Indians look down the road to cold, success

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Southeast Missouri State University's seventh football practice of the spring was held in brisk, almost winter-like conditions at Houck Stadium.

But that didn't bother coach Tim Billings.

"I told them this is probably what it'll be like Thanksgiving weekend, the first weekend of the (Division I-AA) playoffs," Billings said with a smile.

Wishful thinking, perhaps, considering the Indians went 3-8 in 2000 and 4-7 in 2001 during Billings' first two seasons at Southeast.

But Billings said it doesn't hurt to dream big.

"I'd love to be playing in the cold next year," he said. "That's my goal."

The playoffs are still a long way off, but Billings said he likes what he has seen so far roughly halfway through the 15 spring practice sessions allowed by the NCAA.

"I think we're coming along well and making a lot of progress," he said. "I feel good about our offense. We're working on running the ball more and our young offensive line has improved. We've got all our wide receivers back and some of our younger guys are getting some reps.

"Our three quarterbacks are getting a lot of work. We're going live a lot more than in the past with all the quarterbacks to see how they can react under pressure. We already know Jeromy can. All three have done a good job."

Jeromy McDowell, who passed for more than 2,000 yards last year as a redshirt freshman, is sitting out spring drills as he recovers from arthroscopic knee and shoulder surgery. The Indians' quarterbacks this spring are junior-college transfer Jack Tomco, redshirt freshman Jeff East and sophomore Ben Arnold.

Defensive questions

The defense probably holds most of Southeast's question marks. Billings said the Indians are trying to develop several young defensive linemen and linebackers.

Southeast has gotten a boost by the return of defensive end Ryan Roth, who missed last season with a broken foot but is healthy this spring.

And the linebacking corps will receive a lift in the fall when Travion Brock returns. He missed last year with a broken arm that required surgery and he is also out for the spring.

The return of a healthy Roth and Brock is "like basically getting two starters back."

McDowell coming along

McDowell, who had knee surgery in December and shoulder surgery in January, has been making solid progress and should be able to start throwing again in May.

"He's coming along real well," Southeast trainer Lance McNamara said.

Players much stronger

Billings lauded Southeast's first-year strength coach, Paul Helsel, for the work he has done with the Indians.

"He's done a great job. It's unbelievable," Billings said. "Our agility, strength, conditioning, it's so much better than it was.

"Hopefully by next fall we'll really be able to see it."

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