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Seniors will have their day Saturday
Twelve players will be honored before the 1 p.m. kickoff against Tennessee State.
The season as a whole has not gone the way safety Mike Miller, defensive end Justin Komondoreas and wide receiver T.J. Milcic envisioned, with Southeast Missouri State football stuck on just one win.
But it would be hard to blame them for the Redhawks' struggles.
Miller, Komondoreas and Milcic have been three of Southeast's top players this year, and the trio will be among 12 seniors honored Saturday when the Redhawks have their final home game, against Tennessee State.
"Mike and Justin have both had great years. They've really been two of the leaders of our defense," Southeast coach Tim Billings said. "T.J. has had some really good games for us. He's been our big-play guy at wide receiver."
Miller: leading tackler
Miller, a native of Melbourne, Fla., doesn't believe he has been able to reach his full potential at Southeast because of various injuries.
"Not really," said Miller when asked if he is pleased with his career. "I feel like I could have been a better player if I hadn't been injured a lot, but life goes on."
But to Billings, the fact that Miller -- who missed virtually the entire 2003 season with a knee injury that required major surgery -- has battled back from that setback and others shows what type of competitor he is.
Billings has often referred to the hard-hitting Miller as the Redhawks' best overall player.
"He wasn't really healthy at all last year, but played through it and did a good job. This year he's finally healthy and he's really playing well," Billings said. "I can't say enough about what Mike has done here. He's just a tough kid."
Told that Billings has often talked about him being a "warrior," a smiling Miller said, "I do take pride in that, but most people play hurt. It's what you do when you play football."
Miller is Southeast's leading tackler with 71, which is 20 more than anybody else on the team and ranks eighth in the Ohio Valley Conference. He was the Redhawks' second-leading tackler last year with 86, while also intercepting three passes. He has six career interceptions, one this year.
"I've been pretty much 95 to 100 percent healthy this year, which is a great change," said the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Miller, who started much of 2002 and also saw considerable action as a freshman in 2001.
Miller said he would love to play some kind of professional football -- perhaps indoors -- but if not, he said he'll put his marketing degree to good use. He's scheduled to graduate in May.
"I have that to fall back on," he said.
Komondoreas: sacks leader
Considering his statistics entering this season and that he was a linebacker last year, Komondoreas might be the least likely of all OVC players to lead the league in quarterback sacks.
But that's exactly the spot Komondoreas occupies entering the final two games. His 6.5 sacks are 2.5 more than anyone else in the OVC, and he is also tied for first in tackles for loss with 11.5.
"He's really been relentless rushing the passer," Billings said.
Listed as 6-1 and 230 pounds, Komondoreas is undersized by defensive line standards, but he makes up for that with speed and quickness, along with a nonstop motor.
"I guess my speed is the big thing," he said. "I'm a lot faster and quicker than the offensive linemen, and I'm a natural pass rusher."
Komondoreas, whose 35 total tackles are first among Southeast linemen and sixth overall on the squad, was a backup linebacker last year, recording 4.5 tackles for loss and half a quarterback sack. In 2003, he saw limited action at defensive end.
A native of Lake Mary, Fla., Komondoreas had his sights on a attending Southeast right out of high school, but that didn't work out, so he spent one year as a linebacker at Middle Georgia Junior College.
"SEMO recruited me in high school, but they ended up not having enough scholarships, so I decided I wanted to see what else was out there," he said. "Then after one year, my junior college dropped football, and I ended up here. It's worked out well."
Komondoreas, who like his fellow seniors is disappointed in the team's performance this year, is pleased he has been able to make an impact on the Redhawks' vastly improved defense.
And Komondoreas would like nothing better than to finish as the OVC sack leader.
"I'd love that," he said. "It would be a nice honor."
Komondoreas, scheduled to graduate next December with a criminal justice degree, would also like a crack at some type of professional football.
"I want to keep playing football, but if not, I'll have my degree," he said.
Milcic: leading receiver
For somebody who came to Southeast as a walk-on, Milcic has carved out an impressive career.
After ranking second on the team last year with 37 receptions, Milcic is the Redhawks' top receiver this year with 31 catches for 584 yards -- a whopping 18.8-yard average -- and he has scored six touchdowns.
Milcic, who ranks third in the OVC in receiving yards per game, has been the Redhawks' big-play threat. He has touchdown receptions of 71 and 80 yards, and no other Southeast wide out has scored more than one touchdown.
"It's been nice to get in that role [of Southeast's big-play receiver]," Milcic said. "I probably surprise people with my speed. A lot of it is just using my long legs to my advantage."
The 6-5, 200-pound Milcic, who is from Chatham, Ill., near Springfield, caught a pair of two-point conversion passes during his freshman season in 2002, then became a main contributor in 2003 with 20 receptions.
For his career, Milcic has caught 88 passes for 1,410 yards, which is a healthy 16-yard average -- not bad for a former walk-on.
"Yeah, I'm proud of that," Milcic said. "I feel like there are some areas I could have done better in, but overall I think I've done pretty well."
Milcic, on track to graduate next December with a criminal justice degree, is another of the seniors hoping to play some type of pro ball.
"I'd like to, but if there's no place to play, I'm thinking about becoming an Illinois state trooper," he said.
Nine more seniors
Southeast's other seniors who will be making their final home appearances Saturday are defensive tackle Brandon Bohnert, linebacker Travion Brock, quarterback Mike Haley, wide receiver Brian Matthews, wide receiver Jamel Oliver, offensive tackle Taurean Robinson, cornerback Marco Tipton, cornerback Kellin White and linebacker Elijah Willis.
Virtually all of them have been starters at various points during their Southeast careers, and several even played key roles when the Redhawks went 8-4 in 2002 for their best season since 1969.
"Your seniors always mean a lot to you, and you always have good seniors you lose every year," Billings said. "The good thing is we don't have that many of them."