HAMMOND — There wasn’t an abundance of college options for Harlan Miller coming out of Kentwood High, even with an accomplished career that included Class 1A Offensive MVP honors in 2011.
Despite its proximity to home along the Interstate 55 corridor, Southeastern Louisiana didn’t emerge as a destination for Miller until an impassioned pitch from newly named coach Ron Roberts, who revealed his plan to reinvigorate the sagging program.
“He was very confident and looked me in the eye like a man and told me they were ready to win,” Miller said of Roberts. “I came from a winning program in high school. I wanted to keep winning, but I wanted a conference championship ring because I never won (state) in high school.”
Roberts came to Southeastern after a successful five-year run at Division II Delta State where he won 47 games, two Super Region II championships and made an appearance in the NCAA Division II national championship game.
SLU was mired in what amounted to seven straight losing seasons, thanks in part to NCAA penalties, but Roberts sold a vision of Southland Conference championships, academic excellence and community service. The turnaround happened.
Now after 29 wins, two league championships and a pair of NCAA playoff appearances, Roberts will bid farewell to his first recruiting class when SLU (4-6, 3-5) hosts Nicholls State (2-8, 2-6) at 6 p.m. Thursday in the River Bell Classic.
“I look at their whole body of work and these guys came in and accomplished quite a bit,” Roberts said. “I don’t think anyone of them would have believed they would have won two conference championships. I’m thrilled about their accomplishments and about what they’ve built. They helped get something started.”
Twenty-eight players will be recognized a half-hour before kickoff on senior night.
“It’s important for us to send the seniors out with a ‘W,’ ” SLU junior quarterback D’Shaie Landor said. “For the returning players, it’s about building for next year.”
This year has mirrored that of the 2012 season, when SLU’s seniors were freshmen and had to overcome a 0-3 start to finish 5-6 overall with a 35-16 victory over Nicholls.
Southeastern simply exploded over the next two years. The Lions reeled off 20 victories, including a 14-1 run through the conference, with two SLC titles, two trips to the NCAA playoffs and a postseason home win over Sam Houston State in 2013.
The Lions, beset by inconsistency and injuries, are in the midst of a three-game losing streak and have lost five of their last six games.
Seniors are looking to conclude their careers with their 30th victory and extend their record to 4-0 over Nicholls.
“This season didn’t go as we planned, but we still got a lot accomplished,” Miller said. “We’ve still had fun as a team; showing the young guys what to do and how we built a foundation. I hope they can keep it going.”