Indians safety finds extra incentive in return to SIU

Saturday, September 7, 2002

Nate Johnston once hoped to play for Southern Illinois. Tonight he will try to help Southeast Missouri State University knock off that same team.

Johnston isn't scheduled to start in today's game, but figures to play quite a bit. Either way, the sophomore safety says he's excited about facing the Salukis in Carbondale, about 10 miles from his hometown of Carterville.

"One of my high school teammates plays for them and I know a bunch of guys on their team," Johnston said. "It's going to be a really fun night."

SIU never recruited Johnston, which gives him added incentive to perform well tonight.

"I've been excited to play them ever since they didn't recruit me," he said with a smile.

Johnston, an all-state running back at Carterville High School, first hoped to play for the University of Illinois. But when that plan fizzled, he wanted to suit up for the Salukis.

"Me dream was to go to Illinois," he said. "But it would have been nice to play for SIU, my hometown team."

But Johnston, 5-feet-11 and 185 pounds, says he's happy with the way things worked out. After redshirting at Southeast as a freshman and being moved to safety, he played on special teams last year and entered this season as a backup safety.

When starting free safety Prince Anderson could not play in last Thursday's opener against Arkansas-Monticello, Johnston made his first collegiate start. And he performed well, recording six tackles, forcing a fumble and recovering a fumble in the Indians' 42-41 win in double overtime.

"I thought I played OK for my first full game in a about 3 1/2 years," he said.

Southeast coach Tim Billings came away impressed.

"He stepped in and made some plays," Billings said. "He's a really good athlete and he knows the system."

Johnston originally was recruited by Southeast's former coaching staff, but wasn't offered a scholarship when Billings took over the program. Still, Johnston said walking on at Southeast "seemed liked my best shot."

After being moved to safety during his redshirt freshman season, Johnston was put on scholarship the following year. Although he played little defensively in high school, he's happy with the switch. And he hopes to continue contributing to the Indians, even if it means backing up Anderson, which will happen as soon as the all-conference senior is ready to return -- possibly tonight.

"I'm happy to get a chance to play, but I'm not expecting anything more than being second team because I don't want to get down," Johnston said. "But my first start really got me fired up and I'm excited about being able to contribute."

Salukis start fast

SIU, which routed Division II Kentucky Wesleyan 78-0 in its opener, went 1-10 last year in their first season under Kill, who has brought in a host of new players. Of the 63 players who saw action against Kentucky Wesleyan, 32 did not play last year.

Southeast's main objective will be shutting down Tom Koutsos, SIU's career rushing leader with 3,596 yards in three seasons. The Indians will try to put heat on redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Sambursky.

"Koutsos is one of the best we'll play," Billings said. "We've got to stop him and make their quarterback beat us."

The Indians have beaten the Salukis two straight years under Billings. Last season Southeast pulled away in the second half for a 24-5 home victory. And two years ago in Carbondale, the Indians won 34-33 after trailing 31-0. It was the third-biggest comeback in Division I-AA history.Noteworthy

***In addition to being without quarterback Jeromy McDowell, who will miss the rest of the year with a knee injury, the Indians likely won't have the services of starting wide receiver Tarik Simpson tonight. He missed the opener with a hamstring pull and is listed as doubtful.

***Junior college transfer Amos Misilao, who was to start at center, has failed to meet NCAA eligibility standards and will not play this season.

Left guard Eugene Amano moved to center for the opener and will remain there. Marshall transfer Eric Krauss started in place of Amano in the opener but sophomore Taurean Robinson is scheduled to get the nod tonight. It will be his first career start.

mmishow@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 132

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