BATON ROUGE, La. -- Jabbar Juluke knows his New Orleans connections helped him land a position as LSU’s running backs coach -- and his years-long ties to Leonard Fournette and his family certainly didn’t hurt -- but he knows his new job involves much more than getting another huge season from his star back.
“I’ve been knowing [Fournette] for a while, but my main goal is really to build a relationship with all of the young men in that room,” Juluke said last week. “I think that this is a very special group in that we want to build on all of the success that they’ve had in that room and continue to be the best that they can be.
“I really want to help all of them become better young men. I want them to be better husbands, better fathers than their fathers were to their moms and to them as a son. So that’s what my main goal is to create in that room and have the best room that we can possibly have.”
Juluke has the physical pieces in place for that to happen. In Fournette, he has arguably the best running back in LSU history, fresh off a sophomore season where he rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also has a stable of backs – Derrius Guice, Darrel Williams, Nick Brossette and others -- who helped LSU rank seventh nationally with 256.8 rushing yards per game last season.
However, Juluke said his first meeting with his new players did not involve football at all. A stickler about personal development and work ethic, Juluke’s first comments to the players involved supporting each other.
“We’re going to cheer for each other,” Juluke said. “One of the first statements that I made to the kids was, ‘How can you impact the game without the ball in your hand? How can you do that?’ And it starts within the classroom, it starts in the community, it starts on campus. We haven’t even made it to the football field yet and this is where these things start.”
Lots of coaches send that message to their players. In this case, perhaps that is a bit of the old high school coach coming out. Juluke made a name for himself within his profession as a coach at multiple prep powerhouses in his hometown of New Orleans -- most notably as a state championship head coach at Edna Karr.
High school coaches, perhaps as well as any coaches, understand the balance they must find between keeping talented players happy and keeping them on the same page with the rest of their teammates. Fortunately for Juluke, Fournette is easy to manage in that department, but he is far from the only talented back on LSU’s roster. Juluke’s charge will be to keep the other backs thinking positively and working hard, even when Fournette typically gets the lion’s share of the touches.
That’s where Juluke’s life story -- like Fournette and former LSU running backs coach Frank Wilson, Juluke went to St. Augustine High School in New Orleans -- can be of assistance.
“I only know one way to work, and that’s hard,” Juluke said. “It started with my mom and the way she raised me in the neighborhood that we grew up in. It just was, ‘If you don’t work hard, you don’t eat.’ And growing up in the housing projects, you have to take advantage of your opportunity to work hard. There’s only one way to work and that’s to work hard. And then going to St. Augustine High School, that really instilled some more discipline into me and giving me my foundation.”
Now Juluke has what he calls a dream job at LSU, following a three-year stint coaching running backs at Louisiana Tech and a brief stay at Texas Tech. He’s back home in south Louisiana, and he knows his presence will resonate with those in the area who remember well his time coaching in the New Orleans area.
“I received 450 text messages on my cell phone [after I was hired],” Juluke said. “It was overwhelming. I’m very grateful to have the support of the community and [that] they believe in what I’m doing. I made it a point to text everyone back and let them know that I appreciate them and what they’re doing for me. Hopefully I can go out and represent them as well as they’d like for me to do on a consistent basis.”
That’s exactly what LSU coach Les Miles expects to happen. Juluke’s ability to scour New Orleans for talent the way Wilson did -- roughly two dozen LSU players hail from that area -- is the icing on the cake.
“Here’s a guy that’s done it at college as a coach, done it at college as a player and has done it at high school as a coach,” Miles said. “So there’s no question that he’d be able to fit in in the football end of it. His personal skills are great. But the idea that he is a New Orleans native just gives us a real comfort there.”