Looking back on a dreadful football season at Southeastern Louisiana, Mike Lucas said he doesn’t see a team that suffered through a series of bad bounces.
It wasn’t that simple.
Yes, some nutty things happened last fall, when SLU dropped six straight games en route to a 2-9 record.
But more often, Lucas said, bad things didn’t happen to the Lions because of luck. Bad things happened because they let them happen.
“I had people say, ?Well, you guys are just kind of snakebit.’ Well, there are reasons those things unfolded the way they did,” said Lucas, who enters his fifth season at Southeastern.
“I’m an eternal optimist. I look at it and say ... last year was there to show us things we have to emphasize going forward, because we’re going to have a special year. If we don’t learn from our mistakes and improve on them, then we won’t have that special year.”
The improvement project begins Tuesday, when players report to Hammond for preseason camp.
Players also report Tuesday at Northwestern State, which went 5-6 last season, in its second season under Bradley Dale Peveto, after going 0-11 in his debut season.
Southland Conference rivals Nicholls State and McNeese State welcome players to campus Wednesday.
Players also report Wednesday at Louisiana-Lafayette, which begins its first season under Mark Hudspeth.
Louisiana-Monroe players report to camp Friday for their second season under Todd Berry.
Elsewhere, Tulane coach Bob Toledo and quarterback Ryan Griffin will speak Sunday at the Conference USA media day in Memphis, Tenn., before returning to New Orleans to begin camp Aug. 7.
As for Southeastern, Lucas said his team spent a good deal of spring practice with one major goal in mind: minimizing mistakes.
There was a reason for that.
“If you look at our penalty totals, they weren’t too bad,” Lucas recalled. “But we had penalties in critical places.”
Another problem in 2010: turnovers. Naturally, any giveaway is unwelcome. But the Lions had a bad habit of losing the football deep in opponents’ territory.
Southeastern lost six games by a combined 20 points - and in three of those close losses, the Lions fumbled in opponents’ territory during the fourth quarter.
“It was a very frustrating year, because I think we were better than our record,” Lucas said. “But we’ve studied those tapes ... and things like that? They’re under our control. And so, in spring ball, we worked really hard on that stuff, and we’ll continue to attack those problems.”
In Thibodaux, as Nicholls State heads into its second season under Charlie Stubbs, the Colonels have reason to believe they’ll be much better, as well.
Nicholls State was 4-7 last season but won its final two conference games (including one against SLU).
Now the Colonels go to preseason camp with 20 returning starters.
Experience helps, Stubbs said.
But so do intangibles, like confidence and togetherness.
“I’ve talked about what other championship teams are doing right now,” Stubbs said. “(Players) really bought into it. ... We’re not perfect yet. But we’re definitely light years ahead of where we were last year at this time.
“If that’s the case, I expect them to play better football.”
That, of course, is the real trick.
Lucas and Stubbs both said that managing players’ mental approach is crucial to college coaches’ success these days.
Lucas noted last week that when wideout Simmie Yarborough arrived at SLU from Brookhaven, Miss., he was more concerned with himself than the team.
Now, after three years and 2,.002 career receiving yards, Yaborough is the other way around.
“I’ve been to every coaching clinic and every psychiatrist and psychologist, but that’s where we are as coaches,” Lucas said.
“The ones that are successful are the ones that can recruit and the ones that can reach those kids. Because everybody has a good scheme.
“It’s the (coaches) who can reach the players and get (the effort) out of them that are going to be successful year in and year out.”
At Nicholls State, when camp gets under way, Stubbs said his staff and players will get together for team meetings each night.
In those meetings, players will never talk about formations, plays or the next day’s drills.
“It’s all about philosophy, character, concepts that help build a championship,” Stubbs said. “Those are things that sometimes really win the game for you - that you care about your teammate, and you’re willing to give the extra effort.”
This week, the extra effort begins.