Jim Gazzolo column: Goff goes for talent upgrade

Published 12:37 pm Thursday, June 9, 2022

Times have definitely changed.

It wasn’t long ago when McNeese State would celebrate the occasional transfer from a big program coming to town.

The Cowboys roster has seen its share of what was known back then as “bounce-back” players, those who saw their time at power schools end and were looking for a place to reboot their careers.

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The latest big name was Isaiah Chambers who recently left McNeese after last season.

Now, with college sports entering the world of free agency and players moving in and out of the NCAA transfer portal as if it was a revolving door, the Cowboys are becoming a landing spot for talent.

They are not alone. Next year’s Southland Conference rosters will be filled with portal transfers from all over the country as schools look for the get-rich quick turnarounds.

In past seasons McNeese would often play catchup in this game, choosing a few added pieces compared to other programs that brought in transfers by the bundles. Their open-door policies won games and caused headaches for sure. But that’s the odds you are fighting.

“We do our vetting of every player as best we can,” said McNeese head football coach Gary Goff who has been on the job for six months. “You have to be careful to the individuals you bring into your program.”

To be sure, there are risks, but no longer does the trickle-down effect work now that the flood gates have been opened. So it’s good to see the new Cowboys staff joining in the fun.

Southeastern Luisiana had a starting quarterback last year who came from the Southeastern Conference. Nicholls State has turned its program around over the last few years by doing the same thing.

Incarnate Word won the SLC title last fall with a quarterback who had big-time skills and left for Washington State. Meanwhile, McNeese was starting somebody who was once a walk-on and fifth string. So a talent upgrade was a must.

When the McNeese roster was updated with the start of summer school this week, no fewer than 16 Cowboys were listed who have ties to college football’s biggest division, the Football Bowl Subdivision.

It is an influx of talent not seen in these parts to this level.

Goff understood when he took over just before the new year that he had to change two things right away.

First, he had to change the culture. Since the hurricanes in 2020 there has been a feeling of being the victims with the Cowboys. There are obviously good reasons for that, but it also helped lead to a 7-11 combined post-storms record with more talent leaving the program then coming into it.

But that led to the second change needed, that of talent level. McNeese needed bigger, faster, stronger players. That meant recruiting.

While Goff says he doesn’t like the transfer portal, he has to use it or be left behind.

“It’s what the game is now,” he said.

So his staff went out and made sure they got both a solid group of freshmen but also guys who can help immediately.

To that end Goff landed not one but two quarterbacks fresh from FBS teams. The latest is Cam’Ron Ransom, a lefty with a strong arm and body that looks the part of a big-time player. He comes from Georgia Southern, where before a coaching change he was considered the future of the Sun Belt program.

Ransom joins Kade Kadum, a more traditional drop-back QB from Virginia Tech, a school on the Power Five level.

Add Walker Wood, a former Kentucky QB and you have a room full of talent. Last year that was not the case. After starter Cody Orgeron the chairs were filled with young kids and nice guys.

This is the first time McNeese has ever had three transfers from larger programs battling for a starting job. Anybody who has sat through the last few seasons know the biggest thing missing from McNeese was talent.

There were a lot of young kids thrown into the fire of battle before they were ready. Nobody’s fault, just the product of numerous coaching changes, academic probation and storms that made it easy for good players to look elsewhere.

Football games are won by discipline, drive and talent, three things the Cowboys have been lacking since the days of Matt Viator (2006-15) at the helm.

Not surprisingly, that’s the last time McNeese made the playoffs.

Goff didn’t stop at quarterback either. He has a running back from FBS, four new defensive backs, a defensive lineman from the SEC and a linebacker out of the University of Houston, where Chambers came from.

Add a couple of receivers to help make plays and suddenly you have a new team.

Of course, none of this means a championship is coming this fall. You don’t move into a new home just because the foundation has been set. There is still lots of work to do, that is for sure.

But all good journeys start with a first step and getting talent on campus is that first step.

Now, about those lights and that press box, well there are still steps to go in this rebuild.


Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com