Southeast Missouri State tight end Eric Williams sees preparation pay off

Southeast Missouri State redshirt freshman tight end Caleb Strauss works on his blocking during practice Thursday at Rosengarten Athletic Complex.
Tom Davis ~

Just being a fifth-year senior in the Southeast Missouri State football program allows Eric Williams to possess the knowledge to pass on to his younger teammates. However, he isn't just able to talk about leadership in the locker room, he has also shown it over the past nine months.

The Redhawks (1-1) will visit Missouri (1-1) Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

After catching 15 passes and scoring twice in 2017, Williams didn't record a single reception last year. Human nature could have led him to have a negative attitude entering his final season with the program, but he did the opposite.

"He'll be one of my favorite stories from coaching when I get done," Redhawk tight end coach Joe Uhls said.

Williams was listed as third on the tight end depth chart exiting the 2018 season, but he attacked his training and preparation for his final year as if he were an All-American candidate.

Williams had his best off-season of strength training since he has been in the program and prepared as if he would be needed at some point.

That day has arrived.

With starting tight end Austin Crump still out a couple more weeks with a torn pectoral muscle and back-up Bud Hilburn now out for the season after suffering a knee injury, Williams is now the starter.

"It really speaks to his character," Uhls said of Williams' preparation. "He really bought into the culture of our team. It doesn't matter, you just need to keep working, keep working, and keep working.

"It's amazing when somebody does that and actually believes that they are going to get an opportunity and then here it comes."

Williams has already shown the ability to be a receiving threat, but Uhls also needs him to be effective in the run game. That is what separated Hilburn from both Williams and now-back-up Caleb Strauss.

"Eric will need to be able to get it done in the run game, as well as the pass game," Uhls said. "He has done an amazing job since January of becoming a better blocker. That is very exciting.

"I'm excited to see him get this opportunity."

For Strauss, he may not be ready for "this opportunity," but the redshirt freshman just might get it on Saturday.

"Caleb has all the potential in the world," Uhls said. "His ability to develop as a run blocker will be his ceiling in our offense."

Hilburn (6-foot-1, 247 pounds) was built differently than either Williams (6-foot-4, 262) or Strauss (6-foot-6, 259), but he could block well.

Strauss was utilized as a lengthy receiver in high school and that has slowed his evolution as a blocker.

"What propelled (Crump) to the starting job last year was his ability to control the edge and block all of the (defensive ends in our conference)," Uhls said. "That will be a big thing for Caleb. He will need to continue to grow in that ability for him to see more of the field."

Hilburn is finished

From an eligibility standpoint, Hilburn could apply for a medical redshirt and have another season to compete for the Redhawks if the NCAA approved the request. However, his knee injury (meniscus) was so severe that will not end up being a possibility.

The Kennett graduate finishes his career having played in 27 games and starting three for Southeast.

He will graduate in December with a bachelor's in agribusiness.

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