CJ Willis: from Bearcat to Tiger to Ragin’ Cajun

By T. Scott Boatright

He was a two-sport standout at Ruston High School before moving on to play baseball during his freshman year at LSU.

But now CJ Willis is a Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajun, who is in Troy, Alabama waiting to begin the Sun Belt Conference later today.

“I think the season’s going pretty good,” Willis said. “We’re playing the long game right now, we’re not really caught up in the short game. Right now all we want to do is win. That’s the only thing on our mind right now. It could always be better, but I’d say it’s going pretty good right now.”

The three-game series for the 9-7 Trojans begins at 6 p.m. today against the 11-5 Trojans.

“This is the first conference series of the year, so it’s very important,” Willis said. “We need to get off to a hot start. I honestly don’t know that much about Troy, except that we need to beat them.”

Willis, now a junior, said he started more at first base last year, but has spent the majority of playing time at second base this year. He’s also an experienced third baseman for the Ragin’ Cajuns and has played in the outfield, too. 

Willis, who has played in 12 games with eight starts, has a .977 fielding percentage and is batting .207 with a .276 slugging percentage with two stolen bases in the same number of attempts.

“It honestly doesn’t matter where I play,” Willis said. “The more positions a player can play, the better. And I see that as one of my roles. I’ll play wherever they need me.”

At 6-3, Willis admitted the one infield position he doesn’t play is shortstop.

“I mess around with that in practice sometimes but that’s not really part of my abilities,” he said. “It’s not who I am or what I do.”

With six hits, three runs batted in and 13 strikeouts this season, Willis, who hits in the back part of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ lineup, readily admits he tends to be “go big or go home” at the plate while still willing to wait on the pitch he wants and not swinging if he doesn’t get it.

Last season he posted a .250 batting average with two home runs and 14 RBIs while tying for second on the team in walks (19) and third in triples (two) while also  fourth overall on the team with eight stolen bases.

“I just try to stay relaxed and calm, take deep breaths and wait for the pitches I want,” Willis said. “I like to swing hard and long, but if I’m asked to bunt, I’ll bunt. If I just need to get a hit, I focus on that. I like to swing hard, but I try not to overpress anything.”

Willis played in 24 games as a true-freshman at LSU and started in 11, recording 11 hits, four of which were doubles, with seven RBIs.

He said the book “15 to 28,” about God’s love, power, and redemption through 28 true stories written by Louisiana-Lafayette head baseball coach Matt Deggs was part of the reason he decided to make a move to play for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

“They were the first offer I got out of high school,” Willis said about Louisiana-Lafayette. “I had heard a lot about Coach Deggs. “I know my dad really liked his book and everything he’s heard about him. I just thought it felt like the right fit for me after I left LSU.”

Looking back as a standout baseball and football player for Ruston High, Willis said he does have one favorite memory as a Bearcat.

“Going to the third round (the quarterfinals) as a sophomore,”  Willis said of his best moment at RHS. “That was a fun season. I’ll never forget that season.

“Football was probably my first love just because I was able to play it first as a real game. It wasn’t like T-ball or anything. But as I got older it became baseball.”

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