CARBONDALE — Dale Lennon didn’t need MyCole Pruitt on his 2010 squad. But, he could see, by the look of the scout team, that the freshman tight end from St. Louis could have contributed.

“We thought he was something special, but for some reason, a lot of schools never really pursued him that aggressively, and we saw in the way that he played on the scouts that he was pretty good,” Lennon said. “Our defense had a tough time covering him, and he was making catches all over the place.”

Pruitt, now a 6-foot-3, 250-pound junior, was able to learn under fifth-year senior C.J. Robertson his freshman year.

The two played together in 2011, when Pruitt made his first start at Mississippi. Pruitt caught two passes for 14 yards that day and started six of the last seven games.

He ended up leading the Salukis in catches (43), receiving yards (562) and receiving touchdowns (three), a trend as SIU prepares for No. 14/16 Eastern Illinois on Saturday.

Pruitt, 21, is expected to make his 20th career start against the Panthers, and with three catches, will pass Damon Jones as SIU’s all-time leading receiver for tight ends with No. 100.

“I never really knew the record until last year,” Pruitt said. “I never put it high up on my list of goals, but you know, it’s a great accomplishment for me if I ever reach it. I’ll be very proud to hold that record.”

A third team All-American last year by The Associated Press, Pruitt moved up the record book quickly after leading SIU in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns for the second straight season.

His 49 catches ranked fifth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, regardless of position, and tied for the eighth-highest total in school history for a single season. His 1,139 receiving yards ranked 11th in school history for one year, and his four touchdowns gave him seven heading into this fall.

A three-time all-conference defensive end at Kirkwood (Mo.) High School, Pruitt was not highly recruited. He spoke with a few teams about playing defense, but SIU wanted him on the offensive side, and Pruitt had no problem ditching that side of the football. He has now caught at least one pass in 22 of his 23 games with the Salukis and could enter the school’s top 10 in career receptions, receiving yardage and receiving touchdowns by the end of the season.

Saturday against Illinois, Pruitt served as a decoy as much as a target in SIU’s 42-34 loss.

His 66-yard completion midway through the third quarter, a career long by 24 yards, led to a 20-yard Thomas Kinney field goal. The preseason all-conference tight end drew enough defenders in the middle of the field late in the quarter to allow wide receiver John Lantz to get a 1-on-1 matchup he took full advantage of. Lantz caught his first career touchdown pass, a 35-yarder from quarterback Kory Faulkner with 2:48 to play that helped SIU get within 15 points, 39-24.

“That was something in the Illinois game they did early on,” Lennon said. “They always had somebody assigned for MyCole, and that did open up other receivers, and then once the other receivers started making an impact, then you saw MyCole become more of a factor in our game.”

Pruitt snared his first touchdown pass of the season with a diving catch in the end zone from the 1-yard line with 4:14 to play. Kinney’s extra point pulled the Salukis within eight, but they never got any closer.

“My role is ever expanding,” said Pruitt, who now lines up as a wide receiver as much as a tight end in this year’s offense. “My quarterback has a lot of trust in me and my coaches have a lot of trust in me. I’m trying to keep it that way.”

618-351-5087 / On Twitter: @THefferman

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