I've been pretty familiar with rookie running back Trey Ragas for a while now.
Before I came to Las Vegas, I was a reporter in Mobile, Alabama. The two biggest football components of the Port City are the Reese's Senior Bowl – which the city has hosted since 1951 – and the South Alabama Jaguars.
South Alabama plays in the Sun Belt conference, alongside Louisiana-Lafayette. In my time in Mobile, the USA Jaguars were honestly not very good. They finished the 2019-20 season with a 2-10 overall record and came in dead last in the conference. Nevertheless, as an effort to integrate myself in the community, I took to the Jaguars and followed them closely in my year there.
In South Alabama's annual matchup with the Rajun' Cajuns in November 2019, they were defeated 37-27. The Rajun' Cajuns did a stellar job of running the ball down the throat of the Jaguars defense, with a committee of running backs lead by San Francisco 49ers' 2021 sixth-round draft pick Elijah Mitchell. Louisiana-Lafayette racked up 255 rushing yards on the Jaguars.
But there was something about Trey Ragas that just hit different for me.
The redshirt junior running back had 10 carries for 52 yards and a touchdown that day. He looked very strong and physical with an NFL ready frame at 5-foot-10, 230 pounds. He ran through contact with ease using his size, but also had enough speed to get by defenders.
While Mitchell may have been the lightning of that backfield, Ragas was unquestionably the thunder.
Ragas returned for his redshirt senior season, despite many players sitting out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He made All-Sun Belt Second Team and ran for nearly 800 yards and 10 touchdowns. It was never a question whether he would play or not. Not playing didn't even cross his mind.
"I just love football, I just love playing. I love competing," said Ragas. "Even while having my son just being born, it was never a thought for me as to sitting out. I just can't see myself not playing."
Throughout the pandemic, the draft evaluation process was heavily altered, which had a somewhat negative effect on non-Power Five conference schools and FCS college programs. Ragas was one of the more attractive players that went undrafted this offseason, even with the amount of production he had in college. Ragas is the third-leading rusher in school history and was coming off a Sun Belt Conference Championship season.
"I'm not a scout or nothing, that would be a question for the scouts," Ragas said of why he went undrafted.
"I got a call from my agent, and he told me that 'The Raiders want to sign you.' And I said, 'OK, I'm ready.' Any opportunity I get, I want to take it and give my best and show my talent."
Ragas has made the most out of his opportunity as an undrafted rookie free agent so far. With a loaded running back room of Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Jalen Richard and UDFA from Wisconsin Garrett Groshek, Ragas has been able to stay afloat and above water. He's finding his way in the offense by being another battering ram behind Jacobs, seeing second-team snaps on a few occasions behind him throughout the first week of Training Camp.
"That boy, he nice," Jacobs said of Ragas to the media last Saturday. "I like how fast he learns. He learns real fast and you don't see him making a lot of mistakes, especially as a rookie. And he plays fast and he listens – and he's willing to work, so I like that about him."
Head Coach Jon Gruden publicly expressed his dismay in his team's ability to effectively run the ball in the red zone last season. Bringing Ragas onto the roster could assist with that issue, as he's another big back to depend on to drill it in the end zone. Gruden has been trying to get on better grasp on Ragas in camp, claiming that "he's getting better and better every day" and that "he's going to get some good looks in the preseason."
With the Raiders' first day in pads coming Tuesday, Ragas will have a unique opportunity to set himself apart in the running back room. If he can bring the same physicality and toughness I saw from him while I was in Mobile, he could very well find himself on the 53-man roster in September.
"I got to do everything somebody else don't want to do," Ragas said. "Take advantage of every opportunity I get.
"To just be able to do everything possible to show that I can play and show I can be on the field."
The Raiders return to Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center for the start of Week 2 of 2021 Training Camp.