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Southeast's offensive line opens holes for nation's leading rusher
Southeast Missouri State's remarkable football turnaround can be attributed to a variety of reasons.
A stout offensive line ranks near the top of the list.
Southeast's front wall, which averages 307 pounds per man and features four seniors, has helped forge a 5-1 record and 4-0 Ohio Valley Conference mark. Both starts are the program's best since moving up to the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA, and joining the OVC in 1991.
"They've been great all year," junior quarterback Matt Scheible said. "They've played as a unit, five as one."
The line, which receives help from senior tight end Bradley Brown, has powered a dominant rushing attack that leads the OVC and ranks third nationally with an average of 277.3 yards per game while featuring the nation's leading rusher in senior tailback Henry Harris.
Southeast also leads the league and ranks fourth nationally in fewest sacks allowed with three.
"They're doing a real good job," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said. "Nothing works if the offensive line doesn't fit. If those five aren't on the same page, you're going to have a problem."
Southeast's line consists of right guard Bryan Curry (6-foot-3, 320 pounds), right tackle Brandon Harris (6-4, 305), center Sean Middleton (6-3, 305), left guard Frank Knights (6-1, 300) and left tackle Evan Conrad (6-3, 305). Conrad, a sophomore, is the only non-senior.
"Hard work," said Middleton, a Los Angeles, native, when asked the key to the line's success. "We were all here over the summer working."
Conrad said having dangerous threats like Henry Harris and Scheible, along with a solid scheme, are other factors.
"We have a really good quarterback and running back. That helps," said Conrad, the only Missourian among the group. He hails from Columbia. "And we have a good scheme that puts us in a good position to be successful."
Experience also doesn't hurt for a unit that saw Middleton, Curry and Conrad all come to Southeast out of high school, with Harris and Knights transferring from junior college before last season.
Knights started all 11 games last year, Middleton started 10 times and Conrad made nine starts as a true freshman.
Harris made three starts and saw action in all 11 games, while Curry started just once but saw considerable action after starting eight times in 2008.
"Experience helps a lot," said Brandon Harris, who is from Phoenix. "We know what we're doing. We know the system."
Another factor, all the linemen agreed, is that they are a close bunch that enjoys each other's company on and off the field.
"We're a pretty tight group," said Knights, who hails from Aptos, Calif., a small community about 40 miles from San Jose.
Said Middleton: "We hang out a lot, go eat at places, things like that. We all get along real good."
A game doesn't go by where Henry Harris or Scheible -- Southeast's top offensive playmakers -- fail to praise the line.
Harris, aided by strong blocking, has recorded a school-record five straight 100-yard rushing performances.
With 868 yards, Harris appears certain to notch just the seventh 1,000-yard rushing season in school history and become only the fifth player to accomplish that feat.
Harris, who needs 94 yards to become the fifth player in school history to reach 2,000 career yards, also could threaten Southeast's single-season record of 1,371 yards set by Kelvin "Earthquake" Anderson in 1992.
"The line has been blocking great all year," Harris said. "I couldn't do it without them."
Southeast's line appreciates Harris' play as much as he appreciates the group.
"Having a back like that, we feel real good. We take a lot of pride in what he's doing," said Curry, who is from Nashville, Tenn. "It makes us feel appreciated."
The line would like nothing better than to block for a 1,000-yard rusher and perhaps even Southeast's single-season record holder.
"We appreciate what he's doing and what all the others are doing," Middleton said. "They make us look good."
Offensive linemen rarely receive much media attention, which is just fine with the Redhawks' front wall.
"We know they [the other offensive players] appreciate us," Conrad said. "That's all we need."
While most people are surprised by the Redhawks' turnaround -- Southeast went 2-9 last year and has not posted a winning season since 2002 but will clinch one with its next victory -- the linemen aren't and believe there's no reason the good times won't continue.
"There's no stopping what we can do," Harris said.