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Elons Lembo an up-and-comer in college coaching
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There’s no question Pete Lembo is one of the rising stars in the Division I football coaching ranks.
    At the age of 36 the first year Elon coach is currently the second youngest in Division I. He came to the Phoenix from Lehigh where he was head coach for five years, posting an impressive 44-14 record with the Mountain Hawks.
    Lembo was the offensive and recruiting coordinator on current The Citadel coach Kevin Higgins’ staff with the Hawks. When Higgins went to the Detroit Lions as quarterbacks coach Lehigh tapped Lembo for the job.
    With that record of success the question is why, if you’re going to take another job, go to Elon? The Phoenix is one of four Southern Conference schools to have won a national championship in football – Elon was NAIA champs in 1980 – but it last had a winning season in 2000, going 14-42 since.
    “I felt I was at a point in my coaching career where I had to do something,” said Lembo. “This represented a chance to build a program and prove myself…to build and manage a program, to push myself out of that comfort zone.
    “Elon has a lot of things that fit my background, the academics, etc.,” said Lembo, a Georgetown graduate. “Plus, they were in a strong I-AA conference. Elon knew what it was looking for, and I knew what I was looking for.
    “I felt it added up to a combination that would make it a good fit,” said Lembo. “For years football was on the front porch at Elon. Hopefully, now’s the time for football to step back to the forefront.”
    Elon is far from being one of the upper echelon teams in the Southern Conference, but the Phoenix are quickly developing into one of the feel good stories of this SoCon season.
    Elon (3-2, 1-1) hasn’t won four games since 2002, but it is coming off a 37-19 smacking of Western Carolina that has the Phoenix players starting to believe in themselves. They will get a reality check Saturday when they take on an angry Georgia Southern (2-3, 1-1) team. Game time is 1 p.m. at Paulson Stadium and the Phoenix are 0-6 against the Eagles, losing the last three games by a combined score of 34-134.
    However, this is not the same Georgia Southern team which has ran over Elon with ease. Under first year head coach Brian VanGorder the Eagles are a team in transition that is having problems maintaining a level of consistency on both offense and defense.
    “They’re an outstanding football team,” said Lembo of the Eagles. “I know they’ve had a couple of tough losses, but watching them on film they’ve got some outstanding personnel, and they’re well coached. Obviously, it’s a very tough place to win on the road.”
    While Lembo is in the first year of his rebuilding program the Phoenix are not without talent.
    Linebacker Chad Nkang is the reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Year and he and Eagle linebacker John Mohring are both contenders for the Buck Buchanan Award which goes to the best defensive player in I-AA.
    Nkang, a 6-1, 216 pound senior, leads the SoCon in tackles with 11 per game and Mohring is second at 9.8. Sophomore linebacker Corey Weaver had 25 tackles in Elon’s 45-21 loss at Appalachian State two weeks ago.
    Among Elon’s three wins is a season opening 23-20 victory at Coastal Carolina. The other win was 28-0 over Presbyterian.
    “I think it went up a notch on Saturday after beating Western Carolina,” said Lembo of his team’s confidence level. “We had a tough game at Appalachian the week before, but our kids bounced back and we really clicked on Saturday.
    “We had a very good week of preparation for Coastal Carolina and a good week of practice going into Western Carolina,” said Lembo. “Those were our two best games of the year performance wise. I am hoping our team has learned lessons from the preparation aspect and will have another good week going into this game.”
    Elon has the top passing offense in the conference and it is triggered by quarterback Wes Pope who played tight end under former coach Paul Hamilton.
    Pope had an outstanding high school career, passing for 6,288 yards and 77 touchdowns. However, when Hamilton came to Elon he brought his son, Kye, with him, and there was no question as to who was going to play quarterback.
    Now in Lembo’s spread option offense the rapidly improving Pope is thriving, throwing for 229 yards per game, and leading the SoCon in total offense. He has a pair of excellent receivers in freshman Terrell Hudgins who has 29 catches for 501 yards, and junior Michael Mayers with 28 receptions for 316.
    At 73 yards per game Elon’s running game has been non-existent, and that is an area of major concern to Lembo. The Phoenix have also allowed a league high nine sacks.
    “I have a lot of concerns about this game, but at the top of the list would just be holding up up front,” said Lembo. “I am impressed with Georgia Southern’s personnel across the board, but particularly up front.
    “Their defensive and offensive lines are very good,” said Lembo, “Defensively they’ve got guys who look like offensive linemen, but move like defensive linemen.”