(Missourian file photo)
Southeast Missouri State football coach Tony Samuel acknowledged that his job status came up during the recruiting process.
But Samuel said he doesn't believe it prevented Southeast from landing the players it targeted.
Samuel announced the signing of 17 players to national letters of intent Wednesday as the NCAA signing period began. He said Southeast likely will land several more players in the months to come.
"This is a good, good class," Samuel said. "Along with the people we have coming back, this is really exciting for us."
Samuel will be entering the final season of his original five-year contract that expires Jan. 31, 2011.
The Redhawks went 2-9 overall and 1-7 in Ohio Valley Conference play last season, giving Samuel a four-year record of 13-32 overall and 6-25 in the OVC.
But the 2009 Redhawks were competitive in every OVC game, their biggest margin of defeat being a 24-3 loss to nationally ranked Jacksonville State.
"I've had people ask me, parents mainly," Samuel said of his job status. "But it's part of the deal.
"People get on the Internet. They saw how close our games were. 'You guys were in every game.' I heard that more than anything."
Samuel said that the way coaches are let go or change jobs these days regardless of their contract status, his situation is not nearly as big a factor as it might have been several years ago.
"Not any more the way things are these days," he said.
Samuel said he believes he and his staff succeeded in landing a strong recruiting class primarily because of what they had to offer.
"Once you get them here, with their parents, that sold it -- the campus, the community," he said. "We've got a lot of great things here."
Southeast's latest batch of signees, featuring players from 11 states, is heavy on high school seniors (13) and light on Missouri products (two).
Southeast signed only three junior college transfers, considerably fewer than last year, which Samuel said was by design after the 2008 Redhawks lost so many seniors.
"Last year we had to" sign more juco transfers, Samuel said.
With the majority of the 2009 Redhawks' key players returning, Samuel said Southeast targeted specific areas of need.
High on the list was cornerback to replace several starters, running back to add depth, quarterback to add depth and the return game.
Southeast signed two junior college cornerbacks who likely will be expected to start, five running backs, two quarterbacks and a dynamic return specialist.
Also signed were four defensive linemen, one offensive lineman, one tight end and one linebacker.
"We're filling gaps that I think can take us to another level," Samuel said.
The juco transfers are cornerbacks Kweku Arkorful and Jaren Butler, along with defensive end Rod Benman
"We graduated three corners," Samuel said. "In my opinion, we signed two really good corners."
Southeast returns its top two running backs in Henry Harris and Mike Jones, but Samuel wanted more depth. He has it by landing three tailbacks and two fullbacks, including one who also could play tailback.
Among the backfield signees is one with regional ties.
Lennies McFerren of Paris, Tenn., attended New Madrid County Central High School until his junior year. He is a grandson of former Southeast basketball player Lennies McFerren, who coached Charleston and NMCC to a combined nine state basketball championships.
McFerren rushed for 440 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging nearly seven yards per carry as a senior.
"They call him Little Mac," Samuel said. "We first saw him at New Madrid. We thought it was good to get him."
An interesting backfield possibility is Ron Coleman from Omaha, Neb., who is listed as a fullback and tailback.
The 5-foot-11, 250-pound Coleman rushed for 800 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior. He is a three-time state champion wrestler who was rated the No. 2 wrestling prospect in Nebraska by numerous publications.
"We've got a nice mixture of backs, a physical bunch, and you'll also see a mixture of great speed," Samuel said.
While junior-to-be Matt Scheible firmly is established as Southeast's starting quarterback, the way the Redhawks run their signal callers, depth is important.
"Now we'll have four quarterbacks on scholarship," Samuel said.
Southeast landed two dual-threat quarterbacks much in the mold of Scheible: Tyler Peoples from Glendale, Ariz., and Kyle Portell from Lindbergh High School in suburban St. Louis.
Peoples is the younger brother of former Southeast standout wide receiver Walter Peoples, who led the Redhawks in receptions the past two seasons. Tyler Peoples passed for 2,461 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior while adding 833 yards rushing.
Portell threw for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns while running for 791 yards and eight TDs as a senior.
"Both can run. That was an emphasis," Samuel said. "We wanted to sign two, maybe three [quarterbacks]. Once we signed those two, we felt really good."
Although record-setting return specialist Jacob McKinley decided not to return to the program following last season, Samuel believes Southeast found a talented replacement in Spencer Davis from Hazelwood Central High School in suburban St. Louis.
Davis was part of two state championship teams at Hazelwood Central. He scored 12 touchdowns, including eight on punt returns, as a senior. His 76-yard punt return for a touchdown against Blue Springs last season was the longest in a state championship game.
Samuel said Davis, an all-state sprinter, has electrifying speed and was looked at by some major programs who eventually were scared off by his size (5-8, 175).
"He's a great returner," Samuel said. "I thought he was as good a get as we got this year to fill our needs."
Samuel said Arkorful also likely will figure into the return game.
In addition to the three juco transfers, the only other transfer is defensive lineman Navarus Thompson, who redshirted at Division I-AA Hofstra last year before leaving after the Pride announced the termination of their football program.
Southeast generally has signed quite a few more Missouri high school products in recent years, but only two so far this year.
"You can say two or three," Samuel said, depending on if you count McFerren, who grew up in Southeast Missouri. "It's still not over yet. I would guess we'd still sign two or three more from Missouri."
With several scholarships remaining, Samuel said Southeast still is looking for a kicker/punter type after All-American Doug Spada completed his eligibility. And Samuel said there always is a possibility of adding a couple Division I-A transfers.
Southeast opens the 2010 season Sept. 2 at Division I-A Ball State.