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(Rick Hickman/American Press)

(Rick Hickman/American Press)

Local players take pride in representing McNeese

Last Modified: Monday, August 18, 2014 12:28 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

For some students, attending college means traveling halfway across the globe.

For others, picking a school is all about having something that’s within driving distance — but not so driveable that mom and dad are likely to pay a surprise weekend visit.

And for a select few, including several members of the McNeese State football team, picking a college means staying as close to home as possible. Maybe even in your own bed. With mom around to make you supper.

Freshman offensive lineman Nick Fontenot, a Barbe graduate, is one of those who gave other campuses a look but decided to continue his college career just a Jean Breaux punt away from where he went to middle school.

“I don’t have to worry about food,” Fontenot said. “And growing up a McNeese fan, it was just the best choice for me. At first I was looking around other places, but once I visited here it was just kind of awesome.”

While Fontenot decided to stay put from the get-go, other Cowboys from Lake Charles have started their careers elsewhere before coming back home.

Cornerback Ja’Len James is one of them. The LaGrange High graduate redshirted for a season at Texas-San Antonio before transferring to McNeese a year ago.

For one thing, James finds Cajun cooking a lot more agreeable to his palate than Tex-Mex.

“I’m more used to rice and gravy,” James said. “Salsa picante, burritos and tacos — it was totally different.”

But mostly he is more comfortable playing at home knowing that friends and family will always be around to watch him play.

“I could have went somewhere else, but playing in front of everybody that’s been behind me since Day 1, that meant a lot to me,” James said. “I take a lot of pride in carrying myself better on the field because people around here know me.”

And it certainly didn’t hurt to have a high school teammate, fellow defensive back Aaron Sam, already on the roster to make his transition to McNeese even easier.

“That helped a lot,” James said. “Me and Sam have been friends a long time. Having a chance to strap it up with him definitely had a lot to do with it.”

Kicker Alex Kjellsten, a St. Louis Catholic grad, also came back home after a venture into the big-time. Kjellsten enrolled this summer after spending last year as a walk-on at LSU.

He’s grateful for the chance to suit up for the Tigers in practice, but realized he’d have to go elsewhere to actually play college ball.

“I’d like to thank LSU for giving me a shot there. I loved every minute of it,” Kjellsten said. “But I just wasn’t getting the reps. I wanted to come to a place where I felt I’d be able to compete for a starting job.”

It may seem like McNeese would undoubtedly be that spot, but Kjellsten gave Louisiana’s other FCS schools careful consideration before coming to the program he grew up watching.

“My grandpa has season tickets here. I was always at McNeese football games and after every game I’d come out and kick,” Kjellsten said. “So it feels like home to me to be here right now. That’s what led me to be a McNeese Cowboy. But it wasn’t inevitable when I left LSU. But as time progressed, it some did become inevitable.”

Most Cowboys hail from different cities, and in many cases, different states. But the Lake Charles homebodies say they do their best to make those guys feel the same way they do — whether a player has been here two years or 20, it’s a place to call home.

“I take a lot of pride in Lake Charles,” Kjellsten said. “I love to show guys what we have to offer here.”

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