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Southeast Redhawks: Heading in a new direction?
FIVE REASONS SOUTHEAST CAN CONTEND FOR OVC HONORS
First-year head coach Tony Samuel is able to instill the necessary toughness in the Redhawks that has been a major emphasis of his during preseason practice and that he insists all successful teams must have.
"That's the only way I know," Samuel said. "Football is a very tough game. We have to be physically and mentally tougher than the people we face.
"Toughness isn't necessarily how strong you are. It's how you respond in adverse situations, how you practice, those kinds of things."
Senior quarterback Kevin Ballatore has a strong year to solidify one of the team's major question marks heading into the season.
A former junior college star in California, Ballatore displayed impressive flashes early last season before a foot injury sidelined him for the final seven games of his rookie campaign at Southeast. Ballatore completed 44 of 74 passes (59.5 percent), with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Sophomore tailback Tim Holloman builds on his strong true freshman season and, aided by an offensive line that returns four starters, becomes one of the Ohio Valley Conference's premier running backs.
Holloman was selected to the OVC's all-freshmen team last year after he rushed for 688 yards. But over the final seven games, he ranked with most of the league's top backs, gaining 638 yards during that span, including 155 yards against Eastern Kentucky and 181 yards against Murray State in consecutive weeks. Holloman, who averaged 4.8 yards per carry for the season, led the Redhawks in touchdowns with 10. He also caught 30 passes.
As good as Holloman looked in 2005, he probably doesn't have to be a one-man show. After being somewhat shorthanded at running back last season, the Redhawks appear well-stocked in that area now. John Radney could be poised for a breakout year after being plagued by injuries much of 2005.
For the Redhawks to contend, the defense will have to improve significantly after ranking sixth in the nine-team OVC in total defense last year and eighth in scoring defense.
Southeast allowed an average of 368.6 yards per game last season and gave up 34 points per contest, although in fairness to the Redhawks' defenders, several touchdowns by the opposition came on defense and special teams.
It also probably hurt Southeast's defense that the Redhawks' offense ranked last in the OVC in time of possession, which kept the defense on the field way too much. Still, Southeast's defense has plenty of room for improvement, including in the area of third-down efficiency. The Redhawks allowed opponents to convert 41.9 percent of third downs, which was eighth in the conference.
Better early schedule
A strong start helps the Redhawks carry confidence and momentum into OVC play for the first time in several years, and that helps them pull off some surprises after being picked to finish last in the league.
Southeast will be favored to begin the season 2-0 as it opens against nonconference opponents Austin Peay and Missouri-Rolla. The last time Southeast started out 2-0 -- in 2002 -- resulted in an 8-4 record for the program's best mark since 1969.
AND FIVE REASONS THEY WON'T CONTEND
Depth at quarterback
Ballatore falters and no other solid quarterback emerges at a position that sorely lacks depth.
The only other healthy scholarship quarterback behind Ballatore is sophomore Markus Mosley, who was sporadic in limited action as a true freshman last season.
With junior college transfer Houston Lillard having missed virtually all of preseason practice with a knee injury, the only other healthy quarterback on the roster is walk-on freshman Steve Callanan.
Special teams questions
The Redhawks continue to be plagued by problems on special teams, even though Southeast had the all-OVC first team placekicker (Colin Schermann) and punter (David Simonhoff) last year. Both return.
Southeast had six punts blocked last year. The Redhawks also ranked last in the conference in kickoff return average and punt return average.
"The blocked punts are a major issue," Samuel said. "Special teams are very important. We're really working on that area."
Penalties again prove to be a problem, after Southeast was by far the OVC's most penalized team last year in terms of both infractions and yardage.
The Redhawks were whistled 109 times for 900 yards, an average of 81.8 yards per game. Eastern Kentucky was next with 86 penalties, while Eastern Illinois was next with 736 yards.
Eastern Illinois won the league title and Eastern Kentucky was second, proving that really talented squads can overcome those mistakes. Southeast isn't talented enough to do so.
"You're going to make penalties, but you don't want to have stupid ones," Samuel said.
Deep receiving threats
No big-play receiving threat emerges, even though the Redhawks return most of their top pass-catchers from a year ago.
Southeast welcomes back seven players who caught at least 15 passes last year: Holloman (30), Samora Goodson (26), Joseph Tuineau (25), Brandon Simpson (21), Radney (21), Elton Peterson (20) and Antonio Scaife (15). Holloman, Radney and Peterson are running backs, while Tuineau is a tight end. In addition, wide out Oge Oge, who redshirted last year, caught 33 passes in 2004.
Of those eight, only Oge (12.9) and Tuineau (12.2) averaged more than 11 yards per reception.
Early OVC tests
A tough early OVC schedule puts the Redhawks into a hole that they never recover from.
Southeast plays its first four conference games against the teams picked to finish in the top four in the OVC's preseason poll.
The Redhawks open league action at preseason No. 3 Jacksonville State, then host No. 4 Samford, visit No. 2 Eastern Illinois -- the defending champion -- and host No. 1 Eastern Kentucky.