Seeking work: Southeast football adds diligence, 31 athletes to 2020 roster

Southeast Missouri State football players huddle around Redhawk coach Tom Matukewicz at the end of training camp practice last season at Rosengarten Athletic Complex.
Ben Matthews ~ Southeast Missourian

Southeast Missouri State football coach Tom Matukewicz liked several things about Cape Central senior athlete Dony’e Taylor.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pounder has speed, athleticism, and a “good frame,” according to Matukewicz. But what caught the coach’s eye was something that no recruit could ever imagine.

“We signed (Taylor),” Matukewicz said. “(Cape Central coach Kent Gibbs) was really high on him. I was talking to (Taylor) and he said he worked at McDonald’s.”

At that moment, Matukewicz paused.

“I mean, I was fired up,” Matukewicz said.

The seventh-year coach was “fired up” Wednesday because his program added 31 new players as part of the 2020 recruiting class and the traits that Taylor possesses are the ones that Matukewicz and his coaching staff looked for in all of the new Redhawks.

“There are a lot of kids who complain about stuff,” Matukewicz said, “but they aren’t willing to do anything. This guy (Taylor) is a worker.

“That is SEMO.”

As it turns out, embracing diligence, even if it involves preparing food, is a requirement for any student-athlete seeking to join the Southeast program.

However, seeking adulation isn’t.

“Number one,” Matukewicz said of what he looks for in a prospect, “is that they love football like I love football. There are a lot of guys who are in love with being recruited, and are in love with the idea of putting their Twitter stuff out there, but not in love with the 365-day grind that it takes.”

Work is what has made the Southeast program the most successful one in the Ohio Valley Conference over the past two seasons, not bells and whistles.

The Redhawks play in a stadium that was built in 1930 and isn’t going to “wow” any young athlete. And according to the coach, that isn’t what he sells anyway.

“What we are selling,” Matukewicz said. “is people.”

Having the right people, with the right mindset, is why the Southeast program has won 18 games over the past two seasons and a share of the OVC championship in 2019.

It advanced to the FCS Playoffs each of the past two seasons and it didn’t do so because of immense budgets and incredible facilities.

“Ultimately,” Matukewicz said, “(our recruits) are hard-hat, lunch-pail guys. If you want me to tell you how good you are, don’t come here.

“If you want to know how many shoes you get, then it’s a bad fit.”

Asked if former Redhawk All-America linebacker Zach Hall ever inquired about shoes, Matukewicz scoffed.

“He asked about when was the next time we were going to get better,” Matukewicz said of Hall.

It isn’t just the teenagers that received that message, but also the Redhawk coaching candidates.

The message that Matukewicz preaches daily resonated with the recently hired director of strength and conditioning, Mark Weisman.

“It was the culture and (Matukewicz),” Weisman said of why he left the University of Iowa for Cape Girardeau. “He told me what SEMO is. It really fits what I am. The brick-by-brick culture and doing common things with uncommon love, effort, attitude and discipline (L.E.A.D.). Right?”

Unlike Houck Stadium, which needs refurbishment (and that is being kind), Weisman has “an unbelievable facility” to work in at the Holcomb Success Center. However, that isn’t going to change his approach.

“While at Iowa, you have whatever you want in terms of resources and facilities,” Weisman said, “that doesn’t matter. All that matters is the work that gets put in by the athletes.

“It doesn’t matter where you are.”

That is a philosophy for success that is applicable within Southeast football or at a McDonald’s.

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