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Samuel is optimistic, but he won't predict
Tony Samuel had the look in his eyes and the excitement in his voice suggesting a coach in charge of a struggling football program about to turn the corner.
Samuel wouldn’t take the bait from a questioner at Friday’s Southeast Missouri State media day seeking a prediction on how much the coach expects his fourth Southeast squad to improve in the win column.
But Samuel did say: “We’ll be good, I know that. My question is how good.”
Samuel said his only real prediction is that “we will play hard, we will have team unity and we will have great leadership.”
The 2008 Redhawks went 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the Ohio Valley Conference, which tied them for seventh place in the nine-team league.
Southeast Missouri State cornerback Eddlie Calvin had four interceptions and eight passes defended as a junior in 2008.
“We’re a better football team, there’s no doubt in my mind. How much better is the question,” said Samuel, whose squad held its first official practice Friday. “This is our first group of fourth-year seniors. … I’m fired up. I’m excited to get started.”
Samuel is 11-23 overall and 5-18 in the OVC during his first three seasons at Southeast, but he is not alone in finding the going tough in Cape Girardeau.
Southeast has not won more than four games in a year since 2003, and the Redhawks’ last winning record came in 2002. That is one of only two winning seasons for Southeast since it moved up to Division I-AA in 1991.
Samuel said he elects not to dwell on the past with his players.
“All we can do is focus on this season. All those questions [about previous years] focus so much on the past,” Samuel said. “When you’re trying to develop a program, you can get into so much negative. I try not to have my players think about all that.”
Senior fullback Nick Grassi said it’s time for the Redhawks to turn the corner.
“I think we have a great core group of guys,” he said. “We’re tired of losing. It’s time to win some football games.”
The Redhawks have elected seven captains for this season, based on voting among the players.
Offensive captains will be Grassi, wide receiver Walter Peoples and quarterback Dustin Powell. All are seniors.
Captains on defense will be cornerbacks Eddie Calvin and Salim Powell, safety Bryan Blanfort and linebacker Tyler Epstein. Blanfort and Epstein are juniors, with the others seniors.
“It was very unique in that the vote was that close. You normally don’t have seven, but I couldn’t turn any of them down,” Samuel said. “They’re all great leaders.”
There are five players listed on the Redhawks’ roster from the Southeast Missourian coverage area, including three from Jackson High School.
Senior offensive lineman Matt James from Jackson, a contributor since his freshman season, played in nine games last year and made four starts.
Freshman cornerback Kris Cottner from Perryville High School played in two games last year on special teams before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He received a medical redshirt and still has four seasons of eligibility.
Freshman defensive end Antonio Garritano from Jackson redshirted last year as he practiced with the team but did not play in games.
Blake Peiffer is an incoming freshman linebacker from Jackson, while sophomore defensive tackle Jason Mercer is a walk-on from Central who participated in spring practice after previously attending Lindenwood University.
Samuel said he would reserve judgement on the redshirt possibilities of Peiffer and the Redhawks’ other true freshmen.
“Some get forced into action. A few may be able to help,” Samuel said. “We’ll definitely take a good look at them in camp.”
Locker room ready
Southeast will finally have its own game-day locker room this season, after using the gymnasium in the Student Recreation Center South, across the street from Houck Stadium, the past few years.
The locker room, which also will be used by the Southeast soccer team, is part of the new student dormitory that was constructed just beyond the west end zone of Houck Stadium.
No new scoreboard
For the second straight season, there will be a temporary, small scoreboard at Houck Stadium.
The original scoreboard had to come down last year because of the dorm construction. Southeast officials hoped to have a new scoreboard is place for 2009, but that won’t be the case.
Southeast athletic director John Shafer said Houck will definitely have a new scoreboard in time for the 2010 season.
“We’re working on that as we speak,” Shafer said.
Samuel was pleased with Friday’s opening practice conducted in helmets, jerseys and shorts.
“There was a lot of energy and the tempo was good,” Samuel said.
The Redhawks’ initial practice with full pads will be Monday. Their first of five two-a-day sessions will be Wednesday. Scrimmages are set for Aug. 15 and 22.
Fall camp breaks Aug. 24, when classes begin. The season opener is Sept. 3 against Division II Quincy.