Of all the people who have had a hand in helping turn around Southeast Missouri State University's football program, perhaps none are prouder than the four starters from local high schools.
Linebacker O.J. Turner (Central), defensive tackle Caleb Daniel (Jackson), tight end Ray Goodson (Jackson) and placekicker Derek Kutz (St. Vincent of Perryville) -- all juniors entering their third season at Southeast --say being from the area makes what is happening with Indians football especially rewarding.
"It's fun for us local guys," said Turner, who added with a grin, "To help the team get turned around on the field I played on in high school is great."
Said Goodson, "To be from around here, and to come here and be a big part of helping turn it around ... it feels good."
Until going 8-4 last year, Southeast had not experienced a winning football record since 1994. And not since 1995 had the Indians recorded more than four victories in a season.
After coach Tim Billings' first Southeast team went 3-8 in 2000, the local quartet all played significant roles as true freshman in 2001 as the Indians improved slightly to 4-7. They all started last year when Southeast finally broke through and ended the season ranked 23rd nationally.
"It does make you proud to see that it's come this far, especially being from the area," Daniel said.
Added Kutz, "I came down here and there wasn't much to shoot for. Now everybody is talking conference championship. It's crazy."
Turner broke into the starting lineup midway through his freshman season and last year was a fixture at outside linebacker, finishing second on the team in tackles with 68. Now he considers himself something of a leader.
"I definitely take the role of helping out the younger guys," he said. "It seems like just the other day that I was one of those guys and now this is my third year here."
The 6-foot Turner has put on about 20 pounds of muscle since last season -- he's now up to 235 -- and can't wait to put the added power to use.
"The weight came on real well," he said. "I still have my feet, but now I'm running through people."
Daniel, a 6-6, 270-pounder, was thrown into the fire some as a freshman against bigger, stronger and older players in the trenches, but he held up well. And after moving into the starting lineup last year, he recorded 33 tackles -- including five for loss -- and two quarterback sacks.
"It was kind of tough as a freshman, but I've gotten bigger and stronger, and that's helped me a lot," Daniel said.
The versatile Goodson, a 6-4, 230-pounder who sometimes lines up at fullback in certain formations, was a part-time starter as a freshman, catching eight passes. Last year as the Indians' primary tight end, he caught 17 passes for 130 yards and three touchdowns.
"As you get older, things become more comfortable," Goodson said. "Now we're juniors, and we're kind of like some of the veterans around here."
Kutz, a 5-10, 170-pounder, has been Southeast's regular kicker the past two years. As a freshman, he made seven of eight field goals and 30 of 32 extra points. Last year, he hit eight of 14 field goals and set a school record for extra points in a season by converting 50 of 52.
While his numbers are solid, Kutz believes not having to punt this year -- he stepped into that role midway through last season -- will aid his kicking.
"I want to do better, and I think not having to punt will help me concentrate more on kicking," he said.
Said Billings, "These four players have done a really good job for us. We always want to get the best local players whenever we can, and these are four good ones."
As well as Southeast did last season, expectations are even higher this year as the Indians are favored to win their first Ohio Valley Conference title and have been ranked 16th nationally. The locals say there is no reason to think they won't reach lofty heights.
"I think this is our championship year," Goodson said.
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