NAPLES — In the prairie lands of Bethany, Okla., the Southern Nazarene University football stadium will be packed today with 2,500 hundred fans rooting for the Crimson Storm as they open up their Central States Football League season against the Warriors of Bacone College.
The 2,500 is a pretty good number considering Southern Nazarene has just 2,100 students. Some of those fans will look at the Crimson Storm’s roster in their game programs and see the overwhelming majority of the team’s 85 players hail from Texas, Arkansas, Illinois or Oklahoma.
Hidden among all the tumbleweed towns listed in the player profiles, fans will notice a common point of origin for the Storm’s three out-of-place players: Naples. And even more specific: Lely.
When the Storm’s starting running back Fafa Alce takes a handoff for the first time and breaks to the right, he will be repeating something he has been doing nearly his entire life — following Billy Lucas.
Alce and Lucas grew up together on Guilford Road in East Naples. Lucas went to Shadowlawn Elementary school. So did Alce. Same thing with East Naples Middle School. Same with Lely and the Trojans’ football team. Same with Southern Nazarene. Alce running and Lucas, at right guard, blocking.
Though Lucas is a senior and Alce is a junior, the two are the same age, having graduated from Lely in 2005. With Alce redshirting last season, he’s a year behind football-wise.
Added into the Alce/Lucas tandem is sophomore outside linebacker Adrian Valdes, who graduated from Lely a few years after his local teammates in 2008.
The trio are trying to lead the NAIA-level Storm to the playoffs after starting the season at 2-2. Making the postseason is important. Making it together would be special.
“I see (Lucas) as a brother,” said Alce, who was All-County at Lely in 2005. “I’ll always be there for him and I know the reverse is true.
“In football, I know how he plays. He knows how I play. I know he’ll always be there for me on the field. I expect him to get the job done and he expects me to get the job done. There’s a lot of stuff around here I’m not used to — a lot of farmland. Having some teammates out here makes the environment better.”
Like Lucas, who initially went to Sacred Heart after Lely, Alce took a circuitous route to Bethany. Alce accepted a scholarship offer from Division I-AA Central Connecticut State. But when the funding wasn’t enough to cover his education costs, Alce started looking elsewhere.
When they were seniors at Lely, Alce, Lucas and a few other Trojans players, being recruited by SNU coach Mike Cochran, took a trip out to Bethany. When things didn’t work out at their first choice, SNU was waiting.
“I was the first one to come out,” said Lucas, a criminal justice major. “I can’t complain, it’s been a great experience. I told (Fafa) it wasn’t so bad out here. He should give it a shot and have an opportunity to continue to play football.”
The two look at Valdes, who earned a starting spot on defense as a freshman last year, as their younger brother. Valdes and Alce are roommates, with the older player looking out for his teammate.
“I give him advice like staying positive on the field and in the classroom,” said Alce, who is studying business management. “I really try to push him.”