Billings believes 21 will pay off

Thursday, February 3, 2005

Southeast Missouri State University football coach Tim Billings knows that on signing day every program thinks it's a big winner -- but only time is the real test as to whether that turns out to be true.

But Billings says he genuinely believes Southeast struck it rich with the 21 signings he announced Wednesday, including five mid-semester junior college transfers who are already in school and will participate in spring drills next month.

"Everybody does good on signing day, but we're excited," Billings said. "I feel like this could be one of our best [recruiting] years. You never know, but I really feel good about it."

Announced as signing on the opening day of the national letter of intent period were nine junior college transfers and 12 high school seniors, including Jackson's big offensive lineman Matt James (6-foot-5, 302).

"He has the potential to be a really good player for us," Billings said.

Billings believes the Redhawks filled some of their more glaring needs by adding quality and depth at several positions, including offensive line, quarterback, running back and wide receiver.

Southeast signed five offensive linemen, four wide receivers, three quarterbacks and two running backs, along with a tight end. Defensively, four backs and two linemen signed.

"I think we've filled every one of our needs, the only concern right now is defensive line and maybe getting a linebacker, but we still plan on signing a few more players," Billings said.

A hole at defensive line recently came up when Fred Amano, one of the Redhawks' top down linemen last season, decided to leave the program and return to his home state of California.

"We'll miss Fred, but I think he just wanted to get closer to home," Billings said.

Among the five junior college transfers already enrolled in school is quarterback Kevin Ballatore from Santa Rosa, Calif. He was second nationally in passing yards (3,029) and touchdowns (35) last season.

Ballatore, who should compete with returning player Mike Haley for the starting quarterback position, will be limited during spring drills because he is still recovering from knee surgery.

"We're real excited about him," Billings said. "He was highly recruited before he tore his ACL, but he played all year and then had surgery. He'll have limited contact in the spring, but he'll be able to learn our system."

Also already in school are 300-pound offensive linemen Joe Hadley and Jon Penrod, defensive lineman Nick Ferguson and tight end Kyle Hunt, who also earned all-conference basketball honors at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College.

Southeast also signed one of the state's top offensive line prospects in Andy Lozano from the St. Louis area.

Former starter Taurean Robinson, who left the program but decided to return and was ineligible last year, is also back to bolster the line.

"We lost three starters, but we've really beefed up our offensive line," Billings said. "And Hunt is a really good athlete who may also play some defense for us."

Another notable high school recruit is running back Anthony Anderson from Arlington, Texas, who was rated the top running back in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He is the son of former NFL player Alfred Anderson.

"He was recruited hard by Colorado and Utah as a junior, but he broke his leg early in his senior season and a lot of schools got off him," Billings said. "But he's healthy now and ready to go."

Also bolstering the backfield will be John Radney, one of last year's heralded junior college recruits who was ineligible. But he remained in school and should be able to play this season.

Southeast also should gain the services of last year's top recruit, All-American junior college cornerback Charles McCoy. Like Radney, McCoy was ineligible last season but remained in school.

"They can't play during spring ball, but they're doing well in school, and if they keep it up they'll be ready to go," Billings said. "We're really high on both of them."

Also aiding the defensive backfield will be former Central High School star Monroe Hicks, who transferred last year from Central Missouri State and practiced with the team but was ineligible for games. And Marco Tipton, injured the past two seasons, might be able to gain a final year of eligibility.

"Along with the recruits, we've got a lot of guys who have been sitting out that will really help us," Billings said.

While Billings attempts to secure additional recruits -- and maybe even a few Division I-A transfers later in the year -- he's also in the market for several new coaches as Tony Joe White (special teams/running backs), Matt Webb (defensive tackles), Andy McGill (defensive ends) and Jim Cox (linebackers) all recently left the program to pursue other positions.

"We'll be hiring some people the next few weeks," Billings said. "Sometimes it's good to bring in some new people."

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