With opener 13 days away, Redhawks still mystery team

Sunday, August 20, 2006

There are just under two weeks to go before the start of the Southeast Missouri State football season -- and watching the Redhawks' first scrimmage of fall camp Tuesday afternoon certainly whetted my appetite.

Sure, I'll admit I can basically tell next to nothing about a team when it plays against itself. Either the offense or defense is generally going to look good, while the other unit will generally look bad. There usually is no in-between.

Still, just seeing a mass of young, strong athletes crashing into each other gets a football fan's juices flowing.

I'll probably venture more of a guess in next week's column -- the last one before the Sept. 2 opener at Austin Peay --but right now I have absolutely no idea how the 2006 Redhawks might fare as first-year coach Tony Samuel and his new staff try to lead a turnaround from last year's 2-9 disappointment.

From talking to a lot of the players, I sense that they genuinely like and respect these coaches -- not that they didn't the previous staff -- but new leadership is usually welcomed after a really bad season or two.

It should be interesting to see how these final couple of weeks before the opener play out because some positions are still up for grabs. Samuel has emphasized throughout fall camp that pretty much no jobs are secure, even though the Redhawks returned 18 starters.

When you're trying to reshape a team that won just two of 11 games the previous season, I'd say that's a wise approach to take.

Southeast football fans will note a logistical change when the Redhawks play their first home game Sept. 9 against Missouri-Rolla.

The Redhawks will have a new game-day dressing room this year, in the Student Recreation Center South as the team will enter Houck Stadium from the east end.

Previously the game-day dressing room was in Houck Field House, with entry from the west end of the stadium.

While Southeast's football team still has almost two weeks to go before its season opener, the university's volleyball and soccer squads both start play in less than a week.

The Redhawks volleyball team begins its second season under coach Renata Nowacki on Friday with two matches at the University of Mississippi Tournament in Oxford, Miss. There will be two more matches the following day.

Interestingly, Nowacki and her assistant Jaime Burns both played at Ole Miss, so I'm sure they're especially looking forward to the trip.

Coach Heather Nelson, who started Southeast's women's soccer program, begins her eighth season Friday at home against Arkansas-Little Rock as part of the Southeast tournament.

I had a great time Thursday hanging out with Southeast coaches and athletes at Country Mart in Jackson during the annual barbecue sale that benefits the university's men's basketball team, women's tennis team and men's and women's track teams. The barbecue ran from Thursday through Saturday.

Not only will those squads receive a donation for the majority of the sales from the barbecue -- which last year totaled about $16,000 -- the coaches and athletes also spent plenty of time toiling in the hot sun helping prepare and sell the food. Perhaps working the hardest was Greg Brune, Southeast's director of athletic development who again served as chief cook. I had pork steaks and barbecue sandwiches, and believe me, they were great.

I spent about an hour at the event and visited extensively with both first-year men's basketball coach Scott Edgar and track coach Joey Haines.

Edgar told me for about the 1,000th time -- not really, but it seems that way because he is so enthusiastic -- how excited he is for the upcoming season. He said he can't wait to get going, and he'll have a chance to get started on something of a small scale this week when individual workouts and preseason conditioning begins. Official practice doesn't begin until Oct. 15.

Edgar reiterated most of what he told me on ESPN 1220 the following day when Erik Sean and Jess Bolen broadcast their Sports Huddle live from the barbecue. I think Redhawks fans feel the same kind of excitement.

I asked Haines about Miles Smith and he said the Redhawks' 400-meter sprinting sensation is recovering well from the hamstring injury suffered during the semifinals at the NCAA outdoor meet. Haines said Smith should be primed for a huge senior season that will hopefully culminate with an NCAA championship. Smith figures to enter the year among the favorites.

Haines also reported that one of his assistant coaches for the past three years -- Eric Heins, who also directed the cross country program -- has moved on to a similar position at TCU.

Heins was probably more well known in the area for his distance running prowess. He is among the nation's better marathoners.

I wrote last week about former Southeast baseball All-American Todd Pennington, who recently broke the Gateway (Ill.) Grizzlies' single-season record for saves with 17 and was tied for second in the independent Frontier League.

Well, Pennington is no longer with the Grizzlies. The Shawnee (Ill.) High School product, who spent the past five years in the Cleveland Indians' organization before being released, was traded a few days ago to Lancaster (Pa.) of the independent Atlantic League.

At least Pennington went to a team that is headed for the playoffs. Lancaster won the first-half South Division title in the Atlantic League, while Gateway is well below .500.

For those of you who kept up with what the Plaza Tire Capahas did at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan., you might be interested to know how the remainder of the tournament went.

Santa Barbara, Calif., captured the championship in the 42-team event with a 7-0 record, capped by an 8-7 victory over the Derby (Kan.) Twins. Derby wound up second with a 7-2 mark.

Santa Barbara also reached the NBC World Series championship round undefeated last year but was beaten by Prairie Gravel, Ill., in both games.

University of Missouri football, after winning a bowl game last season to impressively finish what had been an up-and-down season, now faces the challenge of life after Brad Smith.

Sophomore quarterback Chase Daniel, who saw plenty of action last year as Smith's backup, appears to have a world of potential if not all that much experience.

But regardless of how Daniel performs, the Tigers will certainly feature a much different type of offense this year because Daniel is not nearly the runner that Smith was.

No surprise there, since not many college quarterbacks have the type of open-field skills that made Smith such an electrifying player the past four seasons.

In any event, it's going to be interesting to see how things play out in Columbia.

Might Eastern Illinois product Tony Romo soon be breathing down the neck of Drew Bledsoe as far as challenging for the Dallas Cowboys' starting quarterback position?

It's probably too early to tell, but Romo certainly didn't hurt his cause last Saturday in the Cowboys' exhibition opener.

With Dallas coach Bill Parcells wanting to see Romo play, the former Ohio Valley Conference star went the entire way against the Seattle Seahawks.

And Romo was impressive, completing 19 of 25 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown in the Cowboys' 13-3 victory.

Romo, the Division I-AA national player of the year at Eastern Illinois in 2002, originally made the Dallas roster as an undrafted free agent, but he has not thrown a pass in the regular season in his first three NFL seasons.

Whether that changes this year remains to be seen, but you've got to root for an underdog like that.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: