Jabbar Juluke coached Leonard Fournette at LSU; now he'll lead Florida's running backs

Graham Hall
Gator Sports
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Florida’s backfield rotation is expected to be just that in 2022 — a rotation.

Rather than have one running back receive a significant share of the carries, the Gators are all but set to share the load among Demarkcus Bowman, Lorenzo Lingard, Montrell Johnson and Nay’Quan Wright, along with freshman Trevor Etienne upon his arrival in summer.

For running backs coach Jabbar Juluke, a by-committee approach in the Southeastern Conference is anything but a new experience. 

Prior to spending four years on Billy Napier’s coaching staff at Louisiana, Juluke spent the 2017 season at Texas Tech and the 2016 campaign in the SEC with LSU.

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Florida Gators running back coach Jabbar Juluke during Spring practice at the indoor practice facility, in Gainesville Fla. March 15, 2022.

He coached players like Leonard Fournette

While in Baton Rouge, Juluke was charged with helping phenom Leonard Fournette capitalize on his enormous potential while splitting carries with then-sophomore Derrius Guice, in addition to developing the remaining running backs on the roster.

To say he did the job well might be an understatement. 

Both Fournette, who would ultimately be drafted No. 5 overall in 2017 and play in the NFL with Jacksonville and Tampa, and Guice would earn a spot on the All-SEC First Team at the conclusion of the 2016 regular season.

The third-string back on that team, Darrel Williams, finished his LSU career ranked No. 21 in program history in rushing yards, while the team’s fourth back, Nick Brossette, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the New England Patriots in 2019. 

Florida Gators running back Montrell Johnson (2) runs a drill during spring practice at the indoor practice facility, in Gainesville, March 15, 2022.

Juluke can definitively claim to Florida’s four scholarship running backs that he’s coached a backfield committee who set themselves up for success at the next level. 

“That entire room — Leonard Fournette, Derrius Guice, Darrel Williams — all in the NFL, man. Nick Brossette was with the New England Patriots as well. This is what I try to do as a coach. I try to not mess guys up, OK,” Juluke said. “If they weren’t good enough, they wouldn’t be here. So, it’s my job to figure out which buttons to push to make them better.”

Knowing what makes each player tick is an important part of development. Building familiarity between coach and player is an ongoing process inside the Florida program. Understanding a player’s personality, circumstances, and background are necessary tasks before Florida takes the field in the fall. 

Which is why Juluke is quick to point to former players who have trusted the process. 

“With Leonard, we did more off-the-field things: how to handle being successful, how to handle being a phenom. Derrius, I’ve got to slow him down, make him understand that you can’t go 100 miles an hour, and you can’t go party every night. I had to go work with him,” Juluke said. “Darrel Williams, ‘Hey man, just be patient. Your time’s going to come. You’ve got these guys in front of you, right, and don’t start crying and moaning and worrying about what’s not taking place.’ And he was patient, man. He’s going on his fifth year in the NFL. He’s changed his family’s life...”

What about that LSU play against the Gators? 

Juluke isn’t just willing to take some of the credit for the success of the room he had while at LSU — a fair share of blame comes with the role, too, such as the fateful final play of LSU’s loss at home to Florida. 

At the time, head coach Ed Orgeron said the underclassmen Guice ran the wrong way near the goal-line, seemingly faulting Guice for the game-deciding play not going in the Tigers’ favor.

Juluke doesn’t disagree with the assessment of what went wrong. He just doesn’t put the blame solely on Guice. 

“Derrius went the wrong way, and that’s my fault as a coach. I did not tell him where to go. I assumed that he knew what he was doing,” Juluke said. “I should have told him what to do, repeated to him what to do. That’s my fault. That wasn’t his fault. I made him go the wrong way.”

But don’t assume Juluke is at fault for the pre-game scuffle in that game, which led Fournette to suit up after initially being expected to sit with an injury. 

“That wasn’t my idea,” he is quick to confirm. 

Florida Gators running back Lorenzo Lingard (21) runs a drill during spring practice at the indoor practice facility, in Gainesville, March 15, 2022.

Juluke probably wouldn’t have expected in 2016 that less than six years later he’d be tasked with helping the Gators defeat LSU. In the Division I coaching business, however, a job can last a year, sometimes less.

The bonds built along the way don’t dissipate. Juluke isn’t willing to forget it. 

"You know, I tell people this: Recruiting is temporary, relationships are permanent. Whether they're good relationships or bad relationships, they're permanent, right? So, I don't worry about the ones I lose, because they might beat me one time. I worry about the ones I get, because they can beat me every day,” Juluke said. “It's about relationships, and we want to continue to build relationships. We want to be around good people, we want to show people that we are good people. The football part of it will take care of yourself. But relationships are for life.”

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