CARBONDALE — It started hitting wide receiver Raphael Leonard two weeks ago. Running back Jonathan Mixon was trying to treat his final home game like any other Saturday afternoon in November.
"Not too much more than any other game. I'm trying not to look at it like it's my last home game, or anything like that," said Mixon, one of 14 seniors that the SIU football team will honor before its game against No. 6 South Dakota State. "It's just like any other home game. Come out there, hoping for that victory."
The Salukis (2-7, 1-5 Missouri Valley Football Conference) will have to do more than hope against the Jackrabbits (6-2, 4-2), who are fighting for a top-four seed in the FCS playoffs in their final two games of the regular season. South Dakota State's only losses this season are to No. 1 North Dakota State (21-17 on the road) in late September and 24-9 at Northern Iowa Oct. 20.
As SIU has struggled to put it together as a team — the Salukis have lost four times this year when leading by a touchdown or more in the second half — some of its seniors have come up with some big performances. Quarterback Matt DeSomer is 108 yards rushing away from becoming only the second signal-caller in school history to run for 1,000 yards or more. Mixon's 19 career rushing touchdowns are tied with Brandon Jacobs for the ninth-most in school history. Leonard, a transfer from East Mississippi Community College who caught five touchdown passes last year, has caught at least one pass in all 20 games as a Saluki.
Leonard's 52 catches this year, the eighth-most in school history for a single season, lead the MVFC and are the most by an SIU wideout since Billy Reed caught 56 passes in 2015. His five receiving touchdowns lead the team, and are the most in the Valley behind Jackrabbits receiver Cade Johnson, who has 11 in eight games.
SIU coach Nick Hill said this year's senior class has also performed well off the field.
"Their leadership has been good. Obviously, we'd like to have a different record their senior year, but we got an opportunity to win one in their last home game," Hill said. "And, like I've talked to 'em numerous times down the stretch. And I've talked about the character, and how we go about things, there's really only one way to do things. That's the right way, and their attitude and their commitment and how they practice these last six, seven practices we have left are really the test of who they are and how they'll be remembered down the stretch."