New hires bring excitement to SIU Football

New hires bring excitement to SIU Football

Head Coach Nick Hill and the SIU football team have hired three new crucial staff members for the upcoming season.

DJ Vokalek, Larry “Lightning” Warner and Elizabeth Toth were all hired in late January and early February.

“Boxes aren’t unpacked yet, man,” Vokalek said. “I don’t know where I’m going, what I’m doing. I just know where this place is.”


Vokalek will be serving as the defensive coordinator, replacing Jason Petrino, who left to take the defensive coordinator position at Missouri Valley Conference rival North Dakota State University.  

Warner, the new running backs coach, returns to SIU after a standout playing career at Southern in the mid-2000s.  

“It’s home to me. I’ve probably lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere,” Warner said.  

He is filling Nate Griffin’s role, who has transitioned to tight ends coach for the 2023 season.  

Elizabeth Toth, who joins the Salukis after being a director of football operations as a graduate assistant at Quincy University, is already knee-deep in her new job.

“It’s great. It’s busy and I like that. I like staying on my toes and keeping busy,” she said.  

While being a new face can sometimes have a dampening effect on an individual, it doesn’t seem like it’s happened for any of the recent staff additions. All are excited to get to work and for the opportunities ahead.


“I think the opportunity to be a defensive coordinator and be able to be a big part of the defense… the opportunity to work for Coach Hill and the type of person and the type of head coach and the type of offensive coach that he is [is exciting],” Vokalek said.

He said the Salukis are strong on the other side of the coin.

“There’s great offensive minds here,” said Vokalek, who has had two separate stints working for another MVC rival, the University of Northern Iowa.

Warner has come away impressed with the early returns on the running back room.

“I know one thing; they come to work,” he said.  

Warner is also ready to do his part for those players, high energy included.  

“If you ever come and watch practice and things like that, you’ll see me; I’m coaching them hard. I’m challenging them every day,” he said.  

When talking about meeting with running backs, Warner said, “You know, because I’m going to pull the best out of them… it’s my job to pour all the greatness that you have out of you. And if you trust me and believe what I’m telling you, and you trust what the coaching staff are putting in place for you… it’s gonna be hard to leave here not being great.”

There’s a clear passion for football present among all of the new hires.  Though loving football may seem like a prerequisite for working on a football coaching staff, it really is true for these three.  

Vokalek says, “I’ve got to be honest… I’ve enjoyed every stop that I’ve been at.”

Toth doesn’t directly coach, but is an essential part of the football staff.  Some of her duties include scheduling all of the team’s travel arrangements, planning official visits, conducting visits and dealing with financial aspects of the team.

“I think I bring a different passion of loving everything else that isn’t football,” Toth said.

That isn’t to say that there won’t be adjustments or things to learn as spring ball sneaks up on the calendar.

Vokalek said, “I think the biggest challenge right now for me personally, is you know, getting to know the players, getting to know the names… you know, just getting acclimated and getting them to know me and me to know them.” 

Vokalek, who also coached at Missouri State University, is very familiar with the Missouri Valley Conference, calling it “the best FCS conference in the country.”  

He knows what it takes to coach and play defense in the MVC.  

“You know, you got to make sure that you’re disciplined… If you’re not a disciplined football team, there’s not a lot of room for error. And we have to be sound in what we do… you know, we’ve got to play good sound defense, good run defense,” he said.

Vokalek is a big believer in stopping the run especially.  

“That’s got to be a primary focus for us as we stop the run and force teams to throw the football,” he said.

Warner, the former Saluki running back who is in his first college coaching gig, is confident that he can bring a key component to the coaching staff.  

“Energy. Just the love for the game… that is what you’re gonna get from me. It’s just somebody that’s going to come to work everyday and not make excuses and just find a way to get it done,” Warner said.

If that sounds like a player’s mentality, that’s because it is.

“To me, I take life as a player’s mentality. You know, it’s just things gonna change… but you still gotta show up and perform, you know, so that’s always been my approach to everything. You know, whatever I do, I’m gonna have fun with it. I’m gonna find the positive in it.”  

Fans have a lot to be excited about entering the 2023 season. A significant number of new coaches in important positions can change the trajectory of a team. Teams often have sustained success even when they lose coordinators and position coaches. Sometimes, a new voice is even the key to unlocking a level that wasn’t being touched before.  

“I think the coaches are going to bring a new heat that [the players] aren’t expecting and I think that it’s gonna kinda like knock the players and wake them up. So, I think the fans should be excited, you know, for the different coaches that have come in, and the different coaching styles to… kind of revamp what has been going on here,” Toth said.