SEMO seniors leaving 'legacy' with Redhawk football program

Southeast Missouri State linebacker Zach Hall (5) listens to a coach on the sideline during the Redhawks' game against UT Martin earlier this season at Houck Stadium.
Tyler Graef ~ Southeast Missourian

Sixth-year Southeast Missouri State football coach Tom Matukewicz defined the word faith earlier this week as “belief without evidence.”

That is what Matukewicz and his coaches were selling to the current group of Redhawk seniors four and five years ago.

When Southeast linebacker Zach Hall was graduating from Male High School in Louisville in 2016, Matukewicz had been in his position three years and hadn’t had a winning season yet. Having “faith” is all he could sell to Hall and wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson and linebacker Justin Swift and the others, because he certainly hadn’t proven the program could win at that point.

“All of these guys came to SEMO based on faith,” Matukewicz said. “We told them what we were going to do and they believed it.”

That “faith” is easy to have now.

The No. 13-ranked Redhawks (8-3, 6-1 Ohio Valley Conference) will host Murray State (4-7, 2-5) today at Houck Stadium at 1 p.m.

A victory will not only give Southeast its second consecutive nine-win season, but also a share of the OVC championship (if Austin Peay also wins).

There will be 17 seniors recognized for playing in possibly their final home game and looking at the talent in the class, it is understandable why this group constitutes the winningest class in Redhawk football history.

Hall was the 2018 Buck Buchanan Award winner (top defensive player in the nation), while quarterback Daniel Santacaterina, Wilkerson, Swift, defensive linemen Clarence Thornton, Ryan Ochoa, Josh Avery, and Josh Price, as well as defensive backs DJ Freeman, Taj Jenkins, and offensive lineman Elijah Swehla have had excellent seasons and/or careers.

“They had faith in us, our coaches and our players,” Matukewicz said of the seniors. “Now we have the opportunity to finish their legacy off with a co-championship. That would mean a lot to our program.”

The group has not only meant a lot to the program, but to Matukewicz, as well.

He has spent years with these student-athletes, enduring bad times and fantastic times. The kids believed in the Southeast coaches – and vice-versa- when few believed in any of them.

“A lot of these guys didn’t have a lot of other offers,” Matukewicz said. “They just kind of had a chip on their shoulder. They have poured their heart and soul into the program.

“That is legacy, right?”

The Redhawk record book is in shambles now that this group has gone through the program.

Not only in the obvious marks, such as consecutive winning seasons (first at the NCAA Division I level) and total wins, but individually, as well.

Hall is the most renowned defender in program history, while Wilkerson is the most productive pass-catcher ever in Cape Girardeau.

Santacaterina is three touchdown passes shy of being the school’s all-time leader and Swift is climbing the all-time tackles list with each stop.

“We all are leaving a legacy,” Matukewicz said, “and their legacy is that this place is better because of them. We’ll talk about this class for a really long time.”

2019 Senior Class

• Zach Hall, linebacker

• Daniel Santacaterina, quarterback

• Kristian Wilkerson, wide receiver

• Justin Swift, linebacker

• Noah McWell, wide receiver

• Clarence Thornton, defensive line

• Josh Price, defensive line

• Nick Thompson, linebacker

• Devin Alexander, linebacker

• Tyler Ford, offensive line

• DJ Freeman, defensive back

• Bud Hilburn, tight end

• Taj Jenkins, defensive back

• Ryan Ochoa, defensive line

• Eric Williams, tight end

• Elijah Swehla, offensive line

• Josh Avery, defensive line

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