Connolly must wait for another shot at ring

Monday, January 21, 2013

Unlike last year, there won't be a Southeast Missouri State connection to the Super Bowl after Baltimore's win over New England in Sunday's AFC championship game.

Dan Connolly, a four-year all-Ohio Valley Conference offensive lineman for Southeast from 2001 through 2004, was the Patriots' starting right guard this season. He was the starting center when New England lost in the Super Bowl last season.

Connolly, who just concluded his seventh NFL season, originally made the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He spent a majority of his first few campaigns either inactive or on practice squads but persevered and has been a starter the past three years.

Connolly, although he has been a solid member of New England's line, is probably best known around the NFL for his remarkable kickoff return during a nationally televised Sunday night game against Green Bay during the 2010 season.

The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Connolly fielded a short kickoff, then broke several tackles while displaying impressive speed and athleticism on a 71-yard return before being tackled at the Packers' 4-yard line.

Connolly's return was the longest by an offensive lineman in NFL history and drew all kinds of national attention, including being a hot topic on ESPN for the next few days.

I was hoping Connolly, a good guy who I knew well during his Southeast days, would soon become better known as a first-time Super Bowl champion after the Patriots came up just short against the New York Giants in 2012.

Maybe Connolly will have another shot next season.

While the Southeast men's basketball program hit a recent rough patch that featured a season-long four-game losing streak, the Redhawks continue to build their talent base for the future.

Southeast fans had to be excited about last week's announcement that Josh Langford joined the Redhawks after playing two seasons at Auburn.

Langford, if he lives up to his vast potential, could be one of the OVC's top players after he becomes eligible next December. He began practicing with the Redhawks on Tuesday.

The 6-foot-7, 215-pound left-hander can play multiple positions, but Southeast coach Dickey Nutt said the plan is for Langford to play a wing position for the Redhawks, which basically combines the shooting guard and small forward roles.

That wing position has been a problem spot for the Redhawks the past few years, but Langford could be the solution.

He certainly has the credentials.

Langford was ranked Alabama's No. 1 player as a senior at Lee High School in Huntsville. He originally committed to Louisville before signing with Auburn.

Langford did not put up eye-popping numbers for Auburn, but his talent suggests he could be an impact player for the Redhawks.

Langford joins two other players who currently are working out with the Redhawks but won't play in games until next season.

Former Central Florida player Wayne Martin Jr., a 6-7 forward who has been practicing with the Redhawks all season, will have three years of eligibility beginning next season.

Also practicing with the Redhawks for the past few weeks has been freshman point guard C.J. Reese, who joined the program for the second semester after becoming academically eligible.

Reese will redshirt, meaning he will have four years of eligibility beginning next season.

The low point of what has so far been an up-and-down season for Nutt's Redhawks undoubtedly took place Thursday when Morehead State came to the Show Me Center and won 75-59, extending Southeast's losing streak to four.

What especially disturbed Nutt was the Eagles' 45-23 rebounding advantage, including 18-4 on the offensive glass. Morehead was simply way too tough for the Redhawks.

A lack of toughness is something Nutt has harped on much of the season. Southeast appeared to take a step toward getting that corrected Saturday when rugged junior forward Michael Porter finally returned to action.

Porter, who had missed the entire season with a broken foot, still is hobbled by a hip problem and might never be 100 percent. But the mentally and physically tough Porter elevates the Redhawks simply by his presence on the court.

Porter played 16 minutes, scoring six points and grabbing three rebounds, as the Redhawks got back in the win column with a 74-62 home victory over Tennessee Tech.

Porter, unfortunately, was taken back to the locker room midway through the second half and did not return to the bench. Nutt feared that Porter might have re-fractured the foot, which would be a shame considering all the misfortune he has had during his college career.

There is only one OVC men's basketball team without a conference loss after last week's action between the top East Division squads.

Belmont handed Eastern Kentucky its first OVC defeat Thursday with a hard-fought 83-76 home victory. The Bruins had beaten their first four league opponents by a combined 104 points.

First-year OVC member Belmont then hit visiting Tennessee State with its first OVC loss 78-66 Saturday.

The Bruins took over sole possession of first place in the loaded East Division at 6-0, just ahead of Tennessee State (6-1) and Eastern Kentucky (5-1).

An improved Southeast women's basketball team continued to turn heads even in defeat Wednesday.

Southeast led defending OVC regular-season and tournament champion Tennessee-Martin by two points with under four minutes left before the visiting Skyhawks rallied for an 82-71 win.

It was one of the better women's basketball games I've seen at the Show Me Center in several years, and I heard similar comments from quite a few other people who appreciate the way the Redhawks are playing these days.

Area college-age baseball players who don't compete for the tradition-rich Plaza Tire Capahas will have another option this summer.

The Charleston Riverdogs, who used to field a team before folding several years ago, are organizing and will be holding tryouts in April. The exact time and date has not yet been announced. The squad primarily is for college players ages 19 and over, although players who don't compete collegiately can also try out.

The Riverdogs plan to play a 35-game schedule, with home games at Hillhouse Field in Charleston and Saxony Lutheran High School in Jackson.

Interested players seeking more information should call Paul Sander at 270-9535 or Michael Minner at 382-2740.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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