Kyle East was a second- team All-Ohio Valley Conference punter for Southeast Missouri State University in 2001.
Now East and his Carroll College teammates are making an improbable run through the NAIA tournament that saw them knock off undefeated No. 1 Sioux Falls to reach today's championship game.
East, whose cousin Jeff East saw time at quarterback this season, started one year at punter for Southeast before running out of NCAA eligibility.
East said he wanted to keep playing, and Carroll College in Helena, Mont., was a relaxing environment for him.
"I'm just relaxed up here," he said. "I finally figured out how to punt."
Carroll will take on Georgetown (Ky.), which is making its fourth straight trip to the title game. The Saints have been eliminated by Georgetown in the semifinals each of the last two seasons.
East, a Paducah, Ky., native, said the team is revved up about getting the chance to knock off Georgetown.
"Especially for me," he said. "I want to come back here and beat some Kentucky boys."
Carroll, which entered the NAIA playoffs ranked No. 10, has knocked off the No. 9, No. 5 and No. 1 teams in the tournament.
For the Saints, whose defense held regular-season opponents to two touchdowns or less in seven of 10 games, East has been a vital addition. East had a breakout year, putting up a 41.2-yard average. East's average is up nearly four yards from last season when he put up 37.5 yards per punt for the Indians. Through the regular season East ranked fifth nationally in punting average.
East said a key to not only his success, but the team's success in general, has been the atmosphere.
"It's a team," he said. "There's not any individuals."
Through winning a conference championship and making it through to the NAIA finals, East still found time to keep up with his former Southeast teammates and got frequent updates from his cousin.
"I'm proud that they did so well," East said.
East said he hopes to gain one more year of eligibility at Carroll, but if not, he is happy with what he has done in collegiate football.
Central graduate brings home junior-college title
Former Central lineman Chris Smith couldn't get past the quarterfinals in high school, but for Smith his first year in college brought a national championship.
With a 24-14 win over Georgia Military College in the Sea Island Company Golden Isles Bowl Classic, Smith's Joliet Junior College team claimed its first outright National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship.
The Wolves finished the season 11-0 and set the Joliet Junior College record for wins in a regular season with 10. The Wolves also have a 21-game winning streak -- the best in the nation -- and it includes the 2001 Non-Scholarship National Championship.
Smith backed up a line that had an All-American, three first-team and one second-team all-conference player. Smith made several early-season starts due to injuries to teammates. The offensive line allowed only 13 sacks against conference player of the year Jim Peyton, while the Wolves posted 1,989 yards rushing.
Smith will look to compete for a starting job next season after the Wolves will lose four all-conference lineman and six offensive lineman in all. Joliet will have five offensive lineman returning, including Smith.
Wolves coach Bob McDougal said if Smith can come back about 25 percent better than this year he could be a real force in the trenches.
"We enjoy having him in our program," he said.
McNabb started 14 games this season and scored two goals. McNabb's final goal of the season was the game-winner in Oakland's opening-round victory in the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament.
Southeast's 8-4 turnaround season saw contributions from several area players. Jackson graduate Ray Goodson caught 17 passes for 130 yards and three touchdowns. Caleb Daniel, also a Jackson graduate, recorded 33 tackles, including five tackles for loss and two sacks. Central graduate O.J. Turner was second on the team in tackles with 68 and recorded one interception and one fumble recovery. St. Vincent graduate Derek Kutz had a record-setting year with 50 extra points while hitting 8-of-14 field goals.
Amanda Nuyt, a Perryville graduate, was chosen as an honorable-mention member of the All-St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference team for women's soccer. Nuyt, a freshman goalkeeper, helped Maryville to a 10-6-4 record.