HAMMOND — Former Southeastern Louisiana baseball coach Jay Artigues had one stipulation when Matt Riser told him he wanted to go into coaching.
Growing up, there was no question about the career path for the boy out of Picayune, Mississippi. Riser’s father was a doctor, his mother a nurse. Riser was supposed to go to medical school.
Riser got as far as graduating from Tulane in 2007 with a degree in biomedical engineering after completing his senior thesis — a 72-page report on how to damage bone cells to simulate stress fractures, then rebuild them with potassium injections.
Riser even had a job lined up at the New Orleans BioInnovation Center making $80,000 a year out of college.
But that summer, Riser went back to his old high school, where he coached his younger brother on the Picayune High summer baseball team.
He spent three months spent between the baseball diamond and fishing trips. Riser never wanted to give it up.
A few months later, he contacted his former coach at Pearl River Community College about a volunteer coaching position at Southeastern.
Artigues made sure one thing was clear.
“He called me one day and asked if he could visit with me,” Artigues said. “So we had lunch together, and he said, ‘Coach, I don’t want to go to med school, I want to be a coach.’
“I said, ‘First thing you need to do is tell your dad this wasn’t my idea; this was all your idea.’ ”
He was sold.
Riser gave up the fancy job and took the volunteer position on Artigues’ staff at Southeastern. A year later, he was promoted to full-time assistant coach.
That was eight years ago.
Riser is now in his third year as head coach of the Lions, and the school has never seen an era of success like it’s had on his watch.
Since 2014, Riser has accumulated a record of 119-61, better than any other three-year stretch in program history.
In his first year, he became the first Southeastern coach to win a Southland Conference title.
Last year’s team set the school record for wins in a season (42) and broke the Southland record for conference wins (25).
And this weekend, Riser will make his second appearance in the NCAA regionals. His club faces Rice at 7 p.m. Friday in Alex Box Stadium.
“It has nothing to do with me. It’s this program and what we’ve built and what we’ve put into this thing,” Riser said. “All I am is the leader of that.
“This didn’t happen last year or two years ago. This is something we’ve been building toward for 10 years now.”
Riser’s tenure has seen an incredible run for a program that constantly lives in the shadows of the state’s more prominent baseball programs. Perhaps it’s surprising, then, that Riser wasn’t a unanimous choice for the job.
Artigues, who had just taken over as athletic director, said several figures around the program second-guessed his decision to name Riser his successor.
At 29 years old, Riser was one of the youngest head coaches in the country at the time.
Riser admits his youth may have contributed to his tendency to be stubborn or quick-tempered, but he knew he was capable of handling the job.
In fact, it was that intensity, in part, that led Artigues to have faith in Riser from the beginning.
“My first year, I remember being 9-7 and playing Lamar on Friday night in the conference opener, and we get beat in extra innings,” Riser recalled, “I texted (Artigues) saying, ‘I promise I’m going to get this thing figured out. You made the right hire.’
“He texted back saying, ‘I know I did.’ ”
First baseman Jameson Fisher, who was a sophomore when Riser took over, said the coach’s age has largely been a positive with players who can more easily identify with him.
“Even though he’s young, he brings a lot of excitement to the game,” Fisher said. “Even though a lot of guys would look at (his youth) and think that’s not a good thing, he’s showing people what he can do at an early age. I feel like he’s got a bright career in front of him.”
That bright future isn’t necessarily staying in Hammond, though.
Riser interviewed for the job at Tulane in 2014, but while he’s open to possible career moves in the future, he said he plans to stay at Southeastern for the foreseeable future.
Artigues said he expects Riser may eventually move on. he only asks Riser to leave the program in better shape than when he arrived.
So far, so good.
“That’s exciting,” Artigues said. “I want coaches here that other people want. I hope everybody starts calling me because it means he’s doing a heck of a job.
“That’s a good problem to have.”