THIBODAUX – A philosophy Tim Rebowe brought to Nicholls three years ago was put to the test last Sunday as the Colonels waited to see if they would be in the 24-team field in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
“We always had the mentality that the glass was half full and that’s how we were going to operate,” Rebowe said.
Being nationally ranked and sporting an 8-2 record entering the regular-season finale at Southeastern Louisiana last Thursday, the Colonels were in position to punch their invitation to the playoffs with a win over the Lions.
A 21-17 loss to Southeastern Louisiana, however, left the Colonels on the proverbial bubble.
“We still had it on our mind we still had a chance to go but nobody really knew. After losing, we thought it hurt our chances of going a little bit but we still had the mindset that we were still going. We went into the weekend preparing like we were in it,” said Evan Veron, a sophomore linebacker from Riverside Academy.
“We knew if we won the game, there would be no doubt. We knew if we lost we would be on the bubble. After the game, we just had our fingers crossed and just wanting for the brackets,” said Ahmani Martin, a junior defensive back from East St. John.
There were anxious moments as the Colonels gathered on campus last Sunday to watch the selection show on TV.
“We talked about it all week. We thought nine wins would guarantee you a spot in and probably host a playoff game,” Rebowe said. “After we lost the game, there was a little disappointment. We came in Friday and had our team meeting and we told them to keep their head up that 8-3 was a fantastic season but it’s not over yet. I felt confident that the whole body of work would get us in.
“I knew a couple of things had to happen on Saturday, nothing major. Saturday some seven-win teams started losing and it kept us in. I didn’t think we’d host. Once you see your name pop up there and you will be a host team, there will be a lot excitement in that room.”
Not only did the Colonels find out they would play South Dakota, Nicholls also learned it would host the first-round game at 3 p.m. Saturday.
It’s quite an accomplishment for Nicholls. The year before Rebowe arrived; Nicholls went through a 0-12 season. It also didn’t take long to figure out attendance that season in a sparse Guidry Stadium.
As the Colonels improved – winning three games in 2015, five last season, and eight this year, more and more fans began to fill the stands – allowing Nicholls to host a playoff game for the first time in school history.
“It goes back to Day 1 when we talked about the philosophy of bringing in a lot of good players from this area. We said if you put a good product on the field, the people will come,” Rebowe said.
At the beginning, it was just a philosophy. There were no wins, packed stands or playoff appearances when Martin arrived with the rest of his now-junior class.
“When I came over, it was a leap of faith but I put my trust in Coach Rebowe and his plan that he had. When I got here, I wouldn’t say it was a losing mentality that they had, but at the same time, it all starts with the head coach. We don’t have a head coach with a losing mentality and it the players; it’s like a domino effect,” said Martin.
The philosophy began to take hold.
“We didn’t want any negative vibes coming out of anywhere in any part of your department, be it in the weight room, the training room, the managers, the secretaries,” Rebowe said. “That was our philosophy going forward. You start living that every day and you start talking about winning and talking about winning on and off the field and those guys bought into it.
“That first class was three wins. Those guys bought into it. They knew we could have had a couple of more wins that year and just laid the ground work.”
By the time the next class, which included the likes of Veron and defensive lineman Sully Laiche of Lutcher arrived, the mentality already had started to take hold.
“You could tell the coaches were all fired up coming to practice. You knew it was down for so long and the tradition here wasn’t too good. The coaches did a real good job of (turning around the mentality),” Laiche said.
“Those guys being from the area, they knew each other and played against each other, they knew we were building something special. He (Laiche) knew what kind of special player Ahmani Martin was and Evan Veron and the guys from Baton Rouge and New Orleans we had on the team. Those guys still had to go out and do it. They went out there and believed in each other and played for each other and that’s a big thing,” said Rebowe.
The turnaround came in large measure by the recruitment of River Parish and other nearby high school players.
River Parish players have made an immediate impact. On defense, Martin, Veron and Laiche, along with linebacker Allen Pittman from Destrehan and Hezekiah White out of John Curtis and a native of Boutte often are on the field at the same time. Another linebacker, Aquindas Steib of St. James, has seen action on defense and special teams.
A River Parish player also has started to make his presence known on offense.
Running back Tahj Smith, a redshirt freshman from St. Charles Catholic, rushed for 177 yards in the Colonels’ 34-13 win over Stephen F. Austin and 84 in the loss to Southeastern Louisiana last week.
“The coaches gave me a chance to prepare for when my time came and I was ready. Whenever they call you, you have to perform,” Smith said of his recent contributions.
Other River Parish players dotting the Nicholls roster include receivers Morrell Bartholomew of West St. John, Dontaze Costly and Arron McKenney, both of St. James and Darrion Cook of Riverside, along with defensive back Austin Dickerson of Destrehan, quarterback Kohen Granier of Destrehan, and defensive back Jamal Walters of West St. John.
All those River Parish players now have a chance to make history. A victory over playoff newcomer South Dakota would mark the Colonels’ first postseason win since a 28-26 win over Appalachian State in 1986.
“It’s my first time in the playoffs. It’s (South Dakota’s) first time in the playoffs. It’s our first home game in the playoffs. I know it’s going to be tough for them being their first time in the playoffs on the road. We are coming to win. We’re not here just to be here. We’re not content with that,” said Martin.