By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State’s Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
NATCHITOCHES — 35 years of professional football were ahead of the Northwestern State football team as they gathered Tuesday for report day activities.
Former Nicholls running back Lionel Vital was a guest speaker who livened up a day of administrative meetings and paperwork. Vital played for the then-Washington Redskins in 1987 before embarking on a scouting and managerial career that lasted until his retirement six months ago.
“He’s lived that journey, and all these guys want to go there,” said Brad Laird, a fifth-year head coach. “To be able to hear from someone who’s from where they’re from, to be a Nicholls running back, to play in the NFL and CFL, and more importantly, to be a scout. He knows what NFL scouts are looking for, and he was able to get that message across to them — not just on the field, but he spoke on the field just as much. That’s a message these guys need to hear.
“It’s a different message. Coming here on Day 1 fitted into his schedule. It was a fitting way to start fall camp.”
Vital’s message of perseverance and success resonated with the assembled group of demons beginning fall camp with a workout at 9:15 am Wednesday.
Vital, a former NFL scout and director of player personnel, spoke and answered questions from an enthralled audience that hung on to nearly every word of his journey from a seventh-round draft pick to being cut to near rejection of a decade-long career scouting and front-line office work.
“I just threw away bits and pieces of 35, relevant stuff to take with them,” Vital said. “It can be one or two things, it can be 10 things that can help them get to the next level. This is her dream. You have to push them to go to class, but they all want to be in the NFL. They all try to reach that level. I try to make life lessons. All this is parallel to life.”
Before Vital’s Q&A segment with the players, he asked the Demons a few questions including what their goals are as a team for the upcoming season and what it means to win as a team.
As Vital repeated some of the team’s responses, those words stuck just as much as those he spoke later.
Vital credited a “rude” uncle who, upon hearing Vital initially turn down an offer to become a scout, told him that his nephew “must have rocks in his head”.
“He gave us a lot of great information that we need as a team before we start our camp,” said senior safety Jabari Reddock, who left Stony Brook in the spring. “We can connect more. As he said, culture is a big deal in any business environment. When we come together as a team, have a great culture and are on the same page, the sky is the limit.”
Vital saw a limitless future almost 40 years ago when another professional athlete spoke to him.
“It makes me feel good to see young men sit and listen and ask questions when they’re deep in what I’m saying,” Vital said. “I feel like I’m helping. They can be doctors or lawyers, or one can end up speaking across the country.
“I was at Nicholls State and Willie Stargell came. He spoke and I loved him. It influenced me. I wanted to do that. Maybe not at that moment, but over the years I’ve been like, ‘Man, that was pretty cool.’ I don’t think I could imagine that if he hadn’t come to my school. This will affect someone in eight to ten years. Someone will grab a microphone and talk.”
— Featured graphic by Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services