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Flames Feature: Sene's Second Chance
Sene and his offensive line compatriots were in a positional meeting last fall, when they started joking about what it would be like if the 6-6, 310-pound tackle could play one more year for the Flames. Liberty Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Scott Wachenheim overheard the exchange and joined in the conversation.
Wachenheim quickly found out Sene had gotten injured on the third day of preseason camp at Dodge City Community College in 2004 and never played for the team. The Flames coaching staff then decided to turn in paperwork to the NCAA, requesting an extra year of eligibility for Sene, due to medical hardship.
Sene, one of three FBS transfers on the Liberty starting offensive line, was left in a unique situation at the end of the 2006 season. Would he return to the Flames in 2007 or would he attempt to start an NFL career? Sene decided he was content, regardless of the NCAA's decision.
"I had just completed my senior season and had a pretty good year," the Columbia, S.C., native explained. "I was satisfied with the way everything turned out."
To classify his 2006 campaign as "pretty good" may have been a bit of an understatement. Sene earned first-team All-Big South and second-team VaSID all-state recognition, after grading out at a team-best 93 percent and not allowing a sack all season. Sene also helped the Flames rank No. 18 nationally with 185 rushing yards per game. Most importantly, he played a key role in Liberty's five-win improvement from the previous season.
Sene knew he would have to keep himself in top shape during the winter, regardless, and Liberty Head Football Coach Danny Rocco confirmed he did just that.
"Stephen actually wasn't on our roster for about two months during the winter, but he didn't skip a beat," noted Rocco. "He was still up at 6 a.m. and working hard in the weight room."
Finally, the NCAA announced Sene would be allowed one more season of eligibility. Rocco has fond memories of that day.
"It was a very special day for me when I told Stephen he'd gotten another year of eligibility," Rocco recalled. "It was great news for me and he was very excited."
"I had to figure out how to get back into the mindset of playing football for Liberty," remembered Sene. "I then decided that I needed to show whoever may be watching that I can be a dominant, consistent and coachable player."
The team and coaching staff happily welcomed Sene back into the fold and made No. 68 a team captain at the close of spring practice.
"Stephen has earned a reputation as a real leader of this football team," remarked Rocco. "His physical strength and power are significant, and his maturity and character are essential to our team."
And Sene has helped lead the Flames in the right direction. The preseason favorite to capture its first-ever Big South Conference title, Liberty has posted an even 3-3 mark to open the season. The Flames will begin their pursue of the program's first conference title next weekend when Liberty travels to Charleston, S.C., to face the Buccaneers of Charleston Southern.
Again, the massive (by FCS standards) offensive line has excelled, allowing just five total sacks (ranking No. 11 nationally) and paving the way for the Flames to rush for 188.7 yards per contest.
Sene is a leader during his time away from the gridiron as well, serving as youth pastor at White Rock Tree of Life. The redshirt senior, who is working toward a master's degree in human services during his extra year at Liberty, has always enjoyed working with children and young adults.
"Back home, I always enjoyed helping out with youth camps," stated Sene. "That's the passion the Lord has given me - to use football as a platform and to be a role model to young people."
Sene feels so strongly about this calling that the quality of Liberty's youth ministry program comprised the biggest reason he transferred to Liberty from Dodge City Community College in 2005.
"I had never heard of Liberty before Coach [former Flames defensive coordinator Steve] Carson visited Dodge City during the winter of 2004," admitted Sene. "I then came on a visit and fell in love with the campus. I also met Dr. Steve Vandegriff and was very impressed with the youth ministry program here."
Attending Liberty also allowed Sene to resume his collegiate football career, while meeting the two criteria he had established after an unhappy two years at South Carolina.
A much-heralded recruit out of Dutch Fork High School, Sene had chosen to play college football for his home state team, the South Carolina Gamecocks. He made his way up the depth chart for the SEC squad, starting two games during his redshirt freshman season in 2003 and earning the starting left guard spot the following spring. How could someone be unhappy, with the prospect of starting three years at a BCS school waiting on the horizon?
Sene explained, "Big-time programs like South Carolina are more interested in you as a player than as a person. A lot of empty promises are made to you during the recruiting process. Most importantly, though, the Lord did not want me there. So, I met with Coach [Lou] Holtz and he said, ‘Who am I to stand in the way of God?'
So, Sene headed to Kansas and Dodge City Community College for a year. He still wanted to play football at the highest level, but did not wish to do so at a secular school. Liberty was one of the few places which matched both qualifications, although some must have certainly questioned the "play football at the highest level" component at the time.
Sene and the Flames struggled to a 1-10 season during his first year on the team in 2005. After the year was completed, Danny Rocco was hired as the seventh head football coach in program history. He immediately sought to transform the team's mindset, which Sene believes has been the most important underlying reason to the team's reversal in fortune on the field.
"Under Coach Rocco, we've undergone a full transformation," explained Sene. "We started believing in what we were doing and realized that we are here for a purpose and have a duty to accomplish. We have a common goal and prepare ourselves to achieve it every day.
"As a team, we have bought into the words painted on the signs in our locker room, which read, ‘Prepare to Win' and ‘Expect to Win'," he continued. "Before Coach Rocco got here, that was not always our mindset when we took the field each Saturday."
Sene not only prepares and expects to win, but spends considerable amounts of time before each game visualizing success. He runs through each play in his mind and always sees himself dominating the player lined up across from him.
Sene has been successful in playing out his idealistic visualizations on the field on a regular basis lately, making the Liberty coaching staff, players and fans even more thankful about his extra season in the trenches for the Flames' offensive unit.
The left tackle is not alone in picturing and anticipating positive results when it comes to the 2007 Liberty football season. Many people associated with the Flames have certainly imagined the squad hoisting the Big South Conference championship trophy after the year's final contest, Nov. 17 at Gardner-Webb. How fitting it would be for Sene's second senior year to culminate with the Flames' first Big South title. He would then be assured of leaving a lasting impression within the annals of Liberty football history.
Written by Paul Carmany
Liberty University Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director