2023 FLAG SEASON PREVIEW: Nguyen eager to lead Coyotes into season that starts Saturday

Melinda Nguyen admits she’s a flag football junkie.


She started playing at age seven, competed in college at the University of Maryland and played professionally including a stint with the Vietnamese National Team during the two years she lived and taught there.


She also has considerable experience coaching the sport, most recently serving as the offensive coordinator for Team America as part of the Women’s Flag Football Network. Team America featured some of the top players in the United States and participated in tournaments around the world.


Her desire to continue coaching led her to Kansas Wesleyan in August.


“I think this is the perfect job because I never get sick of football,” Nguyen said. “In terms of skills and drills, practices, techniques I could talk about it for hours, days. I just don’t get sick of it.”


Nguyen replaces Mike Famiglietti who coached the Coyotes during the program’s first two seasons. He also was an assistant coach on the men’s tackle football team.


While she admits moving to Kansas has been a bit of an adjustment she’s pleased with the progress of her young team. KWU was 11-8, 6-2 in the Kansas Conference, last spring.


“The good thing about this team is that they come in with a lot of experience so it wasn’t building from the ground up necessarily,” she said. “(Famiglietti) had a strong group of girls who already knew football. He might have tweaked it here and there the way that he learned it but I think they come in with a pretty strong knowledge.”


She said her athletes have been receptive and welcoming.


“They really want to learn and they’re excited to have somebody who has a background in flag football, not just tackle,” she said. “A lot of those drills do translate but there’s other things that don’t. That’s where I’m trying to fill in the gaps of the difference between tackle and flag.”


Discussions about the 2023 team start with Brianna Hernandez-Silva (SR/Las Vegas, Nev.). She was named the KCAC’s Co-Player and Offensive Player of the Year last season when she threw for 1,127 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. She also rushed for 622 yards and eight touchdowns during conference play and averaged 218.6 total yards per game.


She was named the All-KCAC First-team quarterback, was Second-Team at defensive back and Honorable Mention Utility.


“When I first came in, I heard she had all those accolades,” Nguyen said. “I was a little doubtful, I wanted to see it for myself, that’s just how I’ve always been.


“But since day one she’s proven herself time and time again and I completely see why she has the accolades and awards that she does. She’s a great player and a great person on and off the field. She works hard, she’s a leader, she’s committed, she cares.”


Several others also return including a pair of two-sport athletes – Angel Roman (SO/Jacksonville, Fla.) and Ja’Daa Wison who are members of the KWU women’s basketball team.


Roman was All-KCAC First Team at wide receiver and defensive back and honorable mention Utility. She tied for the team lead with 25 receptions for 266 yards and four touchdowns during the conference season. Defensively she led KWU with 38 flag pulls.


Wilson was All-KCAC Second Team at wide receiver and defensive back. She had eight receptions but four of them went for touchdowns and averaged 25.8 yards per catch. She had 206 yards receiving and 27 flag pulls on defense.


“For the amount of time that they’ve been able to make practices or scrimmages they know how to ball out,” Nguyen said. “Just natural athletes, they know the game. What I’m going to work on once they can start making it more consistently is polishing up a few things and building that chemistry.”


Alexandra Mansur returns at linebacker and also has impressed Nguyen early on.


“Her work ethic is insane,” she said. “Every day in the weight room she’s 110 percent; every day at practice, every rep at practice is 110 percent. In terms of leadership, defensive leadership, she’s the go-to person.”


Ciaran DeCuir (SO/Las Vegas, Nev.) was on last year’s team but unable to compete. She’s healthy and showcasing her skills this spring.


“Now that she’s on the field she’s going to take the world by storm,” Nguyen said. “She’s fast, she’s got some hips, got some moves – she gets the ball and she’s gone.”


Three freshmen have impressed Nguyen – Jazmine Whitfield (FR/Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Angel Almarez and Trinady Antonelli (FR/Las Vegas, Nev.).


“Whitfield has some of the softest hands, great at tracking the ball, she’s going to be a huge offensive threat,” Nguyen said. “Just raw talent, polished her up and now she’s killing it. (Almarez and Antonelli) have great hands, good fundamentals, just really boosting that depth that we’re looking for. They could play offense or defense or both.


“Because we have the numbers this year, we’re trying to specialize a little bit more.”


Nguyen said her style of play is somewhat different from Famiglietti’s.


“I’m a little more methodical moving up the field whereas coach Fam took bigger shots (long passes),” she said. “I do a little bit more in the backfield as well. I’ve tried to vary the formations so offensively I think we will look different.


“Terek (Smith) was defensive coordinator last year and he’s implemented a few new things but for the most part the defense should be more or less the same.”


Nguyen said Smith has played an integral role the transition.


“I couldn’t have done it without him,” she said, “because I asked him so many questions. … He has his hands in a little bit of everything, which has been nice.”


KWU opens the season against Ottawa at 5 p.m. Saturday at JRI Stadium at the Graves Family Sports Complex.


“There are things that I want to teach more of,” Nguyen said. “There are things I could polish up more but at some point, you’re going to play so I’m ready to get on the field. I know that the girls are more than ready to get on the field.”