Coach Pete Lembo has his Phoenix rising from the ashes in one of college football’s up and coming programs in the FCS. I had the chance to speak with coach Lembo about his success in transforming the Elon program.
Examiner: Is the road to winning the Southern Conference going to be through Appalachian St. again or is there another team on the rise in the SoCon?
Coach Lembo: No question. Appalachian St. is the team to beat in our conference. Their tradition, resources and top to bottom commitment…the first program to come to mind as a top team year in and year out. We have a tremendous amount of respect for every SoCon program. We don’t take any game for granted. Samford is probably only a year behind us (in contending for the conference championship)…Furman…Georgia Southern…Citadel (all noteworthy).
Examiner: Elon’s first game is against a rising Division I team in Duke University under coach David Cutliffe, who has seen 5 of his quarterbacks (including greats Peyton and Eli Manning) go on to play in the NFL. What is your approach with your players for this particular game?
Coach Lembo: First and foremost you have to carry the confidence that we have…carry it over and believe that you can win the game. When you play a rising program they will not take you for granted. South Florida did (a few years back) and you could tell they looked past us. We were only down 7-3 at half. They (Duke) will not look beyond us.
Examiner: Let’s revisit last year’s heartbreaking first round playoff loss to Richmond for a second. Two missed field goals during the last 90 seconds (of which one was a 27-yard chip shot). On a scale from 1-10, how difficult was it to deal with that type of loss?
Pete Lembo: 9.5. Those are the games that unfortunately creep back in your mind and relive it. But our goal going in was to get in position to win it at the end – and we did. It was a memorable game and a tough loss. We had talked to our kids for four years about how special a playoff game is. Lots of life lessons (from that game).
Examiner: This year’s national championship game finds itself in Frisco, Texas on January 7, 2011. What would winning a game on that date mean to you personally? To the University?
Pete Lembo: Its exciting that we have become a nationally recognized program at our level. The ultimate dream is to win a national championship. A lot of stars have to be aligned. Villanova, a selective private school (like us) did it last year. Only 5 out of the top 20 (nationally ranked teams) last year were private schools.
Examiner: Recruitment. How well did recruitment go this past off-season?
Pete Lembo: I am excited about the freshman class. 9 of 15 are from North Carolina. A strong class from top to bottom. Our credibility has improved. We are seeing more prospects interested and looking at Elon.
Examiner: I was pleasantly surprised when I ran into some of your football players volunteering at Loaves & Fishes (a non-profit organization that distributes food to the poor and hungry) back in May. Does your staff encourage philanthropy and helping the community as part of an overall team philosophy?
Pete Lembo: We do. Every spring we require our players to volunteer their time. We mix and match our players with a point system that we implement. Volunteerism is a component.
Examiner: Did you play at the collegiate level? What position?
Pete Lembo: Georgetown. I was known as the other center besides Alonzo Mourning.
This interview was conducted on Tuesday, July 13, 2010.
To read Part One of this interview with Coach Pete Lembo click here.
To read about Elon’s recent cracking of the top 10 preseason poll click here.