Southeast Missouri State football team's lone returner on line is among OVC's best

Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Southeast Missouri State offensive tackle Evan Conrad. (Laura Simon)

Evan Conrad had his sights set on playing football at Missouri, his hometown university.

The Columbia, Mo., native's lack of a scholarship offer from the Tigers has been Southeast Missouri State's gain.

"He's been a great player for us. We're glad he's here," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said.

Conrad, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound junior left tackle, has been an integral part of Southeast's offensive line since his true freshman season in 2009.

You could argue he's now the leader of that group. Even if Conrad won't say it, others will.

Southeast Missouri State junior tackle Evan Conrad is the lone returner on an offensive line that featured four first-team all-OVC members last season. (Laura Simon)

"For all intents and purposes, I suppose," Conrad said during Tuesday's media day at Houck Stadium. "But offensive line is a unit thing. No one person sticks out."

Conrad sticks out for several reasons, including that he is the only returning starter from a unit that led the nation in sacks allowed (0.50 per game) and ranked third in rushing offense (265.1 yards per game) last year.

"He's a leader because he's been through the wars but also because of his personality," Southeast offensive line coach Brian Boerboom said. "He's got a big personality. He's a very deep thinker. The way he carries himself, people look up to him."

Junior Colt McCauley, battling for the left guard position, agreed.

"He's been doing a really good job with all the younger guys, setting an example," said McCauley, who then referenced all-OVC senior quarterback Matt Scheible. "Kind of how Matt stood out as a leader last year, Evan does the same thing."

The 2010 Redhawks became just the second team in Ohio Valley Conference history to produce four first-team all-conference offensive line selections, including Conrad. Among the departed are All-Americans Sean Middleton and Frank Knights.

Conrad already is drawing plenty of attention before even playing a game this year. He has been rated among the Sports Network's top 10 Football Championship Subdivision offensive linemen and has been named to multiple preseason All-America teams after allowing only two sacks in 12 starts last year.

The well-spoken, personable Conrad points out that a big reason for those preseason accolades is what transpired in 2010 when the line helped pave the way for All-American tailback Henry Harris' record-setting season. The graduated Harris rushed for more than 100 yards in 10 of 12 games.

"I was the beneficiary of a great running back and four great offensive linemen. I like to think I did well, also," Conrad said. "I try not to think about it [the preseason accolades] too much. In the postseason I might look at it different."

All-state in high school

Conrad, who started the final nine games as a true freshman in 2009, was a Class 6 first-team all-stater on both the offensive and defensive lines as a senior at Columbia Hickman High School.

Like most young football players growing up in the shadows of the state's flagship university, Conrad wanted to suit up for the Tigers one day.

"I wanted to go to Mizzou up until the time I realized I wasn't going there," Conrad said with a laugh. "Being from right there, they talked to me. I went to all their camps growing up.

"I went to all kinds of [MU] games. My parents were big fans. My mom got her doctorate from there."

Added Conrad: "Probably my junior year of high school I realized I wasn't going to go to Mizzou. I never got a good feeling. We were a power, downhill running team, kind of like here. I never fit their system."

Not that Conrad has any regrets with the way things have turned out. He said he chose Southeast after also being recruited by several other FCS programs.

"Southeast gave me the best opportunity as far as location, proximity to home and being far enough away from home," he said. "I'm very pleased with how things have gone so far at Southeast."

And Conrad said people shouldn't write off Southeast's offensive line or the Redhawks in general after they lost so many key players from last year's record-setting squad.

Southeast has several returning offensive linemen who saw action last season and in previous years. The line also has added a host of newcomers, including several junior college transfers.

"We had other guys last year who could have played at a high level," Conrad said. "I don't think the youth of the line will be the issue people think it will be.

"We lost some guys, some great players, but we have a lot of young guys who will be very successful in those positions."

Even with a bunch of new faces doing the blocking, Southeast's offensive line will continue to preach being physical. How fast the unit matures likely will play a big role in how the Redhawks fare this season.

"We want to be the most physical line in the country and punch people in the mouth. We want to be physical for four quarters," Boerboom said. "We'll have good depth. We've got a lot of people fighting for spots. The positions are wide open."

Save for the one occupied by a player who is more than happy Missouri didn't come calling.

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