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Lion success: ‘It’s About Time!’

Jasmine Tate

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After 10 years since the re-launch of the football program, this season has been one to remember. Breaking many records, earning a third conference championship and making history with their first appearance and win in the FCS Playoffs, the Lions have ignited excitement and pride among the campus and community.
Students and fans have contributed support like never before, filling Strawberry Stadium and cheering the Lions through each win.
“Back when I played we won the conference two years in a row, and it was nowhere near the magnitude that it is today,” said Billy Ladner, football and baseball All-American. “The community was involved to a certain degree, but not like it is today. We only had 3,600 students, so there was some excitement on the campus, but it wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg of what it is right now. Everybody’s involved now: the community, the university and the former players, just on and on. When [the team] goes on that field and they see this massive humanity, I think they have a tendency to play a little bit better. We’ve got people coming back to campus because of football that probably haven’t been since we played, and that was in the 60s.”
Although the presence in the student section increased for each game this season, both competitions versus Sam Houston State saw the greatest participation from students.  
“The attendance has tremendously grown not just in the community but in the student base,” said Branden Summers, senior marketing major and former Student Government Association president. “There was a time when all the seats around you were empty and you could stretch out on a bench and now you barely have room to jump around because there are just so many people there, and I’m glad. One of the best feelings was when they did the ‘Go Lions’ chant in the stadium when one side said ‘go’ and the other side said ‘Lions.’ I had goose bumps. It brings happy tears. I’ve been to all the games but South Dakota and just to see us come this far and continue to push forward is an amazing feeling.”
Many agree that bringing the football program back was a smart decision that is finally seeing the positive attention it deserves and questions the prominence of the program had it not been discontinued.
“When they brought the program back we were elated because we’ve been wanting it back for years,” said Ladner. “I can’t help but think what would have happened had we not discontinued football. Where would our program be today?  Well, I don’t think it could probably be any better than it is. We’re in the national playoffs. We’re fourth seeded in the nation, number four in the nation on a rated basis. If anybody has to win a championship, it’s about time. It’s long overdo, and the former players, the city of Hammond, and the university, we’re all tickled to death.”
This season’s success has gained the support of students and fans who had never been to a game before, however there are many who have been loyal to the program through wins and losses since the beginning of a new era of Lion football.
“I’m enjoying the ride,” said Ken Magee. “I played back in 1958 until 1961, and I coached here also after that for 13 more years. I’ve been invested in a lot of Southeastern football. My wife and I vowed when we got the program back that we would try to make as many [games] as we could. We’ve played 124 games since we brought the program back and we have been to 122 of them. We’ve been there good and bad for all of these years. It’s been fun of course, and hopefully we’ll have another trip after this week or two. It’s been an exciting ride.”
The emotions of excitement, pride and joy are evident in the expressions and actions of game attendees. Victory and unity have been achieved this season.  
“I’ve never seen the students swarm the field like they did a couple weeks ago when the game was over,” added Magee. “It was an indication of the emotion and finally a breaking point. We win the game and they come on the field so they can be a part of the team themselves. After the ball game is over the last couple of games people are not leaving, they’re just standing and watching and you can tell that has really affected all the people in attendance. I’m proud of the football team and the coaching staff, and I’m especially proud of the way the student body has reacted to it. To see the support that both the community but especially the student body has given has just been amazing.”
The buzz around football does not stop at athletics. Summers acknowledges the impact the attention will have on Southeastern beyond athletics.
“I think it will help out in an academic sense because what it will do with all this highlight coverage on national news and such is promote Southeastern and bring Southeastern back on the map,” said Summers. “This is finally shining a light on Southeastern. It will definitely increase enrollment. When you increase enrollment it brings more money in, more money that is able to be put right back into the classroom.”
As the Lions advance in the playoffs, many have faith that the championship title belongs to Southeastern and are already looking forward to next season.
“The best is yet to come,” said Larry Hymel. “And I don’t just mean playoffs. I’m talking about 2014. [This season] has restored the pride. We’ve had a record number of former football players pay their dues this year; It’s a labor of love for me.”
Ladner references the advantages of this year’s success.
“It just doesn’t get any better than this from a football standpoint at Southeastern,” he said. “Our kids have done an outstanding job. The coaches have done an outstanding job. It has done more for the city of Hammond, the university and also the football team because being a winning program like this is going to help recruiting. We’re going to have people knocking on the door wanting to play ball for Southeastern now.”
The growth of the program is prominent in performance and community involvement and continues to highlight Southeastern pride.
“I think it’s amazing,” said Summers. “We started from the bottom, now we’re here. It’s just a transformation. We brought in a new coach, a new quarterback and improved in all sorts of different areas on the football team. Everyone deserves credit for shaping this team to what it is today. They’ve done a total turn around. I’m so glad I’m here to experience it. I hope we continue to go all the way; no matter where it’s at I’m going. I’ve got to support the Lions, and I love it.”
The Lions will host the University of New Hampshire in Strawberry stadium for the NCAA Quarterfinals on Saturday, Dec. 14 beginning at 6 p.m. Fans are elated and feel special to experience this season with the team.
“Me personally, but I think everybody feels the same way,” said Ladner. “I don’t know if I would’ve felt any more elation had I not played ball. Having played ball before and particularly being on the last championship team it just means a whole lot more to me and it’s really, really special that we’re where we’re at right now.”
 

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