The 2016-17 NFL playoffs became a “Battle of the Valley” of sorts.
In the final three rounds of the playoffs, a former member of the SVSU football team knocked off the team of another ex-Cardinal until, eventually, one of those graduates earned a Super Bowl ring.
Nick Caserio, who earned an M.B.A. at SVSU in 2001, won his fifth Super Bowl as a member of the New England Patriots. He has served as director of player personnel for the storied franchise since 2008, when he took over the responsibilities of drafting, signing and developing players for the most dominant franchise in the league’s recent history. From 2001-08, he served in various personnel-decision positions as well as wide receivers coach for the Patriots.
During his tenure with the team, the Patriots won Super Bowls in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2015 and 2017. The franchise won the latest championship when it defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28, in February.
The Falcons, at the time, employed one of Caserio’s former SVSU classmates, Matt LaFleur, as quarterbacks coach.
LaFleur led SVSU football at quarterback from 2000-02, never missing the NCAA Division II playoffs. Caserio was a graduate assistant during those first two years.
LaFleur, who received his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 2003, wasn’t surprised by Caserio’s success.
“If you’ve ever been around Nick Caserio, you know he’s going to be successful,” LaFleur said. “Nick is one of the hardest workers I’ve been around. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s achieved great things.”
After the Super Bowl, LaFleur was hired as offensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams, his third NFL stop. He previously worked for the Washington Redskins.
Before his Super Bowl matchup, LaFleur’s Falcons beat the Green Bay Packers, 44-21.
From the sidelines, LaFleur helped defeat a team with an SVSU alumnus on the field. Jeff Janis, whose 46 career touchdown receptions from 2010-13 remains an SVSU record, plays receiver for the Packers. Janis completed a bachelor’s degree in exercise science in 2013.
In the prior round of the NFL playoffs, Janis’ Packers bested the Dallas Cowboys, 34-31. Janis’ former SVSU teammate, Jeff Heath, has played defensive back for the Cowboys since 2013. Heath, who studied criminal justice while at SVSU, was a Cardinal from 2009-12.