Frank Scelfo enters first season at Southeastern confident in bonds forming
The Southeastern Lions are rapidly approaching their season opener against the ULM Warhawks, a FBS program expected to have their best team in years. However, first-year SLU head coach Frank Scelfo embraces the opportunity to face them and build a championship program in Hammond eventually.
Scelfo, a 30-year coaching veteran wth experience on the prep, college and NFL levels, has only been a head coach one other time. That experience came in the prep ranks at River Oaks in 1985-’86. One of his proudest moments in his coaching journey was as an assistant at Tulane during the perfect 12-0 campaign in 1998.
Iron sharpens iron in the Louisiana coaching circles, and the state has produced a multitude of head coaches now at universities around the Pelican state.
Current head coaches Brad Laird (Northwestern State), Lance Guidry (McNeese), Tim Rebowe (Nicholls), Matt Viator (ULM) and Ed Orgeron (LSU) played and coached high school football in this state.
“What a tribute to this state to have produced these type of men and coaches,” Scelfo noted. “It’s a culture of the state. How special is that?”
The Lions have a roster stocked with many JUCO transfers recruited during the previous regime, but Scelfo places a premium on talent raised on local soil. The Hammond campus sits within an hours drive in several directions of some of the best talent in the entire south.
“That’s where we need to make a living. There is no reason to go anywhere else,” Scelfo declared. “We might get out and go to other states sometimes to find guys from somewhere else, but we want guys who want to be here. We want a presence in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette and the River Parishes (but) especially on the north shore.”
Wins and losses are important always but Scelfo is trying to keep everything in proper perspective. Setting certain goals sometimes can set limits.
“We don’t put up goals like (wins and losses) because I don’t want a glass ceiling that would limit us. It’s understood we want to be Southland Conference champions. We want to go undefeated. We’ll be the best possible that we can be each week. If we do that, then we’ll see where that takes us. That’s what our goal is.”
Scelfo has tutored numerous NFL signal callers as a quarterbacks coach. Some of the prominent names are Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, Tom Savage, Patrick Ramsey, Shaun King and Lester Ricard. He knows what special qualities it takes to be top notch at the game’s most crucial position.
“All of these guys hold a special place in my heart,” Scelfo explained while making the analogy to his current mission. “We are looking for leadership, that’s the first thing, whether they lead your team in good times and in bad. Then you look for the physical traits, the leadership qualities, plus being a good person on and off the field. That’s what we’re looking for.”
The Lions return junior quarterback Lorenzo Nunez, who made nine starts in 2017 and accounted for 16 total touchdowns. New arrival Chasen Virgil comes aboard from Fresno State where he had 14 starts in two seasons. The competition between the two juniors has been tight throughout camp.
The offense has demonstrated some explosiveness during recent scrimmages. Indiana import Devonte Williams, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior who left the Hoosiers as the school’s sixth best all time kick returner, can make a difference. In 2017, he accumulated 761 all purpose yards, including 130 yards against powerhouse Ohio State.
“I like the skill level of our guys on offense,” Scelfo said. “This summer I saw some really special things. I’m looking forward as we approach the season opener what they are capable of. We have to put these guys in situations yo make plays.”
Despite losing three starters on the offensive line, the Lions enjoy solid depth at that spot.
Alfred Beverly (6-4, 345), a junior road grader, has appeared in 20 games the past two seasons. Returning center Shaq McClain (6-2, 310), a junior out of Independence, has started the past two season. Senior right tackle Kyle Strickland (6-5, 320) made nine starts last fall.
Among the newcomers who should contribute is Pat Allen, a junior transfer from Georgia who made nine appearances for the Bulldogs with a pair of starts. Right guard Jarius Gooch (6-2, 290) arrived from Holmes Community College and grabbed attention. Two sophomores, Tavares Tate (6-2, 295) from Atlanta and center Drew Jones (6-1, 286) from Hahnville, have been competing for snaps along with a couple of former St. Augustine Purple Knights, sophomore tackle Rendon Miles-Character (6-3, 280) and guard Tyree Rhodes (6-1, 310).
Defensively, the entire starting linebacking trio is new. Most of the players expected to make an impact lack significant experience but do have athleticism and skill. Former Riverside Academy and Pope John Paul II head coach Chris Lachney is in his first season handling the ‘backers.
“Somebody makes a great play, and it’s motivation for the other guys to up their performance. Nobody is putting their personal needs above those of the team,” Lachney noted.
Senior Tamarcus Russell (5-10, 210) played some at middle linebacker in ’17. His calling card is bone-jarring collisions. Mike Mason (5-11, 215), a newcmomer from El Camino JUCO, is game ready.
ULM transfer Kyle Nevels (6-2, 235) is an intriguing prospect. The junior from Walker was a tight end during his time with the Warhawks.
Seniors provide SLU’s linebacker depth. Hahnville product Dwaine Thomas (6-2, 225) played 22 games for the Texas A&M Aggies. Sean Clavelle (6-2, 220), a Landry-Walker alum, has gotten stronger. Ja’Hmal Macklin (6-3, 225) from Block could be a key reserve.
The secondary is sprinkled with talent starting with senior Shamar Busby, who has special cover skills. Brayleon Thorns brings 4.5 speed to the cornerback spot as well.
Three newcomers in the secondary have drawn attention. Freshman Donnel Ward-Magee (6-1, 165), yet another St. Aug product, has been all over the field in recent workouts. Matthew Wright (5-11, 190) is a tackling machine at safety our of Navarro College. Xavier Lewis, a junior who prepped at East St. John and played in 15 games for LSU, is hungry for a chance to make a difference.
Any new coach steps into a situation where there is more unknown than he would like. It takes on a little give and take on both sides, like any new relationship, to establish trust and understanding. Scelfo feels he has a group of players who have demonstrated that they are willing to put in time and commitment.
“I like our guys. I like them as people, which means I like their work eyhic. I like their passion for the game. I like the things they stand for. They want structure, they want discipline. They want to win. They are not rebelling against any rule or change. They’re embracing the culture we are installing. When I see that, it’s exciting for me. They haven’t been afraid to do anything that we’ve asked them to do,” said Scelfo.
Plus, what surrounds the program is a community at Southeastern than embraces their team. People wear their hearts on their sleeves, showing their pride in their school.
“We’re the third largest university in the state, only 500 (students) behind UL. We’re going to try to catch ’em,” he stated with a chuckle. “There’s loyalty here. There is passion in the town for (SLU). That is truly a university town. When you drive through town, you see SLU flags, stickers, posters all over the place. You don’t see that in a lot of big town teams. You see that in Hammond, America, which is pretty special.”
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…