CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.
- Southeast Missouri took the field for its first practice of the spring Tuesday afternoon at Houck Stadium.
As is the case with all of Tom Matukewicz
's practices, the energy was high and Southeast enjoyed every minute of it.
"I thought the attitude and effort was outstanding," said Matukewicz. "The guys are excited to be back at it. This is a day we all worked hard and looked forward to get to."
Southeast began its series of 15 practices focusing on turnover margin, an area where it finished eighth in the Ohio Valley Conference last season. The Redhawks had 26 turnovers, including 11 fumbles and 15 interceptions for a -9 margin in 12 games.
"A big point of emphasis is turnover margin," said Matukewicz. "It makes me sick everytime I look at that statistic. I was pleased with our ball control today and that is something we will continue to improve on as the spring progresses."
Returnees Alex Niznak
, Anthony Cooper
and Griffin Pickler
, and newcomer Tay Bender
are battling at quarterback this spring.
Niznak completed 5-of-12 passes for 32 yards and rushed for 33 yards and a touchdown on seven carries in four games as a backup in 2014.
Cooper and Pickler each redshirted as true freshmen, while Bender comes to Southeast after an impressive career at Iowa Western Community College. A two-time All-Midwest Football Conference selection, Bender finished his junior college career with 1,912 yards and 25 touchdowns on 166-of-282 passes (58.9 percent) as a redshirt-sophomore.
Southeast's quarterback contingent has plenty of playmakers to get the ball to as three of the Redhawks top four receivers are back.
First-Team All-OVC selection Paul McRoberts
headlines the receiving corps after making 44 catches for a team-high 711 yards and nine touchdowns in seven starts last season. McRoberts averaged 16.2 yards per catch and over 100 (101.6) receiving yards per game despite missing five weeks with a lisfranc injury.
Like McRoberts, Peter Lloyd
also missed part of last season with an injury. Lloyd, who led the Redhawks with 48 catches, scored three times and put up 633 receiving yards in 10 games. He did not play the final two weeks after breaking his leg at Tennessee Tech (Nov. 8). Adrian Davis
is coming off a nice rookie season which saw him make 28 catches for 307 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games and nine starts as a true freshman.
In the backfield, Second-Team All-OVC honoree DeMichael Jackson
is looking to have a big senior year. Jackson was Southeast's top rusher each of the last two seasons, picking up 734 yards and five touchdowns on 137 carries a year ago.
Defensively, the Redhawks return their top tackler in linebacker Roper Garrett
. Garrett started the first nine games before his season ended due to a broken leg. He posted 96 tackles, leading Southeast in both sacks (3) and tackles for loss (8.5). Four others, including Eriq Moore
(4th), Hunter Bledsoe
(5th), Marlon Hampton
(7th) and Terrance Hill
(9th) were also among the Redhawks top-10 tacklers.
First-Team All-OVC kicker Ryan McCrum
is one of two returning starters on special teams. McCrum was the Redhawks leading scorer with 94 points on 18-of-23 field goals and 40-of-41 PATs last season. He set a new single-season record in field goals and led the OVC in both FGs and scoring (kick). McCrum was also a Third-Team Sports Network All-American and Fred Mitchell Award finalist.
Southeast will resume spring drills when it practices from 3:30-5:30 p.m. at Houck Stadium Thursday.