Former NFL head football coach Dan Reeves once said, “Difficulties in life are intended to make us better, not bitter.”
Senior Stephen Sene, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound offensive linemen from Columbia, S.C., may have never heard this quote, but he embodies its meaning all the same. Not only did he experience difficulties early in his career, but he has thus far taken advantage of his opportunity to become a better football player.
Sene was a redshirt freshman during the 2002 season at the University of South Carolina when he suffered a back injury that prevented him from playing a single snap that season. When asked about it, he admitted his frustration.
“I refused to go to any of the games,” Sene said. “Occasionally I would check the score afterwards, but that was about it. (South Carolina) didn’t want you on the sidelines, so that made it tough.”
Sene went on to play eight games for South Carolina before transferring to Dodge City Community College in Dodge City, Kan., where he played one season.
Before the 2005 season, Sene joined the Flames and said it was night and day compared to his previous football experience.
“They treat you like people here, not just players on a field,” he said.
Sene, now a second-year senior, said that he always wondered whether or not he would be able to get his ’02 season back.
“I was always pretty confident that I would get it back, but there’s always that thought, ‘What if you don’t?’” he said.
The answer to Sene’s question came during the 2006 Christmas Break when he received a phone call from the Liberty coaching staff.
“I really didn’t have too much to do with the process,” he explained. “But I had to fill out some forms and explain how an extra year would benefit me personally and as a player.”
The NCAA is not normally in the business of handing out extra years of eligibility, but in Sene’s case, it was not really a surprise. More surprising, perhaps, is Sene’s willingness to return to the field after having such a stellar 2006 season. He was named to the Big South First Team and received Second Team All-State honors. He did not allow a sack all season and led the team in knockdown blocks.
“It was tough because I probably could have gone pro,” he said. “But my family, especially my brother, was really supportive of my decision.”
When asked about Sene returning for another year, Assistant Head Coach Scott Wachenheim had nothing but high praise.
“It’s a great help for our team because Stephen is a solid, strong, dominating player at his position that you can count on to win his assignment every play,” Wachenheim said.
“I think you can always get better,” Sene said. “There are always things you can work on.”
Sene has worked hard in the off-season to fine tune areas of his game, and has already begun receiving attention from several NFL scouts.
The Flames have also been receiving more attention as a team. After a disappointing 1-10 season in 2005, Danny Rocco was brought on as head coach and the Flames improved to 6-5, giving them one of the biggest turnarounds in college football.
Now, they are not catching anyone off guard after being picked to win the Big South ahead of Coastal Carolina.
“Of course you hear about it,” Sene explained. “But preseason polls don’t really have any impact on the actual season.”
The Flames will enter the season having five linemen with considerable starting experience. The unit, anchored by Sene, will look to help an offense that netted over 2,000 yards on the ground last season.
“We’re just looking to continue to improve as a unit,” said Sene, who said that his great respect for Rocco played a role in his returning for another season.
Sene will look to take advantage of the opportunity he was given by the NCAA to play one more year at Liberty. Sene’s outlook on this season can be accurately summed up in his own words, “First Team All-State is nice, but I want to help my team win football games.”
Contact Thomas Lourdeau at email@example.com.