As Cornelius Lucas approached his freshman year of high school in New Orleans, La., it was impossible for former Edna Karr high school coach Jabbar Juluke to ignore his size and stature.
Lucas, a 2013 preseason All-Big 12 selection for K-State, had formed a athletic relationship with Juluke in junior high.
Thanks to a push from the coaching staff, Lucas, who stood around 6-foot-3-inches in eighth grade, joined the team in high school and instantly gave the Cougars an impact on the offensive line.
“You can’t teach size,” Juluke said. “We thought we could maximize his ability because he had a clean canvas. Sometimes those guys become better football players because they don’t pick up on any bad habits when they’re younger.”
Juluke, now the running backs’ coach at Louisiana Tech, was the head coach at Edna Karr for nine seasons and said Lucas is surrounded with parents who made the intelligent push of academics before football.
“He comes from a very close family,” Juluke said. “They did everything together and they were very supportive of him. I can remember his mom telling me, ‘Coach I don’t care anything about football, but Cornelius better have good grades or I will take him off the team.’ They were not the typical football family. It was about academics.”
Juluke said he made a personal promise to Lucas’ mother that day. He said he would help Cornelius achieve good grades and become the best football player he could be.
Knowing that football was possible after high school helped Juluke as he got to know the Lucas family.
“We started looking at the big picture,” Juluke said. “We told her that he could go to college for free and she wouldn’t have to pay for it. That became one of the things that really stuck in her mind. That was a big part of him getting the opportunity to do what he’s doing today.”
As Lucas went through his senior season, the left tackle received offers from several area schools including Louisiana Monroe and Tulane.
But it was the offer from a school 1,012 miles away that persuaded the New Orleans native to uproot.
Devin Fitzsimmons, the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach at the University of Delaware, called about Lucas when he served at K-State as offensive assistant and coordinator of football operations.
“As a high school coach, some exaggerate how big a person is,” Juluke said. “So when you tell a coach I have a 6-foot-7-inch, 300 pound offensive lineman, the first thing anyone thinks of is, ‘He must be around 6-foot-4-inch, might just be 6-foot-3.’ So we made a video and sent it to Coach Fitzsimmons.”
Juluke and his coaching staff sent Lucas through a number of drills to illustrate his ability in the trenches.
“We sent him through bag drills, ladder drills and had him stand next to me,” Juluke said. “I’m 6-foot-2-inch so we could show him the difference in height and all those different things.”
The moves paid off and Lucas made the decision to join the Wildcats.
After redshirting in 2009, Lucas played a number of reserve roles during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
The Wildcat left tackle has now started 15 consecutive games dating back to last season and barring unforeseen circumstances, he’ll finish the season as the starting left tackle.
K-State head coach Bill Snyder said it has been a steady progression for his left tackle, but he’s shown many areas of growth.
“I think the experience and just repetition after repetition has really been very significant for him,” Snyder said. “Because of it, I think he has just gotten better and better and better, probably in all facets of his game. I think he has been a reasonably good pass protector and reasonably good run blocker. Some days are better than others, but I don’t think his development has ever stopped.”
Teammate, fellow offensive lineman and Rimington award finalist junior B.J. Finney said he has seen Lucas take advantage of the opportunity and said the second-year starter has continued to grow.
“After the Cotton Bowl [January 2012], he knew he had an opportunity in front of him,” Finney said. “He decided to work hard and came back and really grew into the player he is now.”
Although this is the fifth season Lucas has been in Manhattan, Juluke said he believes his former offensive lineman is just scratching the surface of his abilities.
“Cornelius is a redshirt senior,” Juluke said. “He didn’t play until his redshirt junior year. He’s still fresh in regards to wear and tear on his body.”
Will it lead to an opportunity at the next level? Only time will tell, but count Juluke in as a believer.
“He hasn’t played a lot of football,” Juluke said. ”To have his skill set and his relatively small amount of experience, that just tells me he has a clear ceiling to go past the moon.”