Homeward-bound athletes: Return to resume college careers with fresh start

Published 8:31 am Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Finding out the grass isn’t always greener, a few big-name area athletes have returned home in hopes of helping flip some struggling McNeese State programs around.

They are the headlines to a growing story of how interest in the Lake Charles school has grown as the campus and town continue to rebuild from the storms of 2020.

“A lot of things are changing and heading in the right direction here,” said Paris Guillory. “I wanted to be a part of what is taking place here.”

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Guillory was an all-state high school basketball player at St. Louis Catholic who left to play at Louisiana Tech after winning two state titles with the Saints. After a strong freshman season in Ruston, the guard entered the NCAA transfer portal.

After looking around, Guillory decided there was no place like home.

“Things have changed a lot around here and town,” Guillory said. “A few years ago it was a ghost town. Now, everything is new and growing.”

Guillory lived through Hurricanes Laura and Delta that destroyed the area and the McNeese campus. Getting away from all that was part of the reason some athletes left.

Helping in the continued recovery is why they are coming back.

“My house got hit and I remember what that was like,” said Tre’Vonte Citizen, a four-star running back from Lake Charles College Prep who transferred after two years at Miami.

“I know this community and how resilient we are. Lake Charles strong. It is good to be back home and I remember how this (McNeese) program used to dominate the (Southland Conference). I want to help bring that back.”

Citizen is one of two Football Bowl Subdivision locals transferring to McNeese. Curtis DeVille made the move at the semester and showed his talents during the spring.

The Iowa High receiver spent two years at Purdue before coming home.

“I want to be a part of this program’s return to winning,” DeVille said in the spring. “It has a good history and getting back there is what we are trying to do.”

Football and women’s basketball are the two programs that have struggled the most in recent years. There are many of reasons for each. Both also made new hires in the offseason in an effort to change the recruiting direction.

Each program created positions for recruiting coordinators. Aaron Ingram took over the job for football as chief of staff.

Women’s basketball hired Mike Pittman as associate head coach, giving him the recruiting reins.

“Coach Pittman has been a huge help for us,” said McNeese women’s head coach Lynn Kennedy. “He knows Louisiana and Texas and has really opened up some doors.”

Kennedy also said getting area kids like Guillory was a important move for the Cowgirls.

“It has taken a lot of work and time and I have to give the administration some credit for giving us the resources to do it,” said Kennedy, who arrived at McNeese three years ago from Portland State in the Pacific Northwest. “Before it was hard to even get kids on the phone. It has been a different conversation this spring, especially ones from Louisiana.”

Guillory led to four players from Louisiana who signed with the Cowgirls this year, a change from a team that had none from the state on last season’s roster.

“It was important that we changed the way we were doing things,” Athletic Director Heath Schroyer said. “We wanted to do a better job recruiting kids from our area.

“We felt we needed to add to our staff to keep up with the changes in recruiting.”

Football has done that, bringing in 19 transfers from the FBS level, tops in Football Championship Subdivision. Even the players are helping in recruiting.

“I knew I wanted to come here and talked to other players to get them interested in McNeese,” Citizen said. “I want to reestablish this program for the team, school, and town. This is my home.”

Each newcomer has their reasons for picking McNeese.

“I can’t wait to be back on the field and see the stands full again,” Citizen said.

That would prove it is greener sometimes to stay home.