Jim Gazzolo column: Whatever you call it, it’s starting over

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, July 27, 2023

Gary Goff doesn’t like the term rebuilding.

The second-year McNeese State head football coach says that deflates the season being played.

So for him the Cowboys are not in a rebuilding stage. We can call it remaking, if he prefers.

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No question about this though, the McNeese roster has been remade in a little more than a year.

Last March, when the Cowboys broke spring camp, there were 56 players on the roster. That’s it.

Practices had to be stopped in order for players to rest because there were not enough healthy Cowboys to go around.

“It is a tough situation,” said Goff at the time. “We have to take breaks because we don’t have enough players. We are calling them rain delays.”

The numbers added up to a 4-7 season last fall. It was the Cowboys’ third consecutive losing season.

That doesn’t happen at McNeese often (the only other time was a four-season losing streak from 1967- 1970), and isn’t how a program declares it’s ready for the next level in the college football world.

Goff knew something had to change, especially when he took a good, long look at this year’s roster after last November.

The Cowboys have four seniors coming back. As for their junior class, it wasn’t much better.

The team was young and inexperienced. McNeese returns 33 lettermen but few starters. Goff knew he had to get more bodies and quick.

Help though, is here.

When McNeese opens camp on Sunday there will be 57 new players on the roster.

“We needed to find players who had game experience,” Goff said. “We had to find some guys who had played some football.”

While most schools in similar situations went searching through the NCAA transfer portal world, McNeese’s coaching staff went in a different direction.

They did get a few players from there but McNeese went to junior colleges to find help. The Cowboys added 22 juniors to their roster while also signing a healthy freshman class.

Of the 22 some 14 have come from the junior college ranks as the Cowboys are expecting 110 players to enter camp next week. Most of the junior college help comes from Mississippi.

“They play really good football over there,” Goff said. “I asked if we had ever really recruited there in the past and we hadn’t.”

Now the Cowboys have.

Truth be told, McNeese never needed to go the junior college route.

McNeese teams of the past have been built the same way for the most part. Good freshman class, a few sprinkled in transfers from bigger schools and development.

That doesn’t work in today’s game.

The transfer portal makes it hard to keep talent and develop it. Goff figured that out in his first season on campus.

So he flipped the model. He said he still hopes development matters at McNeese but he also understands that getting experienced players who have been overlooked is another way to go.

It may not be the traditional way to rebuild, but Goff doesn’t want to rebuild anyway.

A quick remodel or extreme makeover, that seems to suit him just fine.

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