Tom Matukewicz can try to pass off a football opener at Kansas as just another game.
The Southeast Missouri coach, however, realizes such a charade is silly.
For his Championship Subdivision squad, the opportunity to play an opponent from a higher division always generates more pep. And for him and his coaches, the game at KU is an opportunity to come home.
The fourth-year coach is from Silver Lake, where he played on two state championship teams in high school and was an All-State selection. In addition, several of his assistants have ties to the state.
“It’s just special going home,’’ Matukewicz said. “Most coaches will say it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just another game. Well, it is special.
“Not just for me, but a lot of my coaches are from Kansas. When we turned our ticket request in, we had 168 tickets requested, just from the coaches. We’ve got a lot of people pulling for us, because they know us.’’
Among them is Matukewicz’s brother, Steve, who is general manager at Sharp Honda.
“Unfortunately, he’s a big KU fan, so we’ve got to make sure he’s got the right shirt on,’’ said Tom, “or I tell you what, Christmas dinner is going to taste a little different this year.’’
The Redhawks made this trip from Cape Girardeau, Mo., once before under Coach Tuke. In his first season, 2014. After falling behind 24-0, Southeast mounted a second-half comeback and fell 34-28.
Now, Matukewicz knows his team much better, though just nine starters return after the Redhawks finished 3-8 a year ago. Among the veterans is Jesse Hosket, the first starting quarterback Matukewicz has welcomed back to Southeast for a second season. The offense must improve, however, after managing the worst scoring average (20.8) in the Ohio Valley Conference last season.
“(Hosket) is finishing sentences of the offensive coordinator, Jon Wiemers,’’ Matukewicz said. “They’re on the same page when they’ll do checks at the line of scrimmage. It’s just tough to get to chapters four, five and six of this thing when you’re breaking in a new quarterback.’’
Both Wiemers and special teams coordinator Matt Martin are originally from Clay Center and, like Matukewicz, have extensive ties to MIAA programs in Kansas.
Matukewicz played at Fort Hays State. Yet before he ever arrived there, the impressions left by two Silver Lake coaches began to steer him toward his future profession.
“It was at an early age,’’ Matukewicz said. “C.J. (Hamilton) had a big impact and also my defensive coordinator at the time, Tom Michael, who still lives in Silver Lake.
“They each had a big influence and the impact those guys had in my life really secured the decision that I wanted to do the same thing and have an impact in young people’s lives. They just didn’t teach me how to play the game. They taught me a lot about life.’’
Another legendary coach with Kansas ties, Jerry Kill, also shared his values.
Matukewicz coached for Kill at Emporia State, Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. With the Salukis, Matukewicz was honored in 2007 as the nation’s top FCS assistant. With the Huskies, he took over as interim coach when Kill accepted a job coaching Minnesota.
Under Matukewicz, NIU pounded Fresno State 40-17 in the 2010 Humanitarian Bowl. Matukewicz then served as an assistant at Toledo before accepting the Southeast Missouri job.
Resources, of course, are fewer at the FCS level and coaches are spread a little thinner. Just this year, Southeast hired a full-time strength coach for football, “so hopefully,’’ Matukewicz said, “in the fourth quarter of this game we’re ready to go.’’
Whatever the outcome, whatever the levels of the teams involved, Matukewicz is aware how a college football program impacts a community.
Charities have been a big cause for the Redhawks under his watch.
A Kansas kid, Michael Douglas, was on the Southeast sideline when the Redhawks played at KU in 2014 and will be there again Saturday. Douglas, who now attends Ottawa University, was diagnosed with a rare lung disease when he was a year-old. His relationship with Matukewicz and the Redhawks began as a fan, through an autograph request.
“It goes back to Coach Kill when we were at SIU. We made a difference in that community when we were there,’’ Matukewicz said. “I learned from it. That’s our responsibility, to give back to our community. As a program it’s actually a core value of ours, to be able to make a difference and impact this area.’’
The opportunity for Michael Douglas to return to the visitors sideline at KU is just another example why the Redhawks are not just playing another game on Saturday.
Contact Kevin Haskin at email@example.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.