Saint Francis football

OT Cam Edwards talks about replacing Antoin Campbell, challenging schedule

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Tears shed as Saint Francis moves on

– One minute, maybe less. That’s what Antoin Campbell’s worth comes down to if you’re Saint Francis football coach Kevin Donley.

It comes down to a doctor’s office and an MRI and a few words that sucked all the air out of the room, replacing it with tears. Donley didn’t have a clock on the tears part, but he knows it wasn’t long.

“Obviously he’s heartbroken,” he said Thursday of the moment when Campbell, the Saint Francis Cougars’ linchpin running back, got the news that his season was done. “But it wasn’t one minute until he’s saying ‘What can I do now, Coach, to help the team?’

“You miss the great player. But probably as difficult to replace is his presence and leadership. He’s an inspiration.”

And, in sheer raw numbers, impossible to replace in one chunk.

In three games this season, Campbell had 394 yards on 71 carries and six touchdowns for a team that has averaged 25.3 points and 443.3 yards per game.

Now the Cougars go to No. 25 Siena Heights, its fourth consecutive top-25 opponent, with Campbell either standing or sitting or leaning on crutches on the sideline.

He’ll still be an inspiration. But how will the Cougars replace the rest of the package?

Donley figures it starts up front.

“I challenged our offensive line,” he says. “Those guys have to be the leaders of our offense. As a group. Nothing gives a quarterback more confidence than to hear ‘We’ve got you protected, you’ve got time.’ Nothing gives a running back any more confidence than to say ‘Run right behind me.’

“So it’s got to start with those five guys. They’ve really got to take control of the leadership part of it.”

No problem, says 6-foot-5, 217-pound tackle Cam Edwards.

“Our confidence is there,” he says. “We just put in our offensive line plans. What can we do? Antoin, yeah, he was a key loss. We’re all going to miss him. But the season still goes on, you know. We’ve got to stay focused and stay confident.”

At running back, meanwhile, Campbell’s absence won’t be filled by any one person. Garrett Harvey, his backup, will be the first option. Freshmen Aaron Harris and Jason Nicodemus will likely see some work, too.

It won’t be like having Campbell back there. But, collectively, they’ll have to be close enough.

Even though quarterback Josh Miller’s aggravated ankle has eased and he’ll be back in the lineup after going down along with Campbell last week, Miller alone can’t make the Cougars’ high-energy offense go without a running game to keep Siena Heights honest.

Miller’s statistics are impressive – he has completed 44 of 67 passes for 402 yards and two touchdowns, while not throwing an interception – but he’ll likely need help against a defense that’s giving up only 13.8 points, 323.8 total and 134.5 rushing yards per game.

“We’ve got to be able to run the ball,” Donley says. “We’ve got Garrett Harvey, and we’ve got a couple freshmen that are really talented. Harvey’s a more physical guy, he’s a 230-pound power runner. Harris reminds me a lot of (Cory) Jacquay as a freshman. Nicodemus reminds me a lot of Taylor Veick, strong, tough kid. As a collective group, they have the ability.”

bensmith@jg.net

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