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He's had four losing seasons in six years at Tulane -- including a 5-6 record last fall -- but Chris Scelfo isn't worried about the program's future.
He's encouraged that his young team finished strong in 2004 and believes the Green Wave will use the momentum to rebound this fall. He's encouraged that junior quarterback Lester Ricard, who broke his wrist in a late-season game versus Army, might keep a Tulane streak alive and develop into an NFL-caliber quarterback. Scelfo is also encouraged by a starting linebacker corps that may be the strongest in Conference USA.
Scelfo isn't the only one on campus who shares such optimism. The administration is as upbeat about the program's foundation. In December, the Green Wave announced that Scelfo's contract had been extended through '09.
Tulane won four of its final six games in '04 and beat bowl-bound UAB and Navy during the stretch. The Green Wave also defeated TCU on the road.
"We grew up a lot last year," Scelfo said. "We stuck together through adversity and really came through some things."
In his first year as a starter, Ricard, a transfer from LSU, put up impressive numbers despite a late-season injury that forced him to miss two games. Ricard ranked ninth nationally in passing efficiency after completing 62 percent of his attempts with 21 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
The Green Wave must find a deep threat to replace Roydell Williams, one of three departing receivers who combined for 103 catches for more than 1,600 yards and 22 touchdowns. What remains is a relatively inexperienced group paced by Damarcus Davis, Bubba Terranova and Fred Smith.
Sophomore Matt Forte and senior Jovon Jackson will anchor the Green Wave running game. Both players rushed for 624 yards last season. Forte runs with a make-you-miss style and is effective as a pass receiver. Jackson, a more physical back, started seven games and averaged a team-leading 5.0 yards per carry.
Four seniors -- Joe Traina, Matt Traina, Chris McGee and Donald Madlock -- are back to start again on the offensive line. Madlock missed the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery, but he should ready for the season.
Tulane will not have a senior on its defensive front, but that doesn't particularly worry Scelfo, since sophomore defensive end Antonio Harris and sophomore defensive tackle Avery Williams started as freshmen.
Tulane's senior linebackers -- Antonio Mason, Anthony Cannon and Brandon Spincer -- give the defense its anchor. Cannon, an all-conference candidate, led the Green Wave with 107 tackles, his third consecutive 100-tackle season.
The secondary is led by cornerbacks Sean Lucas and Israel Route, who Scelfo contends must be more physical this fall for the Green Wave to be successful.
"I thought we took a step back last year (from the) standpoint of trying to be physical and being good tacklers on the perimeter," Scelfo said.
The best news for the defensive backfield is the return of free safety Tra Boger, who missed '04 with a leg injury. Boger, the physical kind of defensive back Scelfo covets, led the Green Wave with 133 tackles two years ago.
The kicking game, always a strength at Tulane, should be strong again. Punter Chris Beckman, a first-team all-conference pick, averaged 42.7 yards last year to lead C-USA and rank in the top 20 nationally. The placekicking duties may go to junior Barrett Pepper, who kicked just three extra points last year after serving as the team's primary kicker in '03.
There are some gaps Tulane must fill if it hopes to avoid a third straight losing season. The Green Wave must develop a backup to Ricard. Terranova, Smith and Davis need to display the leadership and play-making ability they did in the spring. With depth at tight end, Scelfo may employ more two tight-end sets than he has in the past.
Defensively, Scelfo is confident in his starting linebackers but waiting for dependable backups to emerge. It is imperative that the Green Wave become stronger against the run if it intends to challenge for one of the league's five bowl games. And it will be necessary for the Tulane secondary to be more physical than it was a year ago.