Aside from the Sam Houston State football team returning most of its key players from last season's FCS finalist group, the Bearkats have a pair of young coaches who were in similar positions not too long ago, now looking to build futures for themselves in life after the playing days.

Neither Patrick Robinson nor Kyle Segler ever played for a national championship, but they were both freshmen on the 2004 Southland Conference Championship team. And from the starters to the three-deep guys, injured players and the redshirts, they can see it all in either Robinson or Segler.

The Bearkats hired Segler over the summer as the full-time tight ends coach after two years of him working as a volunteer. He came from helping start up the Lon Morris College football program that had been shut down more than 60 years before.

It was part of basic grunt work necessary to build a resume, gain experience.

"They were just starting the program," Segler said. "I definitely think the guys in this business that go from the lower levels, have a much more positive experience moving ahead in their careers and appreciate the next steps they take in their career from being at the lower level.

"At the JUCO level, you're their academic advisor, you're their father figure a lot of times and you hold them accountable."

Being a former player and the son of a coach makes it a lot easier to identify with the players and coaches alike, even though Segler admits he wasn't much of a player in his five seasons as a Bearkat (2004-2008). Segler played behind two-time All-Southland Conference offensive guard Hunter Schmidt.

"I was a locker room player, a rah-rah guy," Segler said. "My whole thing was everyone on the team has a role."

There was a prior history with Segler and SHSU before he joined the coaching staff, but perhaps it was a College Station connection that got him back in Huntsville. His father Rusty is a former coach of the A&M Consolidated basketball team with the same circle of friends as former SHSU offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse.

Kyle had even coached DeBesse's son Cameron's freshmen high school basketball team while doing his student teaching in College Station.

Years later, when Segler contacted DeBesse wanting to make a move from Lon Morris, the Bearkats already had graduate assistants helping on defense and special teams, but not offense.

So there was Segler's role, unpaid but lots of work to qualify as "experience."

"Coach DeBesse said it wouldn't pay anything but would offer all the work you're ever going to want and an opportunity to learn what it's like to be a football coach at a Division I level," Segler said.

That's when he met head coach Willie Fritz and ran with the opportunity that was given to him. From there he's studied film and worked with the offensive line with Derek Warehime and DeBesse, who both left for New Mexico after last season.

The program has changed quite a bit since Segler first got to Huntsville and through his time as a student athlete, where he met his wife and former SHSU softball player Ashley Segler.

He credits most of the changes to the culture and subsequent winning ways of Bearkat football to Fritz and the staff he's brought along.

"It was more of the social changes that really blew my mind," Segler said. "These guys are expected to be quality young men and good human beings before the football aspect. And that's one thing that has been so impressive of this journey as a program."

Listen to Robinson, now working as a volunteer assistant four years removed from his playing days at SHSU, and he's just as impressed with the Fritz regime as Segler is. Robinson said he's seen talented groups come through the program before, but nothing from a coaching and preparation standpoint resembles what he sees today.

In contrast to Segler's supporting role as a reserve, Robinson was a two-year starter before an injury in 2007 slowed him down. He played in the last six games of the 2004 championship run as a backup defensive line, and then recorded 62 tackles as a sophomore in 2005.  

When Robinson's playing career ended, finding a job was tough, but he knew he wanted to coach. Finding an opportunity was the hard part.

"College coaching, people realize it's all about timing," Robinson said. "And it's not about who you know, but who knows you. The timing was never right, never knew the right people. Sent applications out and did all kinds of things. Even here, they had graduate assistants already sitting in place."

After caring for his ailing mother who eventually passed away, Robinson took his first coaching job at a middle and high school in Lewisville, another example of necessary grunt work.  

As a volunteer with the Bearkats, he doesn't coach directly, rather helps with film breakdowns and observes how the coaches do business. He also provides experience as a former player not too far removed, as well as his connection to senior defensive end J.T. Cleveland, a native of Baytown like Robinson.

In his time in Lewisville with his high school coach Dick Olin, now an assistant at Stephen F. Austin, Robinson was reassured in coaching aspirations. He said he didn't just want to be a coach, but a great one.

Now he gets to shadow Fritz and SHSU defensive coordinator Scott Stoker, who he remembers from his playing days when Stoker was at Northwestern State.

Even though none of Robinson's old coaches were still at SHSU, he planned on making an opportunity out of something. Like a lot of young people new to the workforce, Robinson was told over again that he lacked experience.

He asked the same question many others have: How do I get experience if no one will hire?

"That's kind of how I got here," Robinson said. "Everybody kept telling me I needed experience and I didn't know where to get it from."

Robinson walked into Coach Fritz's corner office, suit, tie and all looking for that experience. It was an easy decision for Fritz and Stoker.

 "Not all good players are good coaches. You have to understand that because you're still a teacher at the end of the day," Robinson added. "My path of going to coach at high school and even middle school made me develop a sense of patience and understanding that I didn't have as a player.

"So I was available to develop certain tools and certain understandings in that sense. And since being here, I've been able to flip my experiences as a player. You know, how do they feel in a given situation? Being a player helps a lot with understanding the situation and where you fit.

"It's kind of like I'm a freshman all over again. I want to be seen but I don't want to be heard."