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UL Cajuns football commit Cejae Ceasar not following dad's LSU basketball footsteps

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

IOWA – It’s a Saturday morning in Iowa, and Cejae Ceasar shares a picnic table at the park with his old man – Clarence Ceasar III – in a tiny Louisiana town not far from Lake Charles.

The father played basketball under Dale Brown at LSU, a teammate with Shaquille O’Neal who has used personal experience to shape his son.

But to Clarence the story belongs to Cejae, who committed to play football for the No. 21 Ragin’ Cajuns in July and picked UL – where he also plans to run track – over Tulane.

“It’s not about me, man,” said Clarence, who played on back-to-back Tigers NCAA Tournament teams, the first as a freshman in 1991-92.

“I just love sitting in the stands watching this guy (Cejae) go. And when I tell you I’m a proud dad: Watching him play makes me prouder than any moment I ever had as an athlete for myself, any SEC record. Watching him go, man? That’s all I need.”

Oh, and does he go.

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UL football commit Cejae Ceasar (left) and his father, former LSU basketball player Clarence Ceasar III, sit at a park in Iowa, Louisiana.

Cejae is soft-spoken initially, but let the Iowa High safety warm up and he talks just as fast as his father.

“I just feel like UL will let me use more of my ability,” Ceasar said.

“Tulane wanted me just to play high safety, and at UL I’ll be able to move around and use my range at different positions.”

Ceasar – who’s played everything from high school safety, cornerback and outside linebacker to running back and receiver – loves moving.

At 6-foot-3 and right around 200 pounds, he’s long and rangy with speed to burn.

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“That’s just a body type that doesn’t come along very often in high school,” Iowa High football coach Tommy Johns said.

“His upside is even bigger going to college, because I don’t think he’s done growing.”

Physically, and otherwise.

“I think his aggressiveness has come along tremendously too the last two or three years,” said Johns, who also coaches Yellowjackets track. “That just comes with time, you know, especially on defense.”

'A LEGIT TRACK GUY'

Time is something Cejae has on his side. 

Times too.

He’s clocked a school record at 400 meters, and Cejae and his relay teammates – he’s the anchor at 4X100, 4X200 and 4X400 – seemed dialed in for special things.

Before, that is, much was put on hold.

“If we would have had a track season this year,” Cejae said, shaking his head because it was lost to the COVID-19 pandemic that shuttered sports in March, “I probably would have been state champ in the 400.

“It was going to be crazy this year.”

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There’s no doubt where the confidence comes from.

“He says 48 (seconds),” Clarence said, referencing 400 speed. “I think with a full track season – and, you know, this is Dad – he would have been playing around 47.

“So UL is going to get a real 400 meter guy. It’s not just a guy that’s gonna play football with dreams of running track. He’s a legit track guy.”

And track matters.

“Without my speed,” Cejae said, “I don’t think I’d be able to play (football) how I like to play, you know? I’ve been running track since I was a baby.”

So why not just pursue that and forget the whole football thing?

“I don’t want to say I can’t make it to the Olympics, or Olympics is not a dream,” Cejae said. “But, I don’t know, football is … more obtainable than the Olympics, in my eyes.”

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Ragin' Cajuns commit Cejae Ceasar of Iowa High closes in for a tackle at Westlake last season.

'I WALKED AWAY'

Dreams. Reality.

Cejae Ceasar chases both, with dual purpose but singular intent.

He doesn’t do it alone, however.

The drive must come from somewhere, and that’s the man sitting behind the wheel of the shiny red pickup in which father and son pulled up to the park. The one looking more like the semi-pro football player he became later in life than the sharpshooting 6-8 guard he was at LSU.

After four seasons with the Tigers, Clarence – still the SEC’s career steals leader with 310 – made it to the final cut in Indiana Pacers camp before embarking on a five-year international career that took him from Turkey and Hungary to Argentina, Venezuela and Uruguay.

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A few years later, in his early 30s at the time, Clarence joined the National Indoor Football League’s Lake Charles Land Sharks.

Cejae recalls toddling around in Clarence’s jersey.

“It was something I had to really prove to myself … because I always knew I could play football,” Clarence said.

Then?

“I got enough of it and I walked away.”

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'I'M GONNA WIN'

Cejae still is young enough to tackle things head-on.

“Any sport I do, I’m going to do it at the highest level,” Cejae said. “I don’t care if it’s tennis; I’m going to go to the U.S. Open.

“I mean, all my friends know, ‘If you play something with Cejae, he’s going to try to win, it doesn’t matter what it is.’ It can be tic-tac-toe. It can be rock, paper, scissors. I’m gonna win.”

Clarence can only laugh.

“I created a monster,” he joked.

There was one game, however, from which Cejae has had to walk away too.

It’s the one pops played around the world.

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Did it break Clarence’s heart Cejae isn’t following in the footsteps of his high tops?

“Not at all,” Clarence said.

“Everybody was, ‘You’ve got to play basketball because of your dad. You’ve got to play basketball because of your dad.’ And I literally told people, ‘Hey, leave him alone. Get off of him. Cejae is going to write Cejae’s story. Clarence Ceasar wrote Clarence Ceasar’s story.’

“So I was always a firm believer of letting him have his own niche. And, honestly, I didn’t want him to play basketball. Because of the pressure, from being from a small town – and I know how people can be. Because he wasn’t going to be 6-7, 6-8, you know?”

No way.

“I didn’t want him to go through, ‘Man, you’re nothing like your dad,’ ” Clarence said. “Well, he’s not.”

Clarence guards against unfair comparisons.

“I’m not as fast as he is. I know I didn’t play football as well as he does,” Clarence said. “So, they’re absolutely correct. He’s nothing his dad.

“But he is his dad, at the same time, you know what I’m saying? He has my athletic ability. You know, he looks like me. He’s a true Ceasar. But is he a basketball player? No. And I’m glad he was smart enough to realize that.”

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THE CONVERSATION

But getting Cejae to believe it took a conversation.

Clarence: “Do you think you can go to college for football?”

Clarence mimics Cejae: “Yes sir.”

Clarence: “Do you think you can go to college and run track?”

Clarence mimics Cejae: “Yes sir.”

Clarence: “Do you think you can go to college and play basketball?’ ”

Clarence mimics Cejae: “No sir.”

Clarence: “So why are we playing it?”

Clarence pleads his case with passion.

“To me – a lot of parents may disagree – basketball was a waste of time, for what he was trying to accomplish,” he said. “And, as you can see, it worked out.”

Cejae understood.

“I just wanted to play a sport that was going to get me to college and give me the best opportunity to go to the next level,” he said, “so I just focused on track and football.

“Football – I can’t really explain it. The first time I played football, it was just, like, ‘natural.’ So it just stuck.”

The break from basketball, however, wasn’t so simple.

Cejae heard the inevitable talk: “It was like, ‘Man … you’re a waste of height.’ ”

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ONE WRONG MOVE

Ex-Comeaux High coach Rob Melanson is Iowa’s basketball coach.

“He wanted Cejae to play basketball, because, you know, being from a (Class) 3A school, a 6-3 guy probably is one of your biggest guys on campus,” Clarence Ceasar said.

“But Rob … knew I felt about it.”

Still does.

“It’s always hard when you see someone (that tall) and the body he’s got – the long arms – not to have him out there for basketball,” Melanson said. “But, I mean, I understood. The kid is really good at track, and I know football was something that he also loved.

“I think maybe he just wanted to go in a different direction – and he’s done a good job with that.”

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Yet there was Cejae still playing hoops his sophomore season, using his athleticism to run the floor, bang inside and block some shots.

Until one wrong move.

“(Cejae) turned his ankle in a game,” Clarence said, “and he had the state indoor (track) meet that weekend.”

Ceasar did run in the meet.

But how did he fare?

“I don’t think I did good,” the kid said.

“He didn’t do well,” his father confirmed. “I think he took fourth indoor in a meet he should have won.”

 “Should’ve won,” Cejae parroted.

“I’m not gonna blame it on basketball,” Clarence said, “but that kind of opened his eyes up.

“Focus on your craft. Focus on the two sports you’re dominant in. And everything else, man? Hey, sit in the stands and support your friends.”

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'SMALL TOWN; UNDERDOG'

So when someone would say he should play basketball, should be like Clarence, Cejae’s response was ready.

“I was just like, ‘Come watch me on the football field,’ ” he said.

“ ‘(Basketball) was Dad’s thing. That was his legacy. I’m gonna write my own legacy.’ ”

Now that’s pressure too, no?

Cejae – whose high school opened with an Oct. 7 win at Marksville despite Hurricanes Laura and Delta recently sandwiching their wrath around Iowa and surrounding areas – simply shrugs.

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“Oh, I like pressure,” he said. “I run toward pressure. I like to prove people wrong.

“Small town. Underdog. People think, ‘He’s not going to do nothing.’ And I prove them wrong, and I just look in their face. I love pressure. Nothing really fazes me like that.”

Basketball, though, is where Cejae’s father draws the line. And where his story begins.

Clarence has tales to tell. Cejae has heard most, if not all, of them.

Now Cejae mimics Clarence: “I dropped 30-some on Arkansas.” Cejae: “No you didn’t.”

The ball is in Clarence’s court.

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What does he do?

“He pulls up the tape on YouTube, watches the whole game,” Cejae said.

True.

Clarence’s face is a bad tell.

“It’s not ‘stories of bragging,’ ” he said. “It was stories of motivation.

“Because I told him what I had to go through, being from Iowa, Louisiana, walking onto a campus that already had Shaquille O’Neal, Harold Boudreaux, Vernel Singleton – and I broke the starting lineup as a true freshman. So I always told him, ‘Don’t be afraid to compete.’ Because I didn’t start when I first got to LSU. I didn’t start until like the fifth game.

“But if I had got there and been intimidated, and afraid to compete in practice,” Clarence added, “Dale Brown would have never saw the player in me.”

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DALE BROWN REMEMBERS

LSU’s coach for 25 seasons through 1997, Brown remembers recruiting Ceasar.

“I drove over there to watch him,” he said, “and I liked him.

“He hustled and had a perpetual smile and always was very polite. … The thing about Clarence is he never, ever, didn’t give his best effort.”

LSU's Clarence Ceasar (22) battles for the ball with Vanderbilt's Drew Maddux during a 1995 game in Baton Rouge.

Brown wasn’t surprised Ceasar won a starting job so soon after leaving Iowa.

“He ran the court well, and he never had excuses, and he never complained,” the retired coach said.

“He was coach-able. So I knew he was going to get better and better and better. … I knew he would play here – and his attitude generated his game, boy. And he got to be a dynamite 3-point shooter.”

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Proud of it, too.

“Those are examples of stories I tell him,” said Clarence, an SEC All-Freshman Team pick.

“I don’t care how big the guy is, I don’t care about his classification; you step on campus, they’ve got to know you’re here to play. From Day 1.

“The coaches that feel like only seniors should be captains, only seniors should be leaders – that’s not true,” Clarence added. “And I didn’t raise (Cejae) like that. If you’re gonna lead, lead. And I’m telling you: He’s a born leader.”

And if you’re gonna fight, fight.

“I was telling him the things I went through. Because I could have gone to Baton Rouge and been intimidated,” Clarence said. “But that’s not my personality. And that’s something he got from me.”

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On cue, Cejae – gaining steam – battles to get in a word edgewise.

“I love competition,” he said. “I’m not afraid to compete.

“Just like on the football field, I don’t care if you’re a no-star, a five star; got 39 offers, got one offer; if you’re on the field with me, it’s game-time. I don’t care what you like. I don’t care if you’re a 6-8, 300-something-pound o-lineman. You’re still going to have to see me at the end of the day.”

It’s easy, for sure, to see where Cejae got it.

“Those stories – that developed the dog in me,” he said.

“You know, a lot of people don’t have that dog – that mentality that you have to go through me to score, you’ve got to go through me to beat me in a race. … It’s just that ‘thing’ that people have that makes you better than everyone.”

And now the two are talking over each other, proving just how is intertwined their story is.

Clarence: “I think some people call it ‘it.’

Cejae: “Yeah, that ‘it.’

Clarence: “The ‘it factor.’ ”

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NO QUIT

Cejae evidently has ‘it.’

Back in the day, Clarence had ‘it’ and game to back it.

“I was a shooter, man,” Clarence said. “And people don’t believe that.

“In this town, everyone wanted me to play center. And I’m glad I had a high school coach that had sense, and he said, ‘We have a kid here who is going to play on the next level, and there is no way I am going to play him in the paint the way he handles and shoots the ball.’

Clarence, now director of community relations for Lake Charles’ parks and recreation department, is asked about the time he pulled a back muscle during a 1993 SEC Tournament semifinal upset win over Vanderbilt.

“That’s where the ‘competing’ comes in. I wouldn’t leave the game,” Clarence said. “I would come off the floor, get a heating pad, rub it down, ‘I’m going back in.’ There was no quit in me. (Cejae) has that.”

The son has tales too.

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“There was one game, I caught at least three, four cramps,” Cejae said.

“I got a cramp in both calves, both thighs. I don’t know what was going on. I was dehydrated, because I was working hard that game.”

No need to pull up the YouTube tape.

Clarence was there, watching the youngest of five siblings.

“Every series, he was on the ground,” father said of son No. 3. “They were dragging him off the field, and he was going back in the game. I’m in the stands like, ‘Get … off … the … field.”

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'HE'S GOT A PLAN'

Cejae didn’t want to leave. Too much willpower, like his mirror image.

Ah, memories.

Clarence’s favorite at LSU?

“People would say, ‘Playing with Shaq,’ ” he said, “but my fondest memory was being a small-town Louisiana guy staying in Louisiana, making this state better … and making a mark.”

Now it’s Cejae turn.

“I just want to make lifelong friends along the way and make a lot of sports memories,” he said.

“Hopefully, if I’m blessed to play on Sundays, make memories on that level.”

A kid can dream. A kid can chase reality.

Some can do it simultaneously, and Johns – the Iowa football/track coach – thinks Ceasar is one.

“Cejae’s a smart kid. He’s wants to go his own route,” Johns said. “He wants to do his own thing. He’s got a plan. … Not every kid kind of has ‘the plan.’ He does. He at least has an idea.

“He knows what he wants; he’s gonna go out and try to get it.”

That’s Cejae’s story, and he’s sticking to it. Clarence too.