Ballatore welcomes dose of discipline

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The quarterback and his teammates have been early risers during spring practice under new coach Tony Samuel.

Count Kevin Ballatore among the Southeast Missouri State football players who have totally bought into the program's new coaching staff.

Even if Ballatore is not guaranteed to be the Redhawks' starting quarterback, although he is by far their most experienced returning signal caller.

After the Redhawks began their third week of spring practice with another early morning session Monday -- the workout kicked off at about 5:30 a.m. -- Ballatore sang the praises of first-year head coach Tony Samuel and his staff.

"I really like them, coach Samuel, coach White, all of them," said Ballatore, also referring to offensive coordinator Vincent White. "I think they've brought in a lot of discipline, which is a huge change, and I think that's really going to help us."

In going 2-9 last year under former coach Tim Billings, who resigned after six seasons at Southeast, the Redhawks were by far the Ohio Valley Conference's most penalized team, with 109 infractions for an average of 81.8 yards per game. The next-most penalized squad had 86 infractions for a 62.5-yard average.

"Not to knock what happened last year, but hopefully we'll see it on the field, with not as many offsides, false starts, that kind of thing," said Ballatore of Samuel's emphasis on discipline, both on and off the field.

Of the early morning practice times, which Samuel has set up to avoid class conflicts, a laughing Ballatore said, "I think it is because of classes, but it's probably good discipline for us anyway. We just got back from spring break, and we're out on the field first thing in the morning."

Ballatore hopes to be on the field running the offense Sept. 2, when the Redhawks open the season at Austin Peay.

Samuel said prior to spring practice that he was basically wiping the slate clean, meaning all players -- even returning starters -- would have to prove themselves to the new coaching staff.

That's fine with Ballatore, who said, "Every position is up for grabs and that's the way it should be. They're trying to get the best players on the field. You can't blame them there."

Ballatore transferred to Southeast last year from Santa Rosa (Calif.) Community College, where he passed for 3,029 yards and 35 touchdowns to rank second nationally among junior college players, while leading the nation in completion percentage.

Ballatore, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, began the 2005 campaign as Southeast's backup, but was impressive enough off the bench to receive his first start in the season's fourth game when the Redhawks opened OVC play against defending champion Jacksonville State.

Things seemed to be going well enough as Ballatore completed 22 of 37 passes for 195 yards in a little more than a half.

But Ballatore suffered a broken foot early in the third quarter, which wound up sidelining him for the remainder of the season.

"That was frustrating. Man, it was rough," said Ballatore, who as a junior last year completed 44 of 74 passes (59.5 percent) for 403 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. "It was hard to stay positive, but I had to."

The only other quarterback on the current roster who saw action last season is Markus Mosley, who as a freshman played in three games -- making one start -- and completed 14 of 27 passes for 144 yards, with three interceptions.

William Cowan, another freshman also in the quarterback mix, redshirted last year.

So far in the spring, Ballatore and Cowan have received much of the work, as Mosley has missed time with a wrist injury.

"I think Kevin is coming along real well. It's a little different for him, not being in the shotgun," White said. "He and Will are both doing a good job."

Ballatore acknowledged that it has been an adjustment working in the current offense, which is more traditional than the wide-open system the Redhawks utilized under Billings. The offense hopes to have more balance between the run and pass.

"This is the first time I've been under center. It's been a challenge, but I'm starting to get it," Ballatore said.

Ballatore believes the Redhawks have the potential for a significantly improved season -- and he would love to be the one to help lead them toward that goal, even though Samuel has said there is a chance Southeast will bring in a transfer quarterback prior to fall practice.

"We have a lot of seniors, and there is a lot of potential there," Ballatore said. "I would love to be the starter, no doubt. But I have to just keep working hard and keep trying to prove myself."

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