Four players add local flavor to Redhawks football team

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Jackson graduate Matt James is solidly established as a senior starter on Southeast's Missouri State's offensive line, but the status of four other players from the Southeast Missourian coverage area is up in the air more as they try to make their mark with the 2009 Redhawks.

Freshman cornerback Kris Cottner from Perryville High School played in two games last year on special teams before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He received a medical redshirt and still has four seasons of eligibility.

Freshman defensive end Antonio Garritano from Jackson redshirted last year as he practiced with the team but did not play in games while Blake Peiffer is a true freshman linebacker from Jackson.

Sophomore defensive tackle Jason Mercer is a walk-on from Cape Girardeau Central in his first season with the program.

"It's good to have guys from around here on the team," said Southeast coach Tony Samuel, whose squad will have its first of two scrimmages at 3 p.m. today at Houck Stadium. "They all were here over the summer and worked hard."

Cottner was elated to receive some early action last year as a true freshman until he went down with a torn ACL.

"It was very disappointing," Cottner said. "Just when I started to get the hang of things, my season was cut short."

But Cottner said plenty of rehabilitation following surgery has him feeling good again as he battles for playing time.

"I did a lot of rehab and I trained with the team all summer," said the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Cottner. "I feel great physically and I'm ready to get after it."

So is Garritano, who practiced with Southeast as a tight end last year but made the move to defensive end this spring. He played both positions at Jackson.

"I like defensive end. I feel more comfortable," Garritano said. "I like to hit, so my mindset is better there."

Garritano, 6-6 and 240, is listed as Southeast's No. 2 left end, behind senior Quentin Brown. He is the only local besides James who shows up on the current two-deep depth chart.

"I learn a lot from him," Garritano said of Brown. "I just want to help the team out any way I can and learn as much as I can."

Garritano said he initially was disappointed about redshirting last year but now is glad it happened.

"At first I was kind of bummed I didn't get to play, but I learned a lot and I still have four years [of eligibility]," he said.

Garritano likes having other Jackson natives as teammates.

"I go against Matt in practice and Blake's a real hard worker," Garritano said.

Peiffer hopes to parlay that hard work into playing time as a true freshman.

Although the 6-1, 225-pound Peiffer knows redshirting is a possibility, he'd rather see the field.

"I hate sitting the bench," Peiffer said. "My goal is to work hard every day, improve myself and get playing time, whether that means starting or backing up."

Peiffer, the Southeast Missourian football player of the year as a Jackson senior and also the Class 4 state wrestling champion at 215 pounds, said working out with the Redhawks this summer paid dividends.

"It gave me a chance to meet the players and learn the system," he said.

Mercer has the most unusual background among the local players since he didn't play football in high school.

Mercer was an all-state swimmer at Central, from where he graduated in 2006. He was recruited as a swimmer to NAIA Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., but ended up playing water polo and lacrosse there.

"I had to come back home [last year] for different reasons and I've been wanting to play football," Mercer said. "I talked to coach Samuel and he said they'd give me a shot."

The 6-4 Mercer said he weighed about 200 pounds as a Central senior but is now up to about 260. He transferred to Southeast in 2008, went through spring drills this year and now is trying to make his mark during fall camp.

"I've got a lot to learn, but I'm enjoying it," he said. "I feel I have the athletic ability."

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