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College Football: SEMO kicks off season against SIU in the “War for the Wheel” at Houck

Southeast Missouri State’s football team is coming off its best
season in program history, and the Redhawks are hoping to continue that success
this season as they return 15 starters on offense and defense.

SEMO is ranked No. 17 in the Football Championship Subdivision
heading into tomorrow’s “War for the Wheel” against Southern Illinois
Carbondale at Houck Stadium.

In last year’s rivalry game, the Redhawks were able to defeat SIU
48-44 in Carbondale for one of their nine victories. SEMO’s offense finished
with 531 total yards as former Redhawk running back Marquis Terry rushed for
311 yards and four scores.

The Redhawks defense forced a total of four turnovers with three
interceptions and one fumble recovery.

SEMO led the FCS in turnover margin last fall, thanks to returning
players like senior inside linebacker Zach Hall and senior quarterback Daniel

“[Leading the FCS in turnover margin is] huge,” SEMO’s sixth-year
head coach Tom Matukewicz said. “That is the one stat that determines winning
and losing above all others. What I like about that stat is that it’s a team
stat. It’s also a reflection of how ‘bought in’ the team was to their roles.
That’s how it happens.”

Both were named Preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference selections,
while Hall was named the conference’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

Hall recorded a team-high 168 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss,
four interceptions, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two sacks to
become the first Redhawk to ever win the Buck Buchanan award.

Returning to the defense along with Hall includes fellow Preseason
All-OVC selections senior defensive tackle Clarence Thornton, senior outside
linebacker Justin Swift and junior safety Bydarrius Knighten.

Swift led last year’s team in tackles for a loss and sacks with 15
and a half and eight and a half respectively. Thornton finished fourth overall
in TFLs with eight and a half and paced Swift in sacks with three and a half.
In the backfield, Knighten came up with 88 tackles and nine pass

Other returning starters to SEMO’s defense include junior nose
tackle Daterraion Richardson, senior defensive tackle Ryan Ochoa, junior
outside linebacker Omardrick Douglas, junior cornerback DJ Freeman, senior
cornerback Al Young and senior free safety Taj Jenkins.

Returning to SEMO’s offense along with Santacaterina is his top
receiving option and fellow Preseason All-OVC selection senior wide receiver
Kristian Wilkerson.

Wilkerson recorded a career-high 61 catches, 894 yards and 14
touchdowns last season, and he is only 34 catches, 354 yards and seven
touchdowns away from leading the program in every receiving category all time.

Also returning to the receiving corps will be junior Zack Smith,
who hauled in 44 catches for 447 yards and five touchdowns behind Wilkerson. He
also comes back as one of SEMO’s leading return men, who finished with 509
total return yards between kicks and punts last season.

Santacaterina threw for 2,844 yards and 28 touchdowns with 11
interceptions, while he completed 59 percent of his passes. He also ran the
ball for 203 yards and three touchdowns.

“We will let him do a lot more things at the line of scrimmage and
change plays,” Coach Tuke said. “That’s something he’s gifted for, and so we’re
going to let him do a lot of that this year.”

SEMO will have three options at running back this fall after losing
Terry to graduation in junior Mark Robinson, sophomore Zion Custis and redshirt
freshman Geno Hess.

Terry left big shoes to fill on the field as he rushed for 1,229
yards and 14 touchdowns on 207 attempts, but his presence in the locker room
will be missed as well.

The Redhawks also lost four starters on the offensive line to
graduation, including All-American left tackle Drew Forbes, who was drafted by
the Cleveland Browns in April.

Taking Forbes’ spot to protect Santacaterina’s blind side will be
junior Ja’Chai Baker as senior Elijah Swehla returns to left guard. Junior Dane
Nelson is slated to start at center, while junior guard Jaden Rosenthall and
redshirt freshman tackle Nate Korte will be on the right side.

Santacaterina said the first-year starters have fit right in to
make for a smooth transition.

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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