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Redhawks' vocal leader hopes to go out a winner
Senior Kendall Magana's attitude about his time spent at Southeast Missouri State has changed significantly since his freshman year.
"Being 10 hours away from home ... I didn't know what my future held," the Texas native said. "Now I have a much clearer picture. I wouldn't change coming here at all."
Magana, who became a regular contributor at safety midway through his freshman season in 2005, has been a fixture in the lineup ever since. He's by far the most experienced member of the Redhawks' defense.
After starting all 11 games at safety in both 2006 and 2007, Magana has been moved to cornerback for his senior campaign, which begins tonight at home against Division II Southwest Baptist.
"We wanted to get some more depth at corner, and he's done well since we moved him there [in the spring]," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said. "I think he's probably a better corner than safety."
Magana said he isn't sure about that, but he does like playing man-to-man coverage against fleet wide receivers.
"It's been a little adjustment, but I really enjoy it," Magana said. "I like trying to compete for the ball."
But Magana said it doesn't matter what position he plays, as long as he's on the field.
"I just love being on the field," he said. "That's always been my focus, no matter where I'm playing."
That's why the former high school quarterback — he was a captain on his prep squad in Arlington that advanced to the state semifinals in football-mad Texas — hardly blinked when he was placed on defense at Southeast.
"They told me I'd probably play defensive back," said Magana, who also played safety in high school. "I was fine with that."
They primarily refers to Tim Billings, Southeast's coach at the time and one of the reasons Magana said he decided to sign with the Division I-AA program.
"Coach Billo really had a great relationship with my father and me," said Magana, among a handful of players remaining from the previous coaching staff, which left after Magana's 2005 freshman season.
Magana saw no action during the early part of his rookie campaign as it appeared he might redshirt, but he became a fixture at safety over the final six games, including several starts. He wound up with 35 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.
Magana has not been out of the lineup since, starting all 22 games over the past two seasons. He was also Southeast's primary punt returner a year ago.
Steady if unspectacular, Magana had 58 tackles as a sophomore and 57 last year to rank third on the squad both seasons. He also picked off a pass each of the past two years.
"He's been a real solid player for us," Samuel said.
And a leader. His teammates recognized that when they voted him one of the Redhawks' five captains for this season.
"Off the field, he's one of the guys, and there are several others, whose name kept popping up whenever the players would talk about the summer workouts," Samuel said. "He's one of the guys that led."
Said senior wide receiver Mike Williamson, a high school teammate of Magana's: "Kendall is probably one of the better vocal leaders on the team. He's kind of a coach on the field. He has the respect of all his teammates.
"The thing is, he's been playing a lot since his freshman year. You can't say that for me and some of the other seniors who have been here since we were freshmen."
As one of the Redhawks' veterans — he and tailback Timmy Holloman are the only current Southeast players who started games before Samuel became coach in 2006 — Magana said he is comfortable being a leader.
"We need and have guys who will step up as leaders," he said. "I consider myself one of those people."
Magana doesn't leave the leading to football. The business major carries a 3.8 grade-point average. He has been involved in student government and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Southeast, in addition to being the university's NCAA Foundation Leadership winner for the 2007-08 school year.
Magana, who is scheduled to graduate next summer, said he might pursue a master's degree. If not, he has various careers in mind.
"I've thought about anything from campus ministry to maybe coaching," he said.
But long before Magana decides on that, he is intent on helping Southeast end its long string of football futility.
In 17 Division I-AA seasons, Southeast has produced two winning records: 8-4 in 2002 and 7-5 in 1994. Southeast has not won more than four games in a season since 2003.
Southeast has gone 7-15 overall and 3-12 in the Ohio Valley Conference during Samuel's first two years. But Magana said he and his teammates have confidence in the program that Samuel and his staff are building.
That's why, despite last year's 3-8 overall record and 1-6 OVC mark — and this year's last-place prediction in the OVC preseason poll — Magana sees good things ahead.
"You always want to go out with a bang," he said. "You say it every year, but I really feel like we have a chance to do good things. ... There's no reason we can't contend for an OVC title."
But regardless of what 2008 holds in store for Magana and the Redhawks, he won't regret his decision to pick Southeast.
"I wouldn't say it was the most prestigious career, but I've had so much fun, to be able to play college football at all, and to meet all the great people I've met here," he said. "It was the right decision for me."