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Redhawks: White willing to open up offense for Lillard
Southeast Missouri State offense won't be on as tight a leash as the last two years.
That's what offensive coordinator Vincent White says.
Because White and Southeast coach Tony Samuel have plenty of confidence in the leadership and decision-making ability of senior quarterback Houston Lillard.
Lillard has started just six games at Southeast, all last season. But he has had plenty of exposure to Southeast's current system.
Lillard transferred to Southeast from junior college in 2006, but missed the entire season with an injury. However, he was able to gain plenty of knowledge while attending practices despite not being able to participate after undergoing knee surgery.
Noting that Lillard actually has been around Southeast nearly as long as third-year coach Samuel and the rest of the staff, White promises that the Redhawks are "going to open it up a little bit more."
Samuel and White hope that will allow the Redhawks to improve their 2007 Ohio Valley Conference offensive ranking that had them last in scoring (20.5 points per game) and next-to-last in total offense (331.8 yards per game).
"I'm very excited. We have a lot of young men coming back who played a lot of football," said White, whose unit returns nine starters and 13 other letterwinners. "We expect to be good, not want to be good. We expect to put a lot of points on the board."
A position-by-position look at Southeast's offense:
Despite splitting time early last year with Victor Anderson — who was moved to rover midway through the season — and battling injuries, Lillard turned in a solid campaign.
Even though he started only six games, Lillard completed 57.8 percent of his passes (100 of 173) for 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns, with six interceptions.
Lillard finished third in the OVC in passing efficiency and first in yards per completion.
"Houston played well when he was healthy," Samuel said. "He's really worked hard in the offseason. The leadership he brings, he's able to check off. ... He's a coach on the field."
Lillard is the unquestioned starter behind center, but Samuel believes Southeast has capable backups in Dustin Powell, a junior college transfer who participated in spring drills, and true freshman Matt Scheible, who has been impressive in the preseason.
This position is something of a question mark early because senior tailback Timmy Holloman is ineligible for the first five games of the season under NCAA guidelines.
Holloman is among the premier runners in Southeast history, ranking fourth on the school's career rushing list with 1,996 yards.
A preseason all-OVC selection, Holloman has been Southeast's leading rusher in each of his first three seasons.
Through five games in 2007, the speedy Holloman ranked second in the OVC and eighth nationally in rushing with an average of 131 yards per game.
Holloman had 655 yards, a 5.7-yard average and six touchdowns before being ruled ineligible by the NCAA for undisclosed reasons. He missed the final six games.
Largely because of Holloman, the Redhawks' rushing attack ranked 44th nationally with an average of 171.2 yards per game.
The good news regarding Holloman, Samuel said, is that he will miss only one OVC contest.
"I think we have some guys who can do a good job and pick up the slack until Timmy comes back," Samuel said.
Three players, all sophomores, figure to receive the bulk of the carries in Holloman's absence: Mike Jones, Alfred Reese and Henry Harris.
Jones, a bruising 240-pounder, had just one carry — he lost two yards — through last year's first five games.
After Holloman was ruled ineligible, Jones came on strong and finished with 291 yards while averaging a solid 4.9 yards per carry.
Reese rushed for 190 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 3.4 yards per carry. He also caught five passes for 59 yards.
Harris could pick up the slack in the speed department while Holloman is out.
A transfer from the University of Memphis, where he primarily saw action on special teams and did not have a carry from scrimmage for the Division I-A program last year, Harris has been timed at 4.42 seconds over 40 yards.
"We'll have to see how these guys respond," Samuel said.
At fullback, primarily a blocking position in the offense, junior Nick Grassi returns after seeing considerable action the past two years. Sophomore Nathan Grass also should receive playing time.
Although the Redhawks weren't a prolific passing team in 2007 — primarily because Lillard missed so much time — they return three of their top four receivers.
Sophomore Miles Edwards headlines the group after he made the OVC all-newcomer team.
Edwards led Southeast with 34 receptions (14.1-yard average) and seven touchdowns as a freshman despite only starting five games. He did much of his damage late in the season as five of his seven TDs came over the last three games.
"I thought he came on and had a great second half to the season," Samuel said.
Junior Brad Stewart was Southeast's No. 3 receiver with 16 catches despite making just two starts, while senior Mike Williamson made nine starts and was close behind Stewart with 15 receptions.
Senior Daryl Gist, a big target at 6 feet 5 inches, averaged 15.4 yards on eight receptions last year, while junior Walter Peoples made the switch from rover to offense midway through the season and caught five passes.
Redshirt freshman Chante Ahamefule is another big target at 6-6 who should push for playing time.
This is Southeast's most inexperienced position as no returning tight end received significant playing time.
Sophomore Bradley Brown had one catch for nine yards. No other tight end on the roster made a reception.
An intriguing possibility is big, athletic junior Ashton Farmer. The 6-7, 250-pounder from Charleston transferred from Division I-A Arkansas State, where he played basketball the past two seasons. Farmer has not played football since high school.
Among others in the mix at tight end is junior Brad Crader, a Jackson product who transferred from Division II Truman State.
Another Jackson native, freshman Antonio Garritano, also could push for playing time if he doesn't redshirt. Returning sophomore Kyle Hubert also is in contention.
"I think we have good talent at tight end, but we don't have experience," White said.
Despite losing the steady Francisco Perez, a four-year starter, Southeast has plenty of experience up front as five players started at least four games last season.
Senior Paul McGuire started the final 10 games at center, while junior Jaunell Pugh (10 starts) and sophomore Sean Middleton (six starts) return at guard.
At tackle, senior Matt James from Jackson made seven starts, while sophomore Jon Schuller started four of the final five games.
Four of those five returning linemen tip the scales at 300 pounds or better, the lone exception being Pugh.
Several other linemen who saw action will push for playing time, including Bryan Curry and Josh Guthrie, who are listed at 320 and 370 pounds, respectively.
Junior Matt Paris, who sat out with an injury last year, but saw playing time in 2006, is also in the mix up front.
"We do have experience up front," Samuel said. "We just have to continue to develop them as a unit."
Junior Doug Spada, also Southeast's punter, returns after making 14 of 22 field-goal attempts and 21 of 23 extra points. He led the Redhawks in scoring with 63 points.
"He's a very good kicker with a strong leg," Samuel said. "I would like to spell him some this year. I think we were forced to use him too much last year."