Retired Army captain Scott Lunato was in the right place at the right time to become a Professional Indoor Football League (PIFL) general manager.
Lunato, a 1987 graduate of Huron High School, was stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia, near the home of the PIFL’s Columbus Lions in 2010 when he got involved in the resurrection of the Fort’s Army Doughboy program with Lions head coach Jason Gibson.
“All the old military installations used to have football teams, dating back to the early 1900s and the Doughboys was the football team here on Fort Benning — I think 1918 was the first year,” Lunato said.
“They got this kicked up again in 2010 when the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division was deployed and they wanted to have a football game when they came back. So we played Columbus State University’s club team.
“I want to say the last time the Doughboys played before we kicked it back up was like 1982, but the 1962 team I think it was, went undefeated and they played major colleges … Georgia, Auburn, they played all the southern colleges and they went undefeated,” he added. “And one of the coaches was actually President Eisenhower, when he was a Lieutenant or a Captain, and Pat Dye, who was one of the coaches at Auburn, was a head coach here. The ‘doughboy’ term is a World War I term for an infantryman.”
The Doughboys are coming up on their fourth season and play against different college’s junior varsity teams on Sundays.
At Huron, Lunato played for Hall of Fame coach Tony Munafo.
As a senior, Lunato was part of the Tigers’ second playoff appearance in the 1986 season when they fell to Clearview, 31-8. Lunato’s favorite memory that season is when the Tigers upset rival Margaretta in Week 10 to get into the playoffs.
The Polar Bears entered the game 9-0, and eventually reached the state championship game, where they lost to Columbus Bishop Hartley.
“We beat them 10-7 to get into the playoffs,” Lunato recalled. “I get back (to Huron) every once and awhile, and I hope to make it back this year for training camp to chat with coach (Tony) Legando a little bit. But I remember that stadium, there had to be 7,500 people there that night, had to be, and it was great night and I’ll always remember that.”
With his work helping the Doughboys and Gibson, Lunato then got involved with the Lions team.
“I just went to one of the tryouts one day and somebody ended up getting hurt, and I kind of just ran out and helped, because I was an Army nurse corps officer,” Lunato said. “So head coach Jason Gibson asked if I wanted to help out, doing their medical stuff for them. I did that for four years.
“Then managing partner John Hargrove asked me if I’d be interested in helping out with managing, because of my leadership experience in the Army,” he added. “They asked me to do a presentation on what we could do better, and I did that and they asked me to be the general manager, so that’s kind of how that came to fruition.”
As the team’s general manager and vice president of operations, Lunato works with Gibson to keep the Lions’ program running smoothly.
“Me and coach Gibson kind of run everything,” Lunato said. “He’s more in charge of football personnel, and I run the day-to-day business operations. Most of my duties come during the season, with game day operations. I coordinate all of that with the Civic Center staff and make sure everything is running smoothly. I’m in charge of the whole orchestration of pregame and halftime. I make sure everybody’s happy in the stands, and I also coordinate all our travel for road games, stuff like that.”
The PIFL is a feeder league for the Arena Football League with slightly different rules.
“Everything is pretty much the same, but there are few different rules, we have what we call an ‘uno,’” Lunato said. “The field is 50 yards, and you kick off from the opposite goal line, and if you make it through the uprights on the kickoff it’s one point, and they call it an ‘uno.’ The AFL doesn’t do that, and they play the ball off the net. You can return it off the net, and there’s a few other minor rules that are different.”
The Lions finished their 2013 season with a 4-8 record in the PIFL to finish second to last — and snap a streak of six consecutive playoff appearances.
“We had a really crappy record this year. Every team has a rebuilding year, but we have four guys that are starting at the next level at the AFL right now that played for us this year or last year. We take great pride in that,” Lunato said. “One of them is even up there in Cleveland (Gladiators), Cody Pearcy, he’s a wide receiver.”
The Lions also had London Crawford (wide receiver) move on to the Jacksonville Sharks, Anthony Shutt (defensive back) now plays for the Orlando Predators and Randy Hippeard (quarterback) plays for the Tampa Bay Storm.
“Last year was a down year,” Lunato said. “It’s always great for your guys to move up (to the AFL), but it hurts you too. But we have a really strong core of guys coming back next year. We have almost our entire defense coming back, so we’re fired up about next year and about what we can do. It’s gonna be a drastic turnaround. Coach Gibson is a phenomenal coach, no idea why he’s still at this level, but he’s definitely the face of the organization. Everybody in the community knows him and he enjoys it here.”
While Lunato retired from the Army in February after nearly 27 years, he continues to stay involved with the Doughboys program.
He married Kelly Davis in October of 2012, and the couple has four kids, Dominque, Nick, Ethan and Joshua.