2021 FCS Season Preview: Southeast Missouri State

Southeast Missouri State football coach Tom Matukewicz lines up with his senior players to lead the Redhawks onto the field prior to their 2019 FCS Playoff game against Illinois State at Houck Stadium. Tyler Graef ~ Tgraef@semissourian.com

In the boot hill of the Show-Me State, Southeast Missouri State has the potential to sweep through the OVC. Just ask SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz.

“There’s enough good players and good coaches here to win every game in our league,” SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz said at the OVC Media Day last month.

If there is one common thread at the start of any season it’s that optimism abounds, and there is no shortage of that in Cape Girardeau, Mo. as the 2021 fall season prepares to get underway.

“There’s enough good players and good coaches here to win every game in our league,” SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz said.

Key Players

The Redhawks return one of the top running backs in all of the FCS in the form of standout Geno Hess (5-8, 209, Sr.), who rushed for 666 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. His 12 scores led all of the FCS in that department. Hess was one of two Redhawks voted to the preseason all-conference team on offense. 

Zion Custis (5-8, 190, Sr.) offers depth at that position which could prove vital during the rigors of the OVC schedule and a tough non-conference schedule that will challenge the Redhawks.

SEMO opens the season against Southern Illinois before road games against Sam Houston State, the defending FCS national champion, and SEC foe Missouri.

“I feel we have two of the best tailbacks in the FCS,” the SEMO coach said. 

The Redhawks also return four offensive linemen who will expected to continue to open holes for Hess and Custis to operate from. Shyron Rodgers (6-3, 290, Sr.) headlines that list of veterans up front. 

SEMO will have a new quarterback leading the offense in 2021. Gone is Andrew Bunch, a transfer from Nebraska who led the Redhawks to a 4-3 record this past spring and a 4-4 overall record. SEMO played its annual rival game against SIU during the fall portion of the schedule.

Who steps in to replace the departed Bunch will be among the top decisions to be made during fall camp.

Four quarterbacks are currently listed on the SEMO roster, including Christian Perez (6-1, 175, Jr.), a transfer from Louisville. He is expected to challenge for the starting job along with seniors Jacob Buie (6-5, 220) and Patrick Maddox (6-0, 194), along with Jalyn Williams (6-1, 224, Jr.)

“Our quarterback doesn’t need to win us a game,” Mantukewicz said, “they need to manage a game.” 

Zack Smith (5-9, 200, graduate) returns for his final collegiate season and was named to the preseason conference squad and has emerged as a vocal leader over the past year. 

“We have a lot of receivers in our lineup and a mix of experience,” Smith said. “If a team double (teams) one, they can get hurst by someone else.”Bryson Donnell (6-1, 293, Sr.), a defensive tackle, and linebacker Omardrick Douglas (6-3, 234, graduate) represented SEMO on the defensive side of the ball in the preseason honors squad

Fearless Predictions

CSJ Picks Them To Finish: 3rd

Key Game:  The Redhawks have more than one game on their schedule that could go a long way in determining what kind of season in realized in Cape Girardeau.

They open the season against Southern Illinois, a team that caused a tsunami in the FCS this spring after knocking off powerful North Dakota State. The Redhawks then travel to Sam Houston State, which needed late-game heroics to defeat the Bison in the playoffs to even make it to the national title game and defeating South Dakota State to complete the falling dominoes.

Worst Case: SEMO can ill afford big losses to either Southern Illinois or Sam Houston in the early part of the season. Lopsided losses will only linger and erasing them will only get more difficult as the season progresses.

Best Case: SEMO has the talent to prove Matukewicz prophetic and run the table during the conference schedule. And once in the playoffs, as we all know, anything can happen.

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