Southeast Missouri State football team has experience, depth on offensive line

Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Southeast Missouri State offensive tackle Evan Conrad. (Laura Simon)

Southeast has four offensive line members that started all 11 games last season

Returning only one starter didn't slow down Southeast Missouri State's offensive line much, if at all, last season.

Welcoming back six offensive linemen with starting experience only makes the Redhawks' front wall that much more formidable.

"It's definitely great when you have familiar faces playing next to you," said senior tackle Evan Conrad, the one constant along the line the past few years. "We have a chemistry built in."

Conrad enters the 2012 season having made 32 consecutive starts dating to his freshman season.

Southeast's linemen say their goal is always the same no matter the circumstances, and that is to lead the Ohio Valley Conference in rushing and rank among the national leaders. The unit has been able to accomplish that the past two seasons.

"I feel very confident about the line. We're not afraid to run the ball. We don't care if we have to run the ball on every play," senior guard Colt McCauley said. "Having everybody back, it's easier to click.

"It's a goal every year, to lead the conference in rushing and to be in the top five, the top 10 in the nation. We want to be the most dominant force on the field at all times."

Southeast's line was a dominant force in 2010 during the Redhawks' record-setting season that featured the first OVC title and first playoff berth in program history.

The 2010 Redhawks averaged 265.1 yards rushing per game to lead the OVC and rank third nationally.

Southeast accomplished that with four senior starters up front, meaning the line had to endure a major overhaul last year.

Conrad was the lone returning regular.

Not to worry. The line continued to dominate in 2011, helping Southeast again lead the OVC and rank ninth nationally in rushing with an average of 233.1 yards per game.

But Conrad, a preseason All-American, said what Southeast's line accomplished the past two years still isn't good enough, even though the unit also was adept at protecting record-setting quarterback Matt Scheible.

"Our goal is always to be No. 1 in the nation [in rushing offense]," Conrad said. "We haven't gotten there yet."

Might this be the year? Conrad isn't ruling it out based on the line's experience and unity. The Redhawks also return their top three tailbacks and their fullback, which doesn't hurt.

"We've got a great bond," Conrad said. "The whole team is a family and your position group is like your brothers."

McCauley said the line's togetherness plays a big part in its success.

"We're really close-knit in the offensive line," McCauley said. "Off the field we're constantly doing things together."

Conrad, McCauley, senior tackle Dominic Maldonado and senior center Matt Shannon started all 11 games last year.

Senior Pete Niggemann started four games at guard before being slowed by injury.

Sophomore Ben Schmidt made two starts at tackle when Conrad moved over to guard.

Senior guard/center Josh Jourdan and sophomore center Corey Porter also return after seeing action in 2011.

Sophomore tackle William Jelks and redshirt freshman guard Traven Mable are among others battling for playing time.

"We've got a lot of guys who can do the job up front," McCauley said. "We're deep."

Conrad and McCauley credit their position coach, former Nebraska standout offensive lineman Brian Boerboom, for helping mold the unit into a dominant group.

"He's a big part of it," McCauley said.

Southeast coach Tony Samuel believes the unit will be even stronger than last year.

"We've got more experience than we did last year. That's huge," said Samuel, whose squad will have its second and final scrimmage of preseason camp at 1 p.m. Saturday at Houck Stadium. "They're moving really well. A couple of them lost weight, and you can tell it's made a difference. We're expecting a lot out of them."

Receiving votes

Southeast received four votes in The Sports Network preseason Football Championship Subdivision poll released Monday.

Two OVC teams made the top 25 -- Eastern Kentucky at No. 18 and Jacksonville State at No. 22.

OVC member Murray State received the most votes of squads outside the top 25 with 292 votes.

Other OVC teams nabbing votes were Tennessee Tech with 77 and Eastern Illinois and Tennessee-Martin with one each.

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