Comfort zone: Southeast's veteran players believe second season under Samuel will be better

Thursday, August 9, 2007
Souutheast defensive back Kendall Magana talked to teammates, university officials, Redhawks supporters and members of the media at a luncheon Wednesday at the Show Me Center. The luncheon was part of the team's annual media day. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Two big words were tossed around Wednesday by Southeast Missouri State football coaches when asked about the second campaign for coach Tony Samuel and his staff.

Familiarity and terminology.

Junior running back Tim Hollomam just summed it up with an even cooler word: style.

"It was a learning experience getting used to a new style," Holloman said of the 2006 season. "Now, we know our style more. From the first year to the second year, it's the same style, but it's more intense."

"The whole team had to adjust last year," Samuel said, "and we had 26 seniors who were halfway set in their ways.

Southeast Missouri State coach Tony Samuel gave an interview at the annual media day at Houck Stadium on Wednesday. (Fred Lynch)

"This year, we're counting on their familiarity."

Samuel will try to put his stamp on the program after 2006 produced the Redhawks' second straight 2-6 run through the Ohio Valley Conference. The Redhawks improved from 2-9 overall in 2005, which was Tim Billings' last season, to 4-7 last year with the help of an easier nonconference schedule.

During the Southeast football media day on Wednesday, Samuel talked a little about his measurements for success, calling the nonconference "preseason" and counting the number of times he said the word "championship" during his luncheon spiel at the Show-Me Center.

Junior defensive back Kendall Magana also uttered that word unabashedly.

"We want to win the championship," he said while finding a spot in the shade at Houck Stadium. "We're not here this year to make this program progressively better. We want to win the championship this year. We want to get a ring."

The Redhawks will have to show improvement to do that. And they'll have to improve with new faces along the defensive line, in the receiving corps and ­-- most importantly -- quarterback.

Juniors Houston Lillard and Victor Anderson are, by all accounts, neck and neck in the battle for the starting quarterback spot. Steve Callanan, a redshirt freshman, and true freshman Jared Van Slyke also received mention.

"All four of them can play," Holloman said.

"We have good competition," Samuel said, "and all four have something they bring to the table. I don't know yet if we'll have a two-quarterback system or a one-quarterback system, and I don't know when that decision is going to happen.

"We have three nonconference games before we play in the conference, and since our goal is to win the conference, we can take some chances there."

Southeast's offense fell off from 27.9 points per game in 2005 to 18.5 last year. And the Redhawks averaged more than 120 fewer yards per game at 253.9.

Holloman, who in 2005 made the OVC's all-newcomer team after his breakout season of 688 yards, fell off only slightly while battling an ankle injury. He finished with 653 yards, actually improving his average per carry to 5.4 yards.

He didn't have any carries in Southeast's lone game against a Division I-A team, a 63-7 loss to Arkansas, so he's looking forward to the Aug. 30 opener at Cincinnati.

Southeast, which averaged more yards per game on ground (137.9) than through the air (116.0), may also work redshirt freshman Sterling Harding into the backfield rotation with fullback Clint Jones, who led the team in receptions last year with 23.

"I love to carry the ball," Holloman said, "but I like to spread it around, too. I'm not a selfish player. Whatever wins games, I'm down with."

Southeast's quarterbacks will be throwing to a host of newcomers at the receiver positions. Six-foot-8 tight end Joseph Tuineau returns after catching six passes for 63 yards.

The team ran 50 percent more than it passed last year -- 35.4 runs per game to 22.9 passes -- but Samuel and offensive coordinator Vincent White both stressed the important of balance.

"You're not going to be able to run the ball unless you can throw it," Samuel said.

The defense performed better in Samuel's first season than the offense, improving its performance by about a touchdown per game. The scoring average dropped from 34 points per game to 27.9, although the yards allowed improved only slightly.

Magana, the team's third-leading tackler, returns along with leading tackler Adam Casper, an inside linebacker.

Up front, Samuel hopes to offset the loss of national sack leader Edgar Jones by rotating several defensive linemen.

"I thnk we have a little opportunity as far as depth," Samuel said. "We had to play Edgar every snap, and he got tired at the end of some games. I'd like use eight defensive linemen, maybe nine or 10, and hopefully have fresher legs."

Samuel spoke a lot about the importance of depth Wednesday, and Magana said it's noticeable in the lockerroom and the practice field when compared to where the program was when he arrived.

"Now, you see the numbers, the size, and there's a lot of talent out there," Magana said. "He's got some young talent, and as leaders, we've got to help them out and keep them moving in the right direction.

"I think the older players have gotten used to [Samuel[']s] leadership and what he expects from us in practice. I think we're more intense in practice and there's more of a focus."

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