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Terrell offers experience in SEMO team's backfield
Southeast Missouri State was the nation’s third-ranked rushing team last season, averaging 265.1 yards per game.
But returning running backs accounted for only 18 of the 3,181 yards gained on the ground by the 2010 Redhawks, so it’s obvious the vital tailback position is very inexperienced – with one notable exception.
Southeast’s most battle-tested tailback is a player brand-new to the program.
Junior Levi Terrell, who put up impressive numbers the past two years in one of the nation’s top Division II conferences, now looks to make his mark on the Football Championship Subdivision level.
“I’m very excited,” said Terrell, who hopes to get his share of carries Saturday when the Redhawks hold their first of two preseason scrimmages at 1 p.m. at Houck Stadium. “I definitely think I found my home here.”
Terrell’s home used to be the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the rugged Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. He spent two seasons in a league that annually features some of the nation’s premier Division II teams.
Terrell led the MIAA with 1,182 yards rushing and seven touchdowns while playing in only eight games as a freshman in 2009 after having his redshirt pulled. He rushed for 960 yards despite being slowed by a hamstring problem last year.
“I did pretty well,” said Terrell, first-team all-MIAA and the league’s freshman of the year in 2009 before earning second-team all-MIAA honors last season.
But UNO dropped its football program, meaning Terrell needed a new place to call home.
That Terrell’s actual home isn’t far from Cape Girardeau – he attended Fox High School in Arnold, Mo. – coupled with the fact he nearly came to Southeast after finishing his prep career made his transfer destination fairly clear cut.
“As soon as they dropped the program, there were a lot of options for me,” Terrell said. “This was close to home and it seemed like the perfect fit.
“Them being in need of upperclass backs … I really liked the offensive scheme. And going up to Division I was exciting.”
Terrell, who is eligible to play immediately since UNO no longer has football, said he considered Southeast following a standout prep career.
“I talked to them out of high school,” said Terrell, who rushed for nearly 2,300 yards and 33 touchdowns as a Fox senior in 2008, including a 420-yard, six-touchdown performance against Oakville in the Class 6 quarterfinals. “I waited too long to get back to them and they signed some other backs.
“It didn’t work out then, but I’m glad I’m here now.”
Terrell said he is confident he can make a smooth transition from Division II to the Division I FCS level.
“Being in the MIAA, we had quite a few guys from that conference go to the NFL and we had quite a few guys come down from Division I,” he said. “It was a pretty high level of competition.”
Terrell, 6 foot and a rock-solid 195 pounds, reportedly runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.5-second range, which is plenty fast.
He acknowledges he has some speed, but said with a laugh that moves are not his forte.
“I’m more of a power back,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of moves.”
While Terrell has strong credentials, he knows he won’t be handed the tailback position dominated last year by All-American Henry Harris, who set school records and led the Ohio Valley Conference with 1,735 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns.
The Redhawks also graduated two other solid backs in Mike Jones and Nathan Grass, who often shared the fullback role.
Southeast coach Tony Samuel, while acknowledging Terrell’s ability, said the tailback position is a work in progress with as many as six players fighting it out during preseason camp. It’s likely several of those will share carries.
“He’s talented. He’s not scared of work at all,” Samuel said about Terrell. “We’re just trying to see how things are going. I think we’ll be fine. We just have to see how it shakes out.”
Junior Renard Celestin is the most experienced among several underclass tailbacks from 2010. He had 15 yards on four carries after recording 84 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown in 2009.
Redshirt freshman Lennies McFerren and sophomore Bryant Worts, who saw limited action at linebacker last season, joined Celestin in performing well during the spring.
“They all had good springs,” Samuel said. “I think they’re very capable.”
Also in the mix for playing time at tailback are two touted true freshmen, Lewis Washington from Texas and AJ Cobb from Oklahoma, although Washington has been bothered by a foot problem during camp.
Sophomore fullback Josh Nicks accounted for the other three yards by an underclass running back last season. Several other players are fighting for the fullback spot.
“We have a very good group of backs,” Terrell said. “We’re all competing hard.”
* Saturday’s scrimmage originally was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. to try to beat the heat. It has been pushed back due to this week’s mild temperatures.
The scrimmage, the first of two during preseason camp, is open to the public, like all Southeast practices. There is no admission charge.
By Marty Mishow, Southeast Missourian