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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Saint Francis' Sean Boswell carries the ball away from teammate Sean Roch'e during Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium. The scrimmage marked the end of training camp. The season opens Saturday.

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Senior quarterback Nick Ferrer hands the ball off to junior Justin Green during Saint Francis' scrimmage Saturday.

Sunday, August 27, 2017 1:00 am

Cougars turn their focus to season opener

GREG JONES | The Journal Gazette

The defending NAIA national champion Saint Francis football team has less than a week remaining before its season opener at 1 p.m. Saturday at Jamestown (North Dakota), and there's still work to be done.

Even with a talented, experienced roster returning from last season, the Cougars (13-1 in 2016) have some question marks and are looking to shore up their depth chart. 

“It is a process, and we are better now than we were when we first started camp, which is a good sign because we keep getting better,” senior quarterback Nick Ferrer said Saturday after the final intrasquad scrimmage of the fall at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium.

“We haven't really reached what we can be yet, and we are having a lot of success right now. I thought today, offensively, was one of the best days we have looked. It was really sharp.

“I am interested to see who is going to step up in the two-deep. The (first units) are solidified, and the guys know what they are going to do. I am interested to see when we get to game week how deep we are. Guys who haven't played, they look good in practice but you just don't know until you see them in live reps and game competition.”

The scrimmage capped off two weeks of training camp and officially begins game week, with preparation forthcoming for the season opener.

The younger players, specifically those new to the program, have this week to make an impression on the coaching staff and play a role in the team's depth.

“We are getting there,” coach Kevin Donley said. “We are talented, and we are going to be good; it is a matter of the effort, the focus and continued improvement and working together.

“We have to find a new identity in some areas. We have a lot of guys back, but we have new guys too. It is not the same, and it is going to be different.”

Saint Francis is coming off a season that culminated in the program's first national championship with a 38-17 win over Baker (Kansas) in Daytona Beach, Florida, last December. The Cougars are believed to have what it takes to reach the pinnacle again, getting the No. 1 ranking in multiple NAIA preseason polls. 

“I am excited to get game week going, and the guys are just ready to hit someone else,” Ferrer said. “This last week has been a little chippy, here and there, and guys just want to get out and hit someone else.”

Donley said the top 50 players have been decided, with the final 16 spots still up for grabs. The veteran coach added that there are about 20 players battling for the last six seats on the bus for road trips.

“That's what we have to do right now, and that's focus on groups 2 and 3,” Donley said.

The Cougars' home opener is at noon Sept. 9 against St. Francis (Illinois).

gjones@jg.net