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The Journal Gazette

  • Elizabeth Wyman | The Journal Gazette Junior Rocky James runs a drill during Saint Francis' first day of practice Monday. The Cougars are two-time defending NAIA champs.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018 1:00 am

Champion Cougars open training camp

Saint Francis knows expectations high after 2 NAIA titles

Elizabeth Wyman | The Journal Gazette

As long as the Saint Francis football team keeps winning, the expectations keep climbing. “We had one losing season in 20 years,” said Cougars coach Kevin Donley, whose team opened training camp Monday. “The bar is set so high, it's just extremely difficult. You can't win all the time, so you try not to think about it. It's the past. Taking it one step forward every day.”

It's hard not to think about the last two years for Donley's team. The back-to-back NAIA champions have a 27-1 record in that time and enter 2018 on a 23-game winning streak.

The Cougars are ranked No. 1 in the NAIA Coaches' Preseason Top 25 poll for the second consecutive season. Returning seven starters on defense and five on offense, there isn't any doubt floating around Bishop D'Arcy Stadium that Saint Francis can't win a third consecutive championship.

“Our big goal is to win a third one, so that's what we're obviously striving for and working so hard to get to,” senior running back Justin Green said. “The expectation is set real high. We're trying to make part of college football history.”

Green has already stamped his name in the Saint Francis record book as the Cougars' leading career rusher entering his senior season.

As a junior, he rushed for 2,031 yards and 29 touchdowns.

Entering his senior season, with a new quarterback, Green is ready to emerge as a leader.

“I'm not much of a big talker; I'm kind of to myself, but I kind of lead through my actions instead of my words,” Green said. “Guys see me do the right things, working hard and it just makes them want to do the right thing. I really don't have to vocalize my leadership, I just do it with my actions.”

For the second consecutive year, Green and teammate senior linebacker Piercen Harnish were named to the College Football America 2018 Yearbook NAIA Starting Lineup.

“It feels good. I'm not really a big personal achiever, all that stuff is fine and dandy, but I'm here to win a national championship, so winning a third one means more than any type of record,” Green said.

Harnish – who was absent the first day of training camp because of the birth of his child – had 125 tackles, including 17.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks last season.

Donley calls Harnish a “natural leader, who exudes confidence.”

“He'd be a very popular president of the United States,” Donley said. “He'll be a CEO of a big corporation someday. He leads by example, so when he speaks, people listen.”

The biggest unknown for the Cougars this season is what to do without former star quarterback Nick Ferrer.

Fans already got a taste of Matt Crable, Ferrer's successor, in the spring football game. Crable, a sophomore transfer from Grand Valley State, is Donley's No. 1 guy.

“He (Crable) kind of took the lead and the job so I named him No. 1 after spring ball,” Donley said. “He gives you a whole new dimension with mobility.”

“Nick (Ferrer) was so talented with where to go with the ball, he was a pinpoint passer, typical pro-style type of quarterback,” Donley said.

“A lot of the same things (with Crable), but a lot of new things as well, because you have to try and match what you have instead of what you had.”

The Cougars don't put on pads until Thursday, but the intensity was evident in the two-a-days according to senior inside linebacker Eric Dunten.

“It's awesome just having the freshman come in they're bringing a kind of new energy,” Dunten said. “It gets me excited to see them be ready to play, ready to learn; It's just been great so far.”

The Cougars open their quest for a third consecutive championship on Aug. 25 when they play host to Robert Morris.

ewyman@jg.net