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Southeast's Tony Samuel bestowed elite coaching honor
Southeast Missouri State's historic football season resulted in another major honor for coach Tony Samuel on Monday.
Samuel was named the American Football Coaches Association Region 3 coach of the year. The AFCA recognizes five regional coach of the year winners in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).
Samuel, who recently was named the Ohio Valley Conference coach of the year, also is one of 20 finalists for the Eddie Robinson Award, which honors the FCS national coach of the year.
Samuel, as he has done all year, deflected praise from himself.
"For me, it's really a team thing," Samuel said Monday. "Everybody likes to throw that award on the head guy. They don't look at the assistant coaches. I've got a great coaching staff, and we've been together a long time.
"There are so many people involved. The players made the commitment over the summer to do this. I'm the head coach so it goes to me, but I've never perceived it as an individual honor. It goes to the whole team."
Samuel and the other regional coach of the year winners will be recognized at the AFCA coach of the year dinner Jan. 11 as part of the 2011 AFCA convention in Dallas, Texas. The AFCA also will announce the national coach of the year at the convention.
Samuel directed the Redhawks' remarkable turnaround after they went 2-9 a season ago, including a last-place 1-7 OVC mark.
Southeast went 9-3 overall and 7-1 in league play this year, winning its first OVC title to earn the first playoff berth in the program's 104-year history.
The Redhawks posted the program's first winning season since 2002 and only the third since joining the FCS in 1991. They tied the school record for wins, matching the 1937 and 1955 squads that went 9-0.
"It was a great season," Samuel said.
The campaign ended with Saturday's 37-17 playoff loss at top-ranked Eastern Washington after the squads were tied 17-17 at halftime.
"You hear a lot of people say it, but the score wasn't indicative of the game," Samuel said. "I thought we handled ourselves well.
"It was a good first half for us. I thought in the second half we just weren't able to close it out."
Samuel's original five-year contract ends Jan. 31 and Southeast director of athletics John Shafer has said he would like to extend it, but there have not yet been any formal talks between the two.
Samuel has not said publicly if he plans to return -- "I don't know what the future brings," he said following Saturday's game -- but Monday he was already talking about the 2011 season and how important recruiting will be.
Southeast loses 20 seniors, 15 of them starters, including many of the Redhawks' top players.
"This season was a great step, but there are a lot of things we need," Samuel said in terms of personnel for next year.
Samuel said a big priority when signing day comes in early February will be to shore up both lines that were heavy with seniors. Junior college transfers likely will fill many of those gaps.
"We need juco guys in the lines. We have quite a few scholarships, and we can sign four [mid-semester juco transfers] in January who can be here for spring ball," said Samuel, who added that Southeast was able to redshirt more freshmen this season than in years past.
Samuel said this season's success and resulting publicity should help in opening more recruiting doors.
"We're much more recognized all over the country. We got a lot of honors," he said. "Kids look at that, and that will help kids look at other things about us, about the university. They can see more of the good things we have to offer here."
Southeast senior linebacker Joshua Jackson also picked up an honor Monday when he was named The Sports Network national defensive player of the week.
Jackson finished an impressive career with one of his best performances Saturday, recording 15 tackles and returning an interception for a touchdown.
Jackson was Southeast's leading tackler this season with 85. He was a second-team all-OVC selection.
Southeast senior tailback Henry Harris finished fifth in the voting for the Walter Payton Award, which honors the FCS player of the year. He finished behind Eastern Washington tailback Taiwan Jones.
Quarterbacks Matt Barr (Western Illinois), Jeremy Moses (Stephen F. Austin) and DeAndre Presley (Appalachian State) have been invited to the FCS awards presentation on Jan. 6.
Harris is the first OVC player to finish among the top five in the Payton Award voting since Tennessee State's Barrick Nealy placed fifth in 2005. Tony Romo won the award as Eastern Illinois' quarterback in 2002.