Billings yet to announce starting QB for opener

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Despite having the best statistical season -- by far -- of any quarterback in the history of Southeast Missouri State University football, Jack Tomco is not certain to start Thursday's opener at Division I-A Ohio.

At least that's what coach Tim Billings insisted Monday morning during his first weekly media conference of the season.

Billings indicated that Tomco is still in a tight battle with juniors Jeromy McDowell and Andrew Goodenough, and the coach said he doesn't know when he'll name the starter -- it could be as late as game day.

But Billings said no matter who opens the contest behind center, all three quarterbacks will see action Thursday and probably for at least the first few games of the season. Southeast's first four contests are non-Ohio Valley Conference affairs.

"They've all looked good in practice, and what I've seen, we've been efficient with all three. Half the time the players don't even know who's at quarterback," Billings said. "The first few games, we're going to play a lot of people at a lot of positions. We want to get ready for the conference, to win the conference championship."

Tomco, a senior, set nine school records last year in his first season with the Indians following a standout junior-college career. He threw for 3,132 yards and 29 touchdowns while completing 65 percent of his passes to rank eighth nationally in passing efficiency.

McDowell passed for a freshmen school-record 2,051 yards as a redshirt in 2001 and was expected to be last year's starter before a season-ending knee injury in the opener paved the way for Tomco.

Goodenough is a transfer from Arizona State who played in last year's opener at Nebraska before suffering a season-ending injury shortly thereafter, and he was rated the nation's top junior-college quarterback two years ago.

Prior to Monday's practice, the three signal callers seemed to take the situation in stride, although Tomco appeared somewhat surprised that he hasn't yet been announced as the starter.

"I just hope to play well, get in there and lead the team down the field," Tomco said.

Said McDowell, "It's been a while since I've been in a game and I'll be happy to get in there and play. The main thing is, what works out best for the team."

Said Goodenough, "I haven't been in a game in a while so it'll be fun. But the important thing is getting a win."Captains elected

As has been customary under Billings, there will be six captains this season -- three offensive and three defensive -- as recently voted on by the players.

The offensive captains are Tomco, senior center Eugene Amano and junior placekicker Derek Kutz. The defensive captains are senior end Ryan Roth, senior linebacker Ricky Farmer and junior cornerback Dimitri Patterson.

"This is the closest the voting has been. It shows you the kind of leaders we have," Billings said. "And this is the first time I've seen a kicker picked as a captain, which says a lot about Derek."

Returners, holder, snapper

While Billings feels good about Kutz and freshman punter David Simonhoff, he also thinks the other areas of Southeast's special teams will be solid.

Junior starting receiver Chris NesSmith will be the primary punt returner, with freshman reserve receiver Antonio Scaife backing him up. NesSmith was third in the OVC in punt returns last year, averaging eight yards per return and scoring one touchdown.

Sophomore starting receiver Jamel Oliver and sophomore backup receiver Anthony Gilliam will be the primary kickoff returners, with starting cornerback Patterson and Scaife also figuring into the mix. Oliver was second in the OVC in kickoff returns last year, averaging 21.9 yards per return.

NeSmith will again be the holder for field goals and extra points while backup junior defensive end Justin DeShon is the new deep snapper for punts and placements.Noteworthy

***Second-team all-OVC offensive guard Dan Bieg, who last week was cleared for contact after being bothered by a slow-healing thumb injury, will be in the starting lineup Thursday.

***The Indians will begin the approximately 10-hour bus trip to Athens, Ohio, today as they depart Cape Girardeau at about 1:30 p.m.

Southeast will spend tonight in Cincinnati and then continue on to Athens Wednesday morning. The Indians will practice at Ohio's Peden Stadium Wednesday. They will return to Cape Girardeau immediately following Thursday's game.

***Willie Ponder, Southeast's All-American receiver from last season, received some good news Monday when he survived a major roster cutdown by the New York Giants, who selected Ponder in the sixth round of this year's draft.

NFL rosters are now down to 65 players and must be trimmed to a final total of 53 Sunday. Ponder is one of six healthy receivers still with the Giants, and most NFL teams carry a minimum of six.

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