Two former Saluki football standouts will take their gridiron expertise to the sidelines this season.
Mike McElroy and Connor James, members of the SIU football team from 2007-11, will serve as volunteer assistants for coach Kerry Martin and the Marion Wildcats this fall.
James, a former inside linebacker, and McElroy, a safety, will focus on the ball’s defensive side for the team as well as special teams. James said he was happy to get a start at coaching, especially with his close friend McElroy.
“I want to get my feet wet,” James said. “I’ve always loved the game. It means the world to me, and I think I’ll always have to be involved with the game in some way, and to be able to work with Mike is great.”
For McElroy, the opportunity at Marion is a stepping-stone en route to the realization of a dream.
“I think I’ve known since my sophomore year of high school that I wanted to be a high school football coach.” McElroy said. “My dad (Bill) is a coach, and it’s always been my dream profession.”
James said he became interested in the job at Marion when Martin delivered a pregame speech to the SIU team in 2010. From there, the two kept in touch through e-mail.
“I really respected a lot of the things he had to say,” James said. “Throughout the year we would encourage each other after good wins, things like that. I really bought into what he had to say.”
On a bye week from the college season last year, James took in a Marion game to see how the program worked. Both James and McElroy met with Martin at the April 14 SIU football coaches clinic, where he was a guest speaker, to discuss the possibility for volunteer opportunity.
While the two men come from different coaching backgrounds, coach Dale Lennon said he expects the experience to be positive for McElroy and James as well as the Marion players.
“I’ve always known Mike was interested in coaching; it’s something that he’s always expressed interest in,” Lennon said. “It will be great for Connor, too. They’re going to be good for the program.”
Lennon said the Wildcats — who finished 8-3 last season — will benefit most from the added passion and excitement James and McElroy will bring to practice and games.
“Coach Martin has that program in pretty good shape right now,” Lennon said. “I think they will be able to help the players with techniques and things like that, but mostly they will bring enthusiasm. They are going to be getting their feet wet and seeing what high school football is all about.”
Regardless of the results, the former Salukis are happy for another year of competition on the same team.
“We’ve been through five years of struggles in a Division I setting, and now the opportunity for us to work together has been fun and encouraging,” McElroy said. “We share a deep passion for the game, and our friendship has grown and developed since we were freshmen. We are really excited for the opportunity.”