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A Resurrected Lamar Would Stress SE Texas Recruiting for McNeese
Former Newton football player Jason Rollins Jr. might have followed his father’s path to Lamar University if the school still had a football program.
Now a coach, he may get a chance. Or he’ll soon face a new challenge.
Rollins, 33, is a co-defensive coordinator at McNeese State responsible for recruiting Southeast Texas. He’ll have his work cut out if Lamar brings back a football program that has been dormant since 1989.
“It would be a blow to our talent pool because right now, we are the local school (to Southeast Texas),” said Rollins, a former McNeese defensive back whose father played running back at Lamar.
To prove a point, Rollins listed the nine Southland Conference titles won by the Lake Charles, La.,-based school in the 19 seasons since Lamar dropped its program. He contrasted that with the three titles won by McNeese in 18 seasons of Southland play before Lamar dropped football.
Most recent, the Cowboys have won five of the last seven conference titles.
“Much of that was done with talent from Southeast Texas,” said Rollins, who played on two conference championship teams.
Rollins estimated McNeese annually signed four or five Southeast Texas players who would attend Lamar if it had a football program. McNeese played last season with 13 Southeast Texans, including six from Newton.
Last season, 26 Southland Conference players originated from Southeast Texas. That figure is less than half of the 63 scholarships allotted to NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) schools, so an all-Southeast Texas team would be unlikely.
The first day a high school senior can sign a letter of intent to play college football is Feb. 6, and a handful of those have been contacted by Rollins and other Southland assistants.
Rollins will spend the coming weeks touring East Texas to pitch a case for why players should come to McNeese. Among those are a mostly-full 17,410-seat stadium for games and a chance for Southeast Texans to play close to home.
Former Lamar player Larry Neumann said several players during his 15 seasons as Nederland’s coach might have considered staying near home if Lamar had football.
“We’ve had kids at Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, North Texas, places like that, and plenty of them would have considered playing (at Lamar) because of the possibility of being home or close to home,” said Neumann, at Lamar for the 1973 and ‘74 seasons.
Newton coach Curtis Barbay said many players prefer to stay near home. In addition to six former players at McNeese, Barbay has three at Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La., about a two-hour drive from Newton.
“Most of the coaches we have here, they come in and say they prefer to recruit in Southeast Texas,” Barbay said. “I know personally they say we’re going to have kids that are going to be tough, stick it out and not let up when things get tough.”
One former Newton player, McNeese defensive end Bryan Smith, recently played in the Hula Bowl college all-star game and will attend the National Football League scouting combine in Indianapolis.
As for Lamar, the fate of its football future will take shape Tuesday and Wednesday, when students will vote yes or no to an $8.75 per-credit tuition fee that would help fund the program. All told, the fee could bring more than $2 million to the athletics departement.
Should football return, attracting local talent will require more than rolling out a Cardinal red carpet. Whoever coaches the Cardinals will contend with a McNeese program that has a stamp on Southeast Texas.
“McNeese is just making a living in this area,” said Ozen coach Ishan Rison, a freshman on Lamar’s last team in 1989. “They’re getting good players from this place that for whatever reason gets passed by other schools.”
Rison said a restarted Lamar football program give coaches and players additional collegiate opportunities. Among coaches to lead a startup program is former Lamar assistant Mike Santiago, now at San Antonio’s Incarnate Word.
Incarnate Word is an NCAA Division II school will sign its first recruiting class this year but will not play an actual game until 2009. Santiago, 52, has recruited Texas for 18 years, including nine as a McNeese assistant.
“There are plenty of kids to go around,” said Santiago, a Lamar wide receivers coach from 1978 to 1981. “You may have to go a little further and work harder, but they’re around. That’s what we’re finding out here.”
As for McNeese’s Rollins, his father, James Sr., played four seasons at Lamar after he starred as a running back on Newton’s 1974 state championship team. Now with no Lamar football, the elder Rollins attends all McNeese home games to watch his son coach.
“They’re the closest one to us,” said Rollins Sr., who termed McNeese as more of a home team than Lamar.
The younger Rollins, who has coached three seasons at McNeese, said the state’s big boys - Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and others - will always draw the top tier players.
A 1993 Newton graduate, the younger Rollins said he will never know if he would have followed his father’s path to Lamar. Even so, the elder Rollins will continue waiting for a chance to return to Cardinal Stadium for a college football game.
“It would be nice to go down to the old school and see the old boys do their thing again,” he said. “I have a lot of memories there.”
A resurrected Lamar would stress SE Texas recruiting for McNeese
By CHRIS DABE, The Enterprise