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Southern Illinois' Lennon knows what it's like coaching against friends

In each of his seasons at UND, Lennon faced friends who had become coaches at schools in the old North Central Conference -- including Bubba Schweigert at Minnesota-Duluth, Randy Hedberg at St. Cloud State and Pat Behrns at Nebraska-Omaha.

Dale Lennon

In each of his seasons at UND, Lennon faced friends who had become coaches at schools in the old North Central Conference -- including Bubba Schweigert at Minnesota-Duluth, Randy Hedberg at St. Cloud State and Pat Behrns at Nebraska-Omaha.

Lennon left UND last December to take the head coaching job at Southern Illinois. But his streak of coaching against good friends will continue Saturday when Lennon's Salukis -- in the hunt for a Division I FCS playoff berth -- host UND in Carbondale, Ill.

He'll be on the Southern Illinois sidelines wearing a red Salukis shirt. On the opposite side wearing green will be UND coach Chris Mussman, who spent nine seasons as a Sioux assistant under Lennon.

"I've been down this road before," said Lennon, who was reunited in Carbondale with Schweigert, Hedberg and ex-Sioux assistants Tom Dosch and Eric Schmidt.

He admits the game will be difficult for the coaches on both sides.

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"It's always tough to coach against guys who you've developed friendships with over the years," Lennon said. "You don't want to make it personal. But I'll be glad when the game is over."

Southern Illinois is 5-2. The Salukis defeated Missouri State 23-17 last week, scoring on the last play of the game. It marked the second time this season Lennon's team has pulled out a win in the closing seconds.

The Salukis are tied for the lead in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and play three of their final four games in Carbondale.

The playoffs are a distinct possibility for the Salukis. But no such public talk is coming out of the Southern Illinois football office in Carbondale.

"You know me better than that," Lennon said. "This is game No. 8 on our schedule. That's how we're approaching it."

Lennon's game preparation this week is easier than usual, simply because of his familiarity with the Sioux.

"Usually, I'll spend the first couple of days of the week trying to familiarize myself with the opponent," Lennon said. "That's been a big challenge for me in this league. If anything, this game will save me a couple of days of prep time."

But Lennon said he's been impressed with what he's seen from the Sioux in their first season as a Division I FCS program.

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"Danny (Freund) is playing with a lot of confidence and has become a playmaker," Lennon said of the Sioux quarterback. "Anything is possible out there with him. And I knew Josh (Murray) would be a quality running back. That's why we played him as a true freshman last year.

"I knew their offensive line would be strong. And Brady (Trenbeath) is doing exactly what I thought he'd do as a receiver."

Southern Illinois' strength is its balance on offense and the punishing play of its linebackers.

The Salukis have thrown for 1,318 yards and rushed for 1,169.

They also have perhaps one of the more exciting players in the country in Larry Warner, a 5-foot-5, 169-pound running back from Vicksburg, Miss.

"We have him listed at 5-5 and that might be stretching it an inch or two," Lennon said.

Warner has rushed for 700 yards, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. His lateral quickness and agility have given opposing defenses headaches.

"He's very strong, too," Lennon said. "But when he takes a hit, you hold your breath and hope he gets up. He always bounces up and gets back to the huddle."

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He's a playmaker who Lennon compares to ex-UND receiver Weston Dressler, who graduated last season with 19 school records.

"Larry is fun to coach," Lennon said. "He's a lot like Weston. The main difference is that Larry is talking all of the time. With Weston, I don't know if he said three sentences."

The Southern Illinois defense is anchored by linebackers Brandon Jordan (56 tackles, 2ยฝ sacks), James Cloud (42 tackles, five sacks) and Chauncey Mixon (37 tackles, two sacks).

"Brandon wears No. 10, but he plays a lot like No. 40 did for UND," Lennon said, referring to ex-Sioux standout Digger Anderson.

Lennon is aware of the magnitude that UND views this game. The Sioux players have had it circled on their calendars since the game was scheduled.

The Sioux will use the game as a measuring stick to see where they stand in their first Division I FCS season. The Salukis have been one of the top FCS programs in the country the past few seasons.

From coaching against friends in the past, Lennon also knows what to expect on game day.

"Once the game starts, you don't think about who you're playing," he said.

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Nelson reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1268; (800) 477-6572, ext. 268; or send e-mail to wnelson@gfherald.com .

Wayne Nelson is the sports editor at the Herald.


He has been with the Grand Forks Herald since 1995, serving as the UND football and basketball beat writer as well as serving as the sports editor.



He is a UND graduate and has been writing sports since the late 1970s.



Follow him on Twitter @waynenelsongf. You can reach him at (701) 780-1268 or wnelson@gfherald.com.
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