked out for the best for me.”