Joe Scelfo speaks in a nearly perfect, unadorned broadcast tone. Somehow, the N.C. State center did not inherit his father’s distinctive Cajun, southern Louisiana accent.
The passion for football, however, did not skip a generation in the Scelfo family. The son of a son of a football coach, the game is in Scelfo’s blood.
Monday’s Independence Bowl (5 p.m., ESPN2) matchup between the Wolfpack (6-6) and Vanderbilt (6-6) will be equal parts bowl game and Scelfo family reunion.
Scelfo (pronounced SELL-fo), who grew up in New Orleans while his dad, Chris, was the head coach at Tulane, expects to have more than 40 family members in Shreveport, La. for his last college game.
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“The Scelfos, man, we travel and we’re a close family,” Scelfo said. “It will be a little crazy.”
It will be the first bit of chaos in what has been a seamless transition for Scelfo, a graduate transfer from South Alabama.
N.C. State went into the season needing three new starters on the offensive line. A pair of reserves last year, Tyler Jones and Garrett Bradbury, emerged from the roster. Scelfo did his homework and found his way to N.C. State from Mobile, Ala.
An all-conference center last year for South Alabama, Scelfo graduated in May and started looking for schools that needed offensive line help. He picked N.C. State, whom he played against during the 2015 season (a 63-13 Wolfpack win), and enrolled in the summer. It didn’t take long for him to ingratiate himself to his new teammates.
The Scelfos, man, we travel and we’re a close family. It will be a little crazy.
“The first day Joe got here, I knew he was going to be a great leader,” junior tight end/fullback Jaylen Samuels said. “He’s just a great person. He’s always in a great mood and ready to work.”
Scelfo’s outgoing personality and impeccable football knowledge helped him fill an immediate role in N.C. State’s offense.
Like quarterback Ryan Finley, Scelfo was walking into a new situation with new teammates as a graduate transfer. Unlike Finley, he didn’t have a pre-existing understanding of offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz’s scheme. That didn’t matter.
“Joe’s a really smart player,” Finley said. “He was able to pick it up and then help everyone else. He definitely has a passion for football.”
More to life than football
Given Scelfo’s family background, it would have been hard not to love the sport. His grandfather, Sam, was a longtime high school coach in southern Louisiana, notably in Abbeville.
Scelfo’s dad and uncle Frank both went into their father’s family business. Chris was the head coach at Tulane and most recently was an NFL assistant. Frank is an assistant at Texas-San Antonio and previously worked in the NFL and for his brother at Tulane.
Chris, who played center at what is now known as Louisiana-Monroe, got his first full-time coaching job when he was 27 at Marshall in 1990.
He followed Jim Donnan, who played quarterback for N.C. State in the mid-1960s, from Marshall to Georgia in 1996, where he was an assistant until taking the head job at Tulane in 1998.
Scelfo, was who born in 1994, remembers his mom, Nancy, taking him to his dad’s office at Georgia.
“I’d go and sit with him in his office and eat lunch,” Scelfo said. “My mom would take me up there just so we could see him.”
The younger Scelfo learned even more about life than football while his dad was at Tulane. Chris Scelfo replaced Tommy Bowden as Tulane’s coach before the Green Wave’s bowl game in Dec. 1998. He was Tulane’s coach for eight years. His brother was on his staff and was the offensive coordinator for seven years.
Scelfo’s dad was the coach at Tulane when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans before the 2005 season. The Green Wave were displaced by the floods that ravaged the city and played 11 road games that season.
“It was tough on everyone,” Chris Scelfo said. “The biggest thing you learn is to appreciate what you have.”
Scelfo, who was a sixth-grader during that tumultuous season, remembers Tulane’s game with Mississippi State. It was played in Shreveport in the same stadium as Monday’s bowl game.
Scelfo and his older sister, Sarah, were on the sidelines for the game helping with the equipment staff and trainers. Scelfo would run water into the huddle during timeouts.
“I just remember thinking how big the players were,” Scelfo said. “I thought they were giants.”
Tulane went 2-9 in 2005 and then Scelfo’s dad was fired after a 4-8 finish in 2006.
The elder Scelfo joined Mike Smith’s staff with the Atlanta Falcons in 2008 as the tight ends’ coach and worked in the NFL for seven seasons.
When Scelfo decided to transfer from South Alabama, he asked his dad for advice.
“He knows how to handle change,” Scelfo said. “He has been through it all.”
After Smith was let go by the Falcons after the 2014 season, the elder Scelfo decided he wanted to be a dad and watch his son play football.
After all those years of Scelfo following his dad, the roles are reversed now. Chris follows his son to games and it has given him a new perspective on the sport he loves.
“I felt more connected this year than I’ve been in awhile,” the elder Scelfo said. “I got the full realm of the other side of it from a players’ perspective and the father of a player.”
When the two get together for a post-game meal, there’s some talk about technique and leverage but not as much football as you’d expect.
I told him long ago, I wanted a father-son relationship, not a coach-player relationship. He has always been really good with that.
“He doesn’t push me with it,” Scelfo said. “I told him long ago, I wanted a father-son relationship, not a coach-player relationship. He has always been really good with that.”
Chris has mostly just been a proud father this year. His son started every game and “didn’t miss a snap” at a level he was told he wasn’t good enough to play out of high school.
“Joe held his own,” his dad said. “He was really consistent and very dependable.”
Scelfo was recently invited to the East-West Shrine game in St. Petersburg, Fla. He hopes to get a chance to play in the NFL. If not, his career path is clear: he’ll be a third-generation coach.
Monday’s game, though, is the perfect ending for his college career. Shreveport is about two-and-a-half hours from New Iberia, the cradle of the Scelfo family.
“It’s really exciting for him but it’s really exciting for us,” his dad said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to have everyone together.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
N.C. State vs. Vanderbilt
When: 5 p.m. Monday
Where: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.
TV/radio: ESPN2, 101.5-WRAL