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Louisiana running back Elijah Mitchell overcomes injury

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Junior Elijah Mitchell (15) scores a touchdown as the Ragin' Cajuns take on the Texas Southern Tigers on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.

The Louisiana “showroom” that encompasses arguably the most talented running back room in the country continues to shine. In the past few games, junior running back Elijah Mitchell has been one of the most talked about offensive weapons for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

The 5-foot-11-inch, 217-pound Erath native started his electric running as two-star running back with his alma mater Erath High School. Mitchell ran for 1,903 yards and 28 touchdowns during his senior season, despite being injured and only appearing in eight games. But, Mitchell still cemented himself into the Bobcats history books by becoming the leading rusher in Erath history with 4,045 yards and 50 touchdowns on 457 carries in three seasons.

His career with the Ragin’ Cajuns began less smoothly for Mitchell. Only appearing in five games during his 2017 freshman campaign, he finished fifth on the team in 273 rushing yards, second on the team in average yards per carry (6.1), and third on the team for rushing touchdowns (4).

Mitchell scored his first career touchdown for Louisiana during the 2017 season opener against Southeastern, finishing that game with 56 yards rushing on 11 carries. Against Tulsa, he scored his first career touchdown reception for 19 yards while ending the game with 84 yards on eight carries as well as scoring a rushing touchdown. Mitchell ran for a career-high against ULM with 107 yards on 13 carries, finishing with two touchdowns against Sun Belt rival ULM.

But this all came to a sudden halt when Mitchell’s foot was caught under a pile of linemen, which he suffered a Lisfranc foot fracture that connects the ligaments and booms of the midfoot and the front foot. This injury sidelined him for the rest of the 2017 season as well as slowed him down for spring activities going into the 2018 season. Mitchell not only went through one surgery but two.

Mitchell attributes that setback to the building of his mental toughness and how it formed him into a tougher player.

“That was devastating to me,” Mitchell said. “All I could think of was to keep telling myself that things happen for a reason. All I could do as a person was try to turn it into a positive.”

Grateful for physical therapist Brian Soignier and former Louisiana quarterback for his help in getting him back on the field, Mitchell feels that encouragement is what helped him progress.

“Mr. Brian, he helped me so much,” Mitchell said. “We talked, we prayed together. He kept telling me that he was going to get me right and we were going to work through it. It was a big encouragement, knowing he’d gone through stuff like I was going through.”

Louisiana Head Coach Billy Napier said he knows how much it took for Mitchell to get back to himself, adding that a lot of people helped with his progress to get him back on the field.

“He’s worked to get himself ready,” Napier said. “I think Elijah would be the first to tell you: It’s been a long road back for him, but he’s 100% now. We’ve been aiming at having all our guys ready when the bell rings, and he’s been a big part of that.

“You know, he had to work through some adversity relative to overcoming his injury. We had some people that did a really good job helping him through that.”

During the 2018 season, Mitchell started in 13 games to end the season with 1334 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns. His 16 touchdowns were the most on the team, with his total yards from scrimmage placing second on the team. Mitchell achieved the second-highest game rushing total in the Sun Belt conference against Texas State, racking up 191 yards in that matchup.

Mitchell rushed for over 100 yards in four games, ranking him fourth in the conference, also becoming the only person in the conference to have 100-yards rushing and one 100-yard receiving game.

Mitchell doesn’t seem to take credit for all his strength, whereas Louisiana running back coach Jabbar Juluke said he believes that if Mitchell is healthier then as a running back unit they are all going to be successful.

“It goes back to the culture of our room, and how we support one another,” Juluke said. “Trey Ragas and Raymond Calais, they knew if Eli is healthy that’s gonna mean that they’re gonna be more healthy.”

Now with the 2019 season underway, Mitchell has his eyes set on more goals and new achievements.

Mitchell has been showing dominance, especially against Ohio. Versus Ohio he rushed for 285 yards, proving to be a force to be reckoned with in the 45-25 victory. He ran for 17 carries for a team-high of 143 yards.

Coach Napier is satisfied to see the work that Mitchell put in the offseason show on the field in terms of his athletic abilities. He knows the process it took for Mitchell to get back to this place especially after the health setbacks he endured early in his career.

“It’s good to see him have the production that he had,” Napier said. “You can see the finishing speed, the physicality, the strength.”

His performance against Ohio came with a few awards, Mitchell was awarded Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week. Being a key factor in the Ragin’ Cajuns running arsenal, Louisiana currently ranks first in the nation in total yards (1,295) and touchdowns (18). The Ragin’ Cajuns are also ranked second in the nation for yards per carry at 7.53 and third in total rushing yards per game (323).

Mitchell believes his impressive game against Ohio came to life because of the healthy competition him and teammate Trey Ragas have on the field.

“It’s competition, but it’s not bad competition,” Mitchell said. “It’s like energy. If Trey breaks one, it’s like, ‘I want to break one. It’s my turn.’ It’s awesome, man.”

“When we first started, we were like, ‘Man, we need to just keep pounding them, pounding them, and just make them give up, that’s what happened,” Mitchell continued

And the showroom does not expect to slow down any time soon.

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