Indians' Connolly chosen for all-star game

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Southeast offensive lineman was selected to participate in the Las Vegas All-American Classic in January.

By Marty Mishow ~ Southeast Missourian

Southeast Missouri State University senior offensive tackle Dan Connolly has been invited to display his talents against some of the nation's premier college football players.

Connolly was recently selected to participate in Las Vegas All-American Classic on Jan. 22. The all-star game will feature 94 seniors, with the majority coming from the NCAA Division I-A ranks. Connolly will be one of about 25 players from Division I-AA or below.

"It's a great honor for Dan to be selected to the game, and a really good opportunity for him," Southeast coach Tim Billings said. "He's been a great player for us ever since he was a freshman."

Connolly, a 6-foot-4, 305-pounder from St. Louis, has made the all-Ohio Valley Conference second team each of the past three seasons. The Indians' co-captain is being mentioned as a potential NFL draft pick.

The Las Vegas All-American Classic, one of the newer college all-star games, has been held the past three years. Former Southeast All-American wide receiver Willie Ponder, now in his second season with the New York Giants, was invited to the 2003 game.

Las Vegas All-American Classic officials said 16 players who participated in last year's game were drafted by the NFL and another 40 made NFL rosters. The contest is televised by Fox Sports.

A shot of confidence

As the Indians (1-3, 1-0 OVC) prepare for Saturday's conference game at Eastern Illinois (1-2, 0-0), Billings figures this past Saturday's stirring 51-48 win over visiting Samford in four overtimes should do nothing but boost their confidence.

"I hope it does a lot. I know our coaching staff gained a lot," Billings said. "We were in the hole the whole game pretty much, and to win a game like that is big for us."

Eastern Illinois also figures to have received a major dose of confidence after also picking up its first victory, a 31-28 upset at Division I-A Eastern Michigan. The Panthers could very well be 3-0; they held late leads in both their other contests before losing to Indiana State 33-30 in overtime and Illinois State 35-31.

"They could easily be 3-0," Billings said. "They've got a really good football team."

Southeast, which trails the all-time series against Eastern Illinois 7-4, has never beaten the Panthers in Charleston, Ill.

Injury woes continue

While Southeast's offense has remained virtually injury-free, the defense continues to be riddled by injuries.

The Indians have had about 10 key defensive players either miss time or play through injuries. Billings said he believes that's a big reason the Indians are allowing a national-worst 536 yards per game. Their average of 45.8 points allowed ranks 114th among 117 Division I-AA teams.

"I really think we have a chance to be good defensively, but right now we're not," Billings said. "We're a lot better when we're healthy."

Two more defensive backs went down during the Samford game as cornerback Marco Tipton aggravated the hamstring injury that kept him out of the first three contests and safety Mike Miller -- the team's leading tackler -- also pulled a hamstring. They are listed as questionable for Eastern Illinois.

"When Miller and Tipton were both in there, we played pretty well defensively against Samford," Billings said.

Starting safety Anthony Lumpkin missed the Samford game with a shoulder injury and he is questionable for Eastern Illinois.

"We've got a lot of players banged up," Billings said. "We've had five linebackers hurt. We're lucky we had some depth there."

Noteworthy

Despite averaging 47 yards on nine punts against Samford and increasing his season punting average to 46.1, Southeast sophomore David Simonhoff fell out of the top spot in the national rankings. Simonhoff is second in I-AA, behind Northern Arizona's Paul Ernster, who is averaging 46.8 yards per punt.

Saturday's game at Eastern Illinois will be televised locally on UPN-The Beat (WQWQ-33).

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