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New coach aims to make football matter at Lewis & Clark

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - Jay Locey, 59, takes over as football coach at Lewis & Clark College, after spending the previous nine years on the staff at Oregon State.Jay Locey is laying low for a while.

Lewis & Clark College’s new football coach will undergo hernia surgery Friday in Corvallis.

“Not supposed to carry much more than a milk jug for a few weeks, but you can move around, walk, be active,” Locey says. “Shouldn’t be any kind of an impediment.”

That’s good, because Locey has work to do.

The 59-year-old Corvallis native is “fired up” to take on what is the biggest challenge of his professional career — turning around a moribund L&C grid program.

The Pioneers have been the scourge of the Northwest Conference for two decades, with only one winning season over the past 19 years. Their record over that span: 40-123 overall, 17-87 in NWC play. And the Pioneers played only four games in 2005 due to lack of numbers.

Lewis & Clark football futility actually goes back further. Dating to 1971 under Fred Wilson, the Pioneers have had only six winning seasons in 44 years — three of them under Tom Smythe from 1989-91.

L&C was 1-8 in 2013 and 0-9 this fall under head coach Chris Sulages.

Enter Locey, who served as chief of staff for Mike Riley at Oregon State the past two years after serving as associate head coach for the Beavers the previous seven seasons.

“I’m excited for Jay, and I’m excited for Lewis & Clark, which has made a great hire,” says Riley, the one-time Linfield assistant now head coach at Nebraska. “It will be a perfect fit. Jay will impact the young men’s growth and development, and he’ll impact the success of football at Lewis & Clark.

“He’s the kind of guy you want to run a program. He had a remarkable run as head coach at Linfield, and he made a big impact with our program at Oregon State, first as a coach, then with our life skills program. He’ll be every bit as much a mentor to his players as a coach.”

Prior to his time at OSU, Locey served a 23-year run at Linfield, including the last 10 as head coach, leading the Wildcats to a record of 84-18 and the 2004 NCAA Division III national championship.

Linfield remains the power of the Northwest Conference. It’s a different world on Palatine Hill, but Locey is eager for a new adventure.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he says. “The administration has been real supportive. They think it’s important.

“The other thing I’ve gathered from them and alumni, they feel a strong sense of, ‘Let’s go, let’s make something happen, we’re going to be with you.’ I’m really looking forward to it.”

The Lewis & Clark administration’s support has been in question in the past. Lack of financial packaging often has made it difficult to attract quality football talent, and admission requirements can be a challenging piece of the roster-building equation, too.

But there is a growing appreciation for the unifying effect football can have on a college campus.

Barry Glassner, hired as university president in 2010, dean of student life Anna Gonzalez, and new athletic director Shana Levine are among those working to make the program successful and relevant, at least on a regional scale.

“There was a time when football wasn’t a priority for the institution,” says Levine, 35, Lewis & Clark’s AD since July. “It is now.

“We want to make football more competitive. It’s an important program for the college. Jay is the right choice to lead our program into the next chapter. I’m excited to have his leadership on board.”

Jon Jaqua, who has been on the L&C Board of Trustees for several years and was involved in the interviewing process in hiring Locey, has a unique perspective. Jaqua, 66, starred under Fred Wilson and is the only Pioneer to have played in the NFL (Washington, 1970-73). Jaqua is a successful businessman, with homes in Portland and Eugene, and believes his alma mater is ready for a major change.

“More than anything, it’s philosophical,” Jaqua says. “A problem has been not staying current with your ability to compete as you raise your academic standards. When you’re in Division III, with no athletic scholarships, you have to change strategically. I don’t think Lewis & Clark has done that.

“But we are committed to it now, with the president we have and other aspects that will affect the program in a positive way.”

One of those aspects is better use of the school’s multicultural grants, based on need, for minority students. The NWC schools that are similar to Lewis & Clark in terms of academic standing as well as price tag — Willamette and Puget Sound — use such programs.

“The reality is, Lewis & Clark is behind the 8-ball, and it’s not something Jay will turn around in a year,” Jaqua says. “It’s not just the football coach here. Everybody else has to buy into this approach. And there has to be some success on the fundraising side for scholarships and facilities.

“For parents with kids who are high academic performers as well as good athletes, there is an attraction to a college like Lewis & Clark. When you have the capability to provide a variety of scholarships for talents the kids may have — whether academic or merit-based or to increase diversity — it’s an approach that can be beneficial.”

There were 58 players on Lewis & Clark’s roster this fall, with about 40 of them eligible to return. Locey wants to get the squad number to 80 for next season.

“You have to recruit numbers,” Locey says. “I’d like to get a group of 40-plus freshmen in. I’ve talked to the (current) players. They’d like to have a larger crew.

“We’ll push our strong points — the opportunity to play right away, a fresh start with a new program. I want to say we’re going to have a very competent coaching staff. Strong academics, a beautiful campus and venue. ... Lewis & Clark is an incredible place.”

Locey is putting together a staff, using his connections at Oregon State and Linfield for starters. He also will interview some of the members of Solages’ L&C staff.

The 2014 Pioneers, with freshman quarterback Cody Rochon, used the spread

offense, often utilizing four receivers.

“That’s probably the starting point for us next season,” Locey says. “You go with what you’ve got that first fall. Then we’ll see what we can introduce.”

Locey says much of what he’ll employ will be what he learned from former Corvallis High teammate Riley during their nine years together at OSU.

“I had a great tenure at Oregon State, and I learned a lot from Mike, both as as a position coach and in terms of player development, life skills and job networking — the beyond-football stuff,” Locey says. “Those were some really good things I’ll be able to apply at Lewis & Clark.”

The Pioneers hope he’ll be able to lead them to victories on the football field, too.

“The experience and success Jay has had, and the exposure to football at a much higher level in the Pac-12, has us excited,” Jaqua says.

“He has proven himself over a number of years,” Jaqua adds. “We need some real leadership to change the performance in this program. It’s been in such dire need. I think Jay is the guy to do it.”

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