Ignoring the past: SEMO football is too focused, mature and talented not to alter history

The Southeast Missouri State University Redhawks football team undergoes its summer training session at the Holcomb Success Center in June.
Kassi Jackson ~ Southeast Missourian

Having lived in Cape Girardeau just a few months, there are things that have become clear despite my short time as a resident.

Humidity is a way of life in these parts, not just something that comes in stretches.

Aldi’s is packed regardless of what time you are shopping there.

And as a skateboarder (yes, at my age still), Cape possesses an extremely challenging terrain to say the very least.

From a local sports perspective, I have learned that the present of Southeast Missouri State football is really exciting to contemplate but its history is a whole other topic.

“The history of this program is that SEMO football has never won back to back,” Redhawk defensive coordinator Bryce Saia said. “SEMO football has had good years, but we have never done it back to back.”

“Never” is a long time, and the truth is Southeast football HAS had consecutive winning seasons (a five-year stretch from 1986 to 1990) but to Saia’s point, “never” at the Division I level.

That is the task that lies ahead for the 2019 edition of Redhawk football. And not to put pressure on the Southeast coaches and players but aside from injuries to key players “never” is going to be a thing of the past by Thanksgiving Day.

Southeast opens training camp today at 9 a.m. at the Rosengarten Athletic Complex and much like the 2018 season, one in which history was disregarded, the Redhawk program is trying to – and will - shed the negativity that has shrouded the program for three decades.

Southeast won nine games in 2010 and advanced to the NCAA Division I Playoffs but fell in the opening round of the postseason.

Last year, the Redhawks matched that victory total with the final one making history by beating Stony Brook in the opening round of the playoffs, which was a first in program history.

The achievement WAS great and it still IS meaningful, but Saia also said it is being kept in perspective.

“The players realize that we haven’t won a game,” Saia said of 2019. “I’ve been doing this for 20-something years and I know better than to let them think like that.”

Having a focus on the present isn’t just beginning this morning; it has been prevalent throughout the program since January.

“The one thing that has shown itself over and over and over again is this team has had consistency,” Redhawk head coach Tom Matukewicz said. “There hasn’t been this bad day.”

Maintaining a steady work ethic and focus during weight sessions in January, at spring practices in March, and during individual-led workouts in the heat of this summer, are the primary reasons as to why Southeast will not take a step back to mediocrity as it has in the past.

This is a very mature group of student-athletes and coaches.

“There is a calmness here among the coaches and the players,” Southeast running backs coach Brandon Jackson said. “They are poised. Very mature.”

Another reason – though not as critical as the aforementioned - is that the Southeast coaches and players are simply too good to be average.

“Coach Tuke” will tell anyone within earshot that talent is required to be successful. However, he’ll quickly add that it doesn’t bring any guarantees along with it.

Southeast has massive questions along its offensive line and offensive backfield, but it also has as good of quarterback (Daniel Santacaterina), wide receiver (Kristian Wilkerson), and tight end (Austin Crump) as any team in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Defensively, the Redhawks were solid in 2018 and return 10 starters, including the best player (senior linebacker Zach Hall) in the entire country.

It has taken five years to build the depth and talent necessary to compete for an OVC title but Southeast has finally reached that point.

“Even Biblically, you test a man by praise, not adversity,” Matukewicz said. “Are we going to listen to all the people that (now) think we invented football?

“Respect the process of being good. It takes what it takes and we have to respect that if we want to have those type of moments (like 2018).”

The Redhawk program has “done that over the past eight months and it will show over the next five.

Tom Davis is the regional sports editor for Rust Communications and the sports editor for The Southeast Missourian and www.Semoball.com.

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