Koutsos reigns over Homecoming game against Redbirds

By Gus Bode

Koutsos sets all-time Gateway career rushing mark in SIU’s 45-17 win

He wasn’t even supposed to be here, but after he broke his wrist, he had no other choice.

After he announced he was returning, it wasn’t supposed to be his year. His time was supposed to be up. He was supposed to play second fiddle to Muhammad Abdulqaadir.

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And heading into the Illinois State game, he wasn’t supposed to even play because of an injured hamstring.

But with everything it wasn’t supposed to be, one thing was certain – Homecoming 2003 belonged to Tom Koutsos.

The senior back played arguably his best game of a legendary career against the Redbirds and their All-America linebacker Boomer Grigsby, accumulating 153 yards and three touchdowns.

Just like he did so many times before in his career, Koutsos strapped the team on his back and literally ran over ISU as the Salukis rolled to a 45-17 victory.

And Koutsos got the record that has evaded him since last season.

With six minutes, 57 seconds left on the game clock, Koutsos veered right off a Joel Sambursky handoff. The Redbird defense pursued with him right, and the senior took advantage and cut across the grain leaving him nothing but daylight to the end zone.

The rest is history.

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The 35-yard touchdown run gave Koutsos the yards needed to break the Gateway Conference all-time rushing record of 4,231, which was held by Willie High of Eastern Illinois. The name “Koutsos” now heads that list with 4,244 career yards and counting.

“Tommy had a great day,” SIU head coach Jerry Kill said. “It was very fitting.”

After he scored the touchdown and broke the record, he didn’t do much celebration. He sprinted through the back of the end zone and just raised his arms awaiting hugs from his teammates, but he didn’t even know what he accomplished.

When the record was announced over the P.A., a band of Saluki players crowded around Koutsos, and with the rest of the crowd, serenaded him with an ovation.

“I had a feeling I was close to it after [the touchdown],” a choked up Koutsos said. “Some people in the crowd were shouting things to me, and I had those [eye goggles] on and was trying not to laugh.

“I looked like Eric Dickerson out there.”

But he did more than just break the all-time yardage mark against ISU. In the wake, he also became the No. 1 guy in rushing touchdowns scored and tied P.J. Mays of Youngstown State for touchdowns scored for the top spot as well. That is why his nickname is “Touchdown Tommy.”

Last week at practice, it seemed the record might have to wait. Koutsos sat out of practice on Tuesday and participated minimally Wednesday due to his pulled hamstring. Kill listed him as “doubtful.”

After the trainers stretched him in a way that he said brought tears to his eyes, he felt he was physically fit to suit up. Whether or not he was mentally ready was not a question.

“Tommy has played for four and a half years,” Kill said, “I don’t think we are going to teach him anything on Tuesday’s or Wednesday’s practice.

“He had fresh legs and it showed.”

Last season, Koutsos had to watch the Homecoming game from the sidelines with a cast on his right hand. The thought of doing the same really wasn’t too appealing.

And this season, one of his good friends, Grigsby, was playing on the opposite side of the ball. Though Grigsby is considered one of the best defensive players in the nation, Koutsos had the upper hand in this meeting.

Throughout the game, not one time was Koutsos lying on his back after a carry and if they met in the hole, Grigsby was the one on his back.

“He is a great linebacker,” Koutsos said. “One guy on the defense doesn’t stop 11 guys on the offense.

“He is a great player, but we are not scared.”

Breaking the record is something Koutsos realized he was going to accomplish dating back to after his junior season. But breaking the record while he was on a 6-0 team was something he did not.

“It is a great feeling,” Koutsos said. “Before the teams I was on, we didn’t win very many games. People would say ‘great job,’ but we never won.

“Down the road, I will be able to say ‘This record meant a lot to me.'”

Reporter Zack Creglow can be reached at [email protected]

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