Southeast Missouri State football preview: Redhawks seek consistency

Sunday, August 26, 2012
Head Coach Tony Samuel, middle, gives instructions to linemen running drills during the Southeast Missouri State football team's first practice of the season Friday, August 3, at the Rosengarten Athletic Complex (ADAM VOGLER)

Southeast Missouri State football coach Tony Samuel thought it probably would take about five years for the Redhawks to have a breakthrough season.

Samuel was right on the money. His fifth Southeast team in 2010 had arguably the program's finest campaign ever. It won the program's first Ohio Valley Conference title and earned the first playoff berth in school history.

The Redhawks did not come close to duplicating that success last year. They went 3-8 overall and 2-6 in the OVC to tie for seventh in the nine-team league.

Samuel said it's all part of the process in building a program. The next step is consistency.

By consistency Samuel means not having such dramatic highs and lows. He wants the Redhawks to contend year in and year out in the OVC.

That's a tall order because Southeast has had just three winning seasons since moving up to the Football Championship Subdivision level in 1991. But Samuel believes it can happen.

"We're trying to start a tradition. It's not easy," Samuel said. "We finally got there [the championship], but we graduated so much and we had to restart. I think we're restarting at a higher level now. I feel good about this team and these players, but we'll have to see how it all comes together."

Samuel will begin to see how things are coming together Thursday when the Redhawks visit Football Bowl Subdivision member Central Michigan.

Tony Samuel

Southeast will receive $300,000 from Central Michigan, with the money going toward the university's general athletic department revenue.

The Redhawks' home opener is the following week, Sept. 8 against Division II Mars Hill College. It's nothing but fellow FCS opponents for Southeast after that.

"I'm confident," senior linebacker Blake Peiffer said. "In my mind, we have just as good a chance as anybody in the OVC."

Southeast had to replace 20 key seniors last year, including 14 starters, from the sensational 2010 squad.

There is much more overall experience this year. The Redhawks welcome back nine offensive starters, seven defensive starters and both specialists among 46 returning lettermen.

Samuel hopes that helps Southeast win more close games. The Redhawks thrived in down-to-the-wire affairs in 2010, but not last year. Four of their six OVC losses were by eight points or fewer, including consecutive one-point defeats to end the season.

"Experience is always a factor," Samuel said. "Our experience should help us this year."

Southeast's most notable graduation loss was record-setting quarterback Matt Scheible. Ohio University transfer Kyle Snyder was in line to replace Scheible, but Snyder will miss the year after suffering a torn ACL early during preseason camp.

Redshirt freshman Scott Lathrop enters the year as the starter. None of Southeast's four quarterbacks has taken a snap in a college game.

"Everybody has to step up, not just the quarterbacks," Samuel said.

The Redhawks had just one first-team all-OVC selection last year in Peiffer, and he is the only Southeast player named preseason all-conference. He also is the league's preseason defensive player of the year.

Southeast Missouri State All-American linebacker Blake Peiffer brings down Jacksonville State’s Alan Bonner during a game last season at Houck Stadium. (Southeast Missourian file photo)

Peiffer has been selected to several preseason All-American squads and was among 20 players named to the Sports Network's Buck Buchanan Watch List. The Buchanan award goes to the nation's top defensive player on the FCS level.

Peiffer landed a spot on four All-American squads in 2011 after leading the OVC in tackles and ranking third nationally with a school-record 151 stops.

Senior offensive tackle Evan Conrad also has been selected to several preseason All-American teams. He has made 32 consecutive starts dating to his freshman year.

Samuel isn't worried as much about individual accolades as he is about how things blend together. He believes the Redhawks have significant talent to make plenty of noise, although Snyder's loss will hurt.

"I think we've got a good team," he said. "They're working hard, and I think we have good leaders. The big thing always is chemistry, how it jells. I think our team chemistry is very, very good."

Southeast was picked to finish seventh in the OVC preseason poll, but Samuel knows those predictions generally follow how a team fared the previous year.

Eastern Kentucky is the OVC preseason favorite after tying for the title with Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech last year. Jacksonville State was picked second.

Murray State, which finished just one game out of first place last season, was selected third. Tennessee Tech, which joined Eastern Kentucky in the FCS playoffs a year ago, was tabbed fourth.

Tennessee State, Tennessee-Martin, Southeast, Eastern Illinois and Austin Peay rounded out the poll.

"This league is so close every year. So many close games, not just us but everybody in the conference," Samuel said. "It's so hard to predict. I think everybody has a chance."

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