Southeastern will jump start the 2012 football season on Saturday with a road trip to take on a familiar foe.
Former Lone Star Conference rival Texas A&M Commerce will host the Savage Storm at 6 p.m. Saturday in Commerce, Texas, the season opener for both teams. Their last meeting was in 2010, which saw a 19-14 win for the Lions.
But SE Coach Ray Richards has a positive outlook on the strengths of the Savage Storm, and says the team could be poised to get back to its winning ways for the first time since 2009. They can start Saturday by breaking the 8-8-1 all-time tie between SE and the Lions.
“It’s the first game of the year, so you’ve got to prepare for everything,” Richards said. “We anticipate (Texas A&M Commerce) will have many of the same things, but there’s always a new wrinkle. They have a new junior college quarterback and a bunch of junior college offensive linemen, so in terms of their personnel, there are a lot of question marks.”
Richards is starting his eighth season at the helm of SE football, and he holds a 36-37 record as head coach here. He reached 50 career wins last season (50-67), but just barely as the Storm went 2-8 in their first run with the newly formed Great American Conference.
The Lions were a dismal 1-9 in 2011, finishing at the bottom of the Lone Star Conference.
The Savage Storm enters this game “relatively healthy” according to Richards, with only a few practice and scrimmage induced bumps and bruises. “We’re getting better every day, and I like our kids’ effort,” said the coach. “We’re better than we were a year ago on both sides of the ball, especially in our kicking game.”
SAVAGE STORM OFFENSE: Richards says to look for a lot of formations, shifts and motions. “We’re going to be 50-50 run-pass, and we’re hard to prepare for because of all that. But we do run the ball.” Jacoby Bradley will get the start at QB this year, and Richards likes his “poise and potential.”
An outstanding group of tight ends includes preseason All-American Ryan Shelley as well as Krishon Daye and Hunter Phelan. SE receivers will be by committee until the first few games of 2012 shape up the pack, but Quentin Morris (27 catches for 383 yards in ’11) will get some yards.
C.J. Kirk leads a solid group of backs, as he looks to improve upon his 720-yard season in 2011. “Two other guys are pushing him, Ladarius Abrams and Billy Hashaway are both doing well.” The offensive line is “not real deep” according to Richards, but their front five will get the job done and he looks forward to a new group of O-line members to play back-up roles.
SAVAGE STORM DEFENSE: The Storm gave up 26.1 points per game in 2011, but there’s a silver lining. After giving up a season-high 38 points to Northeastern State, the defense improved every game for the final six games, giving up a season-low 16 to Harding in the final game.
Many key players in that improving defense will return for the Storm. Dominique Turner had 32 tackles and two sacks last year, and Richards said he could be on the verge of greatness at the tackle position. Junior Izzy Eziakor is back in the secondary, as is Houston Slemp. Those two alone combined for 150 tackles last season.
“We’ll probably play about 10 defensive linemen, we’ll run them in and out to keep them fresh,” Richards said. “We’re pretty deep at linebacker,” he said, singling out Logan Russell and Russell Hurst.
After Saturday, Southeastern has a bye week before opening the home and conference schedule against Southern Arkansas at Paul Laird Field on Sept. 15.
DIRECTIONS TO MEMORIAL STADIUM IN COMMERCE, Texas: Distance is 75 miles, so allow an hour and a half to arrive by kickoff. Take Highway 78 south from Durant, past Bonham to Bailey, Texas, and turn left (southeast) on Highway 11. This road takes you into Commerce; once there, turn south on Highway 24 and Memorial Stadium is one mile on the left.