Jackson's Meystedt looks for a running start at Sikeston

Friday, September 5, 2003

Jackson entered its season opener against Sikeston a year ago coming off a state semifinal appearance with playoff aspirations on its mind.

But with the help of a strong running attack led by quarterback Blake DeWitt, the Bulldogs pulled off the upset 21-14.

A year later the Indians are coming off a two-win season and will make the opening weekend trip today to Sikeston, which finished last season 7-2.

"We're the underdogs," three-year starter Tyler McNeely said. "We kind of like that. Last year we got too much hype. This year we're just going to go out to play."

While the roles have changed for the two SEMO North Conference teams, Jackson needs to look back only to last season's opener to find positives for tonight's game.

Losing to Sikeston a year ago may have been the start to a downward spiral for Jackson, but the performance of junior running back Jason Meystedt provided a glimpse into the future of Jackson's running game.

"It just set the tone for me, that's the way I look at that game," Meystedt said.

Filling in for an injured Stuart McIntosh, the inexperienced sophomore rushed for 136 yards, including four runs of 10 or more yards. Meystedt finished the season with about 500 yards rushing despite playing most of the season behind McIntosh.

"If we block for him he's going to give us 100 to 200 yards a game," McNeely said of Meystedt.

Jackson's running attack will be pressed to produce typical Indian numbers this season with senior fullback Aaron Randolph the only experienced blocker back. With five new linemen, whose 200-pound average is considerably smaller than last year's line, the Indians will have to find creative ways to get yards.

"Last year's line was a lot bigger, but this year's line has a little more speed," Meystedt said. "That way I can make my reads and hit the hole a lot faster."

Jackson coach Carl Gross said this team may not be able to play Jackson's typical smashmouth style, but he's confident his linemen will improve.

"They're just going to have to play together for a while," he said. "They want to get better."

This season the Indians will look to air the ball out more with senior tight end McNeely and wide receivers Derek Miller, Isaac Venable and Neil Grossheider patrolling the sidelines.

"We'll need to pass the ball a lot to spread out the defense," Meystedt said.

Whether Meystedt and the running game has a big game or not, the Indians are more concerned with starting the season on the right foot.

"I think if we win the game it will show we're a good football team and that we can beat good football teams," McNeely said.

Jackson's defense, which performed well in the jamboree, should be strong with linemen McNeely and Brad Crader along with linebacker Blake Ulrich back to lead the way. One Sikeston weapon the defense will not have to deal with is DeWitt, who decided not to play this season. DeWitt accounted for 195 of Sikeston's 283 yards of offense against Jackson last season.

"Losing DeWitt hurts them a little bit," McNeely said.

The Indians will have to concern themselves with breaking in numerous players of their own with little or no varsity experience.

"There's not a lot of game experience on the field for us," Gross said. "You need to have something good to happen early."

jjoffray@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 171

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