'Make the play': Cajuns' Ralston steps up to lead tight ends

Cody Junot
Special to the Advertiser

“When my number is called, I'll make the play.”

For Ragin’ Cajuns graduate transfer tight end Nick Ralston, football is as simple as that: Be prepared and execute when the time comes.

Through four games this season, Ralston and his fellow tight ends have done just that, helping the Cajuns to a 3-1 record as UL prepares to open Sun Belt Conference play this weekend at Georgia Southern.

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Ralston, a transfer from Arizona State, wasn’t sure what type of role he’d play when he decided to reunite with UL coach Billy Napier. Ralston played for Napier in 2017, when Napier was his offensive coordinator at ASU. But he was sure that no matter what that role looked like, Napier and his new teammates would get everything that he’s got.

“My mindset coming here was to completely dominate,” Ralston said. “I didn't know anything about the depth chart or what would happen with all those injuries, but I came here because I believe in Coach Napier and the staff.”

Fast forward a few months later and four games into the 2019 season, and Ralston’s role has been defined. He’s been asked to take a key leadership role on and off the field.

UL TE Nick Ralston scores in the football game between UL and Mississippi State University at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 31, 2019.

Following season-ending injuries to Johnny Lumpkin and Chase Rogers, who has since left the team, Ralston, despite being on campus for just a few months, is the elder statesman and leader of the unit.

Ralston is quick to point out that the entire tight end room has stepped up and answered the call following the rash of injuries in fall camp.

“We just do our job. There's four dudes in that group that have really stepped up, that's Pearse Migl, Neal Johnson, Hunter Bergeron and myself,” he said. “We just show up to work every day and put it all on the line and watch the tape afterward.”

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The senior tight end expects he and his teammates to take the same approach as they prepare for the Eagles of Georgia Southern.

“The success we've had so far is a testament to why we prepare here. We pride ourselves in doing the hard things better. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday — it's hard; it's really hard,” Ralston said. “We really work during the week, and I think shows up on Saturday.”

Although overall the Cajuns' tight ends haven’t shown up in the passing game in bunches, as a group they’ve combined for five receptions. When called upon they’ve executed in big spots — especially Ralston, whose two catches this season have resulted in touchdowns.

They do play a big role in the running game, and though blocking doesn’t come with all of the glory of scoring touchdowns and picking up first downs, the tight ends' ability to control the line of scrimmage has allowed UL’s deep-running game to flourish.

As a team, the Ragin’ Cajuns have rushed for 1,295 yards, an average of 323.8 yards per contest, the third-highest margin in the country.

For Ralston, it doesn’t matter if it’s a run or a pass; if the Cajuns coaching staff and his teammates call on him to make a play, he’s more than ready.

“My main thing is when my number is called is just make the play.”

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