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Saint Francis
What: Spring football game
Where: Bishop D’Arcy Stadium
When: 7:30 p.m. today

Cougars hope spring game sheds light on progress

– Just as they began on a bitter cold morning April 3, the Saint Francis Cougars will end their spring football practices tonight beneath the lights of Bishop D’Arcy Stadium in the annual Blue and Black intrasquad game. Kickoff is 7:30.

Whether the added illumination shines more light on the fortunes of the 2013 team remains to be seen.

“We’re looking to see how we perform as units on both sides of the ball, with some adjustments, with some personnel moves,” said Kevin Donley, in his 17th season at Saint Francis.

“We’ve got some people who had to learn some new things in a short period of time.”

There has been some shuffling between when the 2012 season ended with the Cougars (9-3) falling in the playoffs to in-state rival and eventual NAIA champion Marian and today’s game.

Backup tailback Kyle Mathewson has shifted to inside linebacker.

Outside receiver Aaron Knight will be inside.

Offensive lineman Jason Gardner, like Mathewson, has flipped to defense.

“Right now I think the first groups on both sides of the ball are looking pretty solid, and the personnel moves that we made appear to be good ones at this point,” Donley said.

The rest is about filling holes.

Three offensive starters from last season are gone, and five defensive replacements need to be found.

Probably the largest void to fill is from the smallest player.

Austin Coleman, the 5-foot-8, 180-pound wide receiver from Harding, became the NAIA’s all-time leader in career kickoff return touchdowns with eight. He, along with center Brice Darling and receiver Aaron Beltcher, leave offensive holes to plug.

While much of the secondary and linebacking corps returns, the losses of Tony Moore, Rex Drabenstot, Kevin Bush, Lance Carey and Matt Smith will force the Cougars to rebuild up front.

So far the three-man front consists of ends Jake Allen, Zach Bruce and Matt Carden, with Gardner learning how to play in the middle.

“He’s a 6-3, 300-pound kid, and he’s going to be a real force in the middle on defense,” Donley said of Gardner. “He’s a stout kid, a tough kid. That’s been a great move, along with Mathewson.”

Note: Admission for tonight’s game is $10. A portion of the proceeds will go toward the family of Noah Barbknecht, the former Northrop football player who was paralyzed from the breastbone down after a December skiing accident.