SEMO football 'picking a fight' out on the recruiting trail - and winning

Southeast Missouri State football coach Tom Matukewicz prepares to leave the field following the Redhawks' 43-37 double-overtime win against Tennessee Tech last season at Houck Stadium.
Jacob Wiegand ~ Southeast Missourian

Last fall, the Southeast Missouri State football program showed a “no fear” mentality as it progressed through a challenging schedule.

The Redhawks opened the season against rival and Missouri Valley program Southern Illinois, followed by a road test at nationally-ranked Montana State, and then played a “guarantee game” at Missouri.

Seventh-year Redhawk coach Tom Matukewicz has taken that same approach and applied it to his recruiting philosophy.

He’ll go anywhere to find talented athletes who “want to be a Redhawk,” regardless of the initial impression of doing such.

“That is what is hard,” Matukewicz said recently on National Signing Day, “we are picking a fight in everyone’s backyard.”

Southeast has reaped the benefits of recruiting Louisville athletes since Matukewicz arrived in Cape Girardeau, none more valuable than former national Defensive Player of the Year Zach Hall. However, it is now expanding into other areas, as well.

“Name one that we’re not,” Matukewicz said of venturing into other Ohio Valley Conference team’s territories. “We are recruiting Nashville and you have to drive by all of those (OVC) schools. We are recruiting Louisville, you have to drive by all of those schools.”

Which brings up the next act of trespassing by Matukewicz and his staff, the football-rich state of Georgia.

Southeast had nine student-athletes on its 2019 roster from Georgia and added six more in the 2020 recruiting class.

“I didn’t even want to recruit Georgia,” Matukewicz said. “I didn’t think we could convince (the recruits) to come here.”

One glance at a map and you can see Matukewicz’s point.

The amount of OVC football programs that a prospect has to drive past to get from Georgia to Cape Girardeau is a lot.

“I’m a fan of Georgia,” Matukewicz said. “My first child is named Georgia.”

But Matukewicz still needed convincing that it would be time well spent and Redhawk defensive backs coach Ray Smith sold him on the concept.

“He told me that he had some great ties (down there),” Matukewicz said of Smith, “and he’s really done a great job of getting down there and getting after it.”

Southeast signed defensive players Jamel Goulbourne (Conyers), Tyler Nelome (Hampton), Keilyn Tyus (Barnesville), and Markell Ware (Augusta) out of the state in this class, as well as offensive lineman Phillip Wilder (Jonesboro) and wide receiver Terrell Jester (Griffin).

“I just finished my 14th year of coaching,” Smith said. “I’ve been recruiting down in Georgia for nine years, so I have strong relationships down there and they help me to get around and find kids.”

Redshirt freshman quarterback Jalyn Williams joined the Redhawks a year ago and will enter this spring as part of a four-way battle to run the offense.

Matukewicz said Southeast fans haven’t seen Williams play yet, but he has the potential to shine.

“He is a guy who I am pretty excited about,” Matukewicz said of the Atlanta native.

Smith said there is no special message to selling Southeast football to kids from Georgia, as opposed to any other region of the country.

“When they get here,” Smith explained, “they like what they see in ‘Coach Tuke,’ the staff, and the community. That is what sells them, the people here.

“I just build that bridge for them and they walk across.”

The 2020 Redhawks will also feature defensive backs Trai Hodges (Rome) and Shabari Davis (Garden City), as well as runners Zion Custis (Lovejoy) and Mark Robinson (Leesburg).

“We’ve signed a lot of good players from there,” Matukewicz said. “(But) This is probably our biggest group.”

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