Northeast State

Northeastern State players Ukoh Essang and Jason Staggs flank head coach J.J. Eckert at MIAA Media Day last week in Kansas City. 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Northeastern State RiverHawks are one of two MIAA teams to welcome a new coach in 2019. 

J.J. Eckert is a native of Tahlequah and was a four-year letter winner for the program from 1994-97. Eckert takes over a program that has won just 12 games in its seven seasons as part of the MIAA. 

“I’ve really been excited about the opportunity to return to Tahlequah and Northeastern State University,” Eckert said. “It was a place I called home for many years, I’ve got a lot of memories of Northeastern State football through the years and it is a great honor to be back and lead a very storied football program.”

Eckert spent the past 11 seasons at Kilgore College in Texas. During his time at Kilgore, Eckert won 67 games and took his team to five bowl games. Kilgore went 10-2 last season, winning the SWJFC (Southwestern Junior College Football Conference) championship. 

“A lot of the guys have bought into this coaching staff and you can see everybody coming together as a team and believing in what they’re telling us,” offensive lineman Jason Staggs said. 

Eckert takes over a Northeastern State program that didn’t just go winless in 2018, they we outscored 558-111. The RiverHawks allowed 120 points over their final two games of the season — while being shutout in both games. 

Only Missouri Southern averaged fewer points per game than Northeastern State last season. The Riverhawks averaged 10 points per game and 230 yards of total offense. 

Quarterback Jake Pruitt returns for his senior season. Pruitt won the job midway through the 2018 season, but struggled mightily, throwing eight interceptions and just two touchdowns. 

Following Eckert from Kilgore is quarterback Quez Allen. Allen began his college career at Pittsburg State after receiving offers from Louisiana-Monroe and SMU. 

The RiverHawks’ best weapon in 2018 was freshman Craig Davis. Davis led NSU with 389 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Davis also returned two kickoffs back for touchdowns last season — helping him earn All-MIAA Honorable Mention. 

Last season’s leading receiver, Ryheem Brummitt, returns for his senior season. Brummitt had 39 receptions for 594 yards in 2018. The senior receiver will be asked to lead a young group of receivers that includes seven underclassmen. 

“Anytime you walk into a situation where you get a chance to have 17 seniors, that’s huge,” Eckert said. “Anytime you get in that situation where you get a chance to leave a mark on a program that you’ve been a part of for many years, I think that gives you some added motivation.”

The RiverHawk defense returns its two leading tacklers from a season ago. Jean Bazile led NSU with 99 tackles last season from his defensive back position. Courtland Clark was another RiverHawk freshman to earn All-MIAA honors after finishing with 91 tackles and five pass break-ups. 

To understand why two defensive backs led the team in tackles, look no further than the RiverHawks run defense. Northeastern State finished last in the MIAA, allowing 300 rushing yards per game. The secondary also helped the defense finish seventh in pass defense. 

The RiverHawks will begin the season with a trip to Emporia State before coming home to face Central Missouri. 

“Showing them how to work, we can’t take any shortcuts in this conference,” defensive lineman Ukoh Essang said. “We’ve been down for the past few years, but if we can start as leaders to show them how to build the foundation, hopefully they can keep on building and building.”

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