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Southeast's defensive stalwart: Stauffer's 135 tackles rank second in Division I-AA
Nick Stauffer wanted to make it clear that he didn't want to sound cocky.
Then he went on to explain why he's not surprised by the season he's put together.
"I've always had confidence in myself," said Stauffer, Southeast Missouri State's senior middle linebacker. "I led my high school team in tackles and I've carried it over to here."
Has he ever.
Stauffer not only leads Southeast in tackles by a wide margin, he ranks second nationally in Division I-AA.
With 135 tackles and two games left — including Saturday's Senior Day matchup against Tennessee-Martin — Stauffer appears a good bet to break Southeast's single-season record of 147 tackles, set by Joe Williams in 2000.
"He really is playing All-American type football," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said. "He's playing great."
Stauffer has performed so well that it's almost comical to think back to one of the big question marks for Southeast's defense during the preseason. The question then was how would the Redhawks replace middle linebacker Adam Casper, a two-time first-team all-Ohio Valley Conference selection who led the OVC in tackles last year with 112 and was Southeast's top tackler the past two seasons?
Stauffer's play made the topic moot quite a few games ago, and he's continued to excel as Casper's replacement.
"He's stepped up unbelievably," Samuel said.
Samuel said Stauffer's work ethic made the difference.
"He put together a great summer. He's worked at it," Samuel said. "He's special, one of the guys as a coach you're going to remember."
Although not a full-time starter until this year, Stauffer has been a contributor since his redshirt freshman season in 2005, the year before Samuel took over the program.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Stauffer saw action off the bench in a combined 13 games in 2005 and 2006. He had 24 tackles.
Stauffer was slated to start at an outside linebacker spot last year, but suffered a foot injury during preseason practice. He missed just one game, but never solidified a starting spot.
"It was kind of frustrating, but I did what I had to do for the team," he said.
Stauffer played in 10 games and made two starts last year. He finished with 34 tackles, his first collegiate sack and his first collegiate fumble recovery.
Stauffer displayed his potential when, starting for an injured Casper at Tennessee-Martin late last year, he recorded what was then a career-high 15 tackles.
A native of Mansfield, Texas, Stauffer hasn't slowed down since. He has been Southeast's leading tackler in all but two games this season, and has 67 tackles more than anybody else on the squad.
Stauffer has been on a roll lately with 20, 18 and 21 tackles in his last three games.
"It's turned out pretty well for me," Stauffer said of his senior season.
Even before Stauffer's monster year, he had the respect of his teammates because they voted him one of Southeast's five captains for 2008.
"He's a leader," Samuel said.
In addition to his 135 tackles — which rank second in the OVC behind national leader Nathan Williams of Murray State, who has 150 stops — Stauffer has 10 tackles for loss, 2.5 quarterback sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and his first collegiate interception.
"I have to give credit to my D-line," Stauffer said. "If they do well, I do well."
Stauffer said his big year is somewhat bittersweet because Southeast (3-7, 1-5 OVC) is headed for another losing record, its 16th in 18 Division I-AA seasons.
"It feels good for me, but it would have felt a lot better if we had a better record," Stauffer said.
Stauffer, one of a handful of players left in the program from before Samuel took over, said he also was recruited by some Texas schools, but decided to leave his home state for Southeast.
"It's just how the cards fell. It was a good fit for me," he said. "I have no regrets. I've had a great time here, a lot of good experiences."
Stauffer, majoring in secondary education, is scheduled to graduate in December. He plans on becoming a coach, either at the high school or college level.
Before then, however, Stauffer has designs on helping the Redhawks finish the season strong.
While Stauffer said a win on Senior Day would feel good, he emphasized that another opportunity to play the sport he loves is incentive enough.
"I'm just trying to prepare for every game like I always do," he said.
Big group of seniors
Stauffer is one of 17 Southeast seniors who will make his final home appearance Saturday against Tennessee-Martin (7-3, 5-1), which is tied for first place in the OVC and ranked 20th and 21st in the two major national Division I-AA polls.
"This group needs to finish with a win," Samuel said. "They're playing hard. ... It would be really good to win."
In addition to Stauffer, other seniors on defense are safety Vincent Anderson, rover Victor Anderson, end Ben Gugler, tackle Nick Ketelsleger, cornerback Kendall Magana, tackle Brandon McCrary, end Matt Stahlberg, tackle Ryan Taloa and end Hannibal Vaivao.
Southeast's seniors on offense are receiver Daryl Gist, tailback Timmy Holloman, quarterback Houston Lillard, offensive lineman Paul McGuire and receiver Mike Williamson.
Andrew Bravo handles Southeast's long snapping duties.
Many of the seniors have been among the Redhawks' top players the past few seasons and all have been key contributors.
A final senior who will be recognized Saturday is Ste. Genevieve native Adam Schwent, who had his career cut short by injury, but has remained with the program as a student assistant coach the past two years.
"It's an interesting mix," Samuel said of the seniors. "It's a combination of the last [coaching] staff and junior college kids we brought in.
"It's really a good group of kids."