Depending on where you looked in the preseason Elijah McGuire was regarded as one of college football’s best kept secrets and was mentioned as one of the top running backs from outside the Power Five.
There were comparisons to Kenneth Dixon, whom the Baltimore Ravens selected in the fourth round of this year’s NFL draft after he compiled more than 5,400 yards from scrimmage with 87 touchdowns at Louisiana Tech.
If McGuire, a senior running back for the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, is accorded the opportunity to play at the next level he will go all out just as he has in his four seasons in Lafayette. But a shot at the NFL is not a priority.
“I didn’t grow up with dreams of going to the NFL or anything like that,” said the Houma, La. native. “All I want to do is give back to the community and make an impact on somebody’s life. If the opportunity presents itself to go the NFL, I will try it out. If it doesn’t I will just find a career in something else that will allow me to have an impact on people’s lives.”
McGuire has done much giving back during his time in Lafayette. Whether it has been helping youths at various events or taking time with teammates to assist flood-ravaged victims when the region was drenched in August, it is large part of the young man’s makeup. His efforts were recognized by being a nominee for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
His desire to help others is rooted in his youth. The youngest of six – four sisters and one brother – born to Elijah and Marion, McGuire grew up in a household where money was tight and material things scarce. He came from a loving household, though, with plenty of support and care from his siblings.
That support became all the more critical when the senior Elijah passed away following an illness. Elijah, who was 12 at the time, was close to his father and keeps him even closer to his heart today.
“When my father passed it showed me how real life is, how short life can be,” he said following Tuesday’s practice. “When that happened something inside me totally changed and I looked at life way differently than I had. My dad was a big part of my life and when he passed adversity struck. I went through a lot of adversity and for me to get through that really made me stronger.”
That strength has carried onto the gridiron where McGuire is only one of two active players, along with San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, with 4,000 career rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards. He reached the 4,000-yard mark in last week’s 35-21 loss at Georgia, where he had 129 yards on 19 carries. In so doing he passed former NFLer Brian Mitchell for second on the school’s all-time rushing list. Tyrell Forney (2005-08) leads the way with 4,646.
“Being the second-leading rusher in school history is great and I didn’t even know I went over 4,000 yards until after the game,” said McGuire, whose total stands at 4,076.
His lofty numbers are part of a lengthy list of milestones. The program’s all-time leading scorer (306 points) was the Sun Belt Conference’s player of the year in 2014 and its freshman of the year in 2013 after leading the nation with 8.4 yards per carry.
While a foot injury hobbled him earlier this season, McGuire heads into Saturday’s Sun Belt clash on ASN against pace-setting Arkansas State (6-4, 6-0 SBC) with 891 yards rushing (5.0 ypc) and six touchdowns plus another 181 yards and a TD on 24 receptions. With two games remaining for the Ragin’ Cajuns (4-6, 3-3), and likely a bowl if they can upend ASU and Louisiana-Monroe next week, McGuire should easily make it three straight 1,000-yard seasons.
“Coming out of high school and entering college I did not have any goals as to what I wanted to accomplish,” said the 5-11, 210-pounder. “To do the things that I have is a blessing from the man up above. For me to receive all this recognition for what I have done is just a blessing. I have had a lot of support around here.”
That support includes coach Mark Hudspeth who considers McGuire “an ambassador” for the university. Those that have supported him at home and at school will get to see the general studies major achieve another milestone in a few weeks. Only this milestone will be much more personal than those in the team record book.
“Next month I will be getting a college degree and I will be the first in my family to get that done,” he said. “To see how far I have come is big. I thank all the people that have supported me. I don’t know how I could repay those people for what they have done for me. It’s just huge.”
Above: Photo courtesy Brad Kemp/Louisiana