Two-time defending NAIA national football champion Saint Francis will eventually find Nick Ferrer's replacement at quarterback. It just probably won't happen during spring practice. Not that there is a shortage of candidates for the Cougars, but more that there is a shortage of time as spring practice will last only 11 days – today through the spring game April 21.
“I wanted to give our guys a little more time in the weight room,” Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said. “Our seniors have played 40-some ballgames; most teams in our league, that's a whole 'nother season. So I don't think we have to pad it up and beat each other for a month. I have 10 practices, five of them in pads, so that will be enough for us.”
Saint Francis has gone 27-1 the last two seasons, finishing as national champions at the end both. Ranked No. 1 wire-to-wire in 2017, the Cougars knocked off No. 2 Reinhardt 24-13 in the NAIA title game Dec. 16 in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Ferrer was a big part of the back-to-back championships, the first two titles in school history. The senior threw for 4,100 yards and 38 touchdowns last season to become the program's all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns and was named the 2017 NAIA Player of the Year. Ferrer is currently pursuing a professional football career.
Vying for the position includes four quarterbacks from last season – sophomore Clay Senerius, sophomore Jakob Coker, redshirt freshman Danny Naylor and freshman Jake Hill. Senerius, the backup last season, threw for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Naylor threw two passes and completed both of them for 17 yards.
Also in the mix will be transfer Matt Crable, the son of former Notre Dame linebacker Bob Crable, and incoming freshman Heath Simmons.
“We haven't really done anything besides the weight room. ... Our four returning kids are bigger and stronger, and when you are behind Nick Ferrer, you are behind him,” Donley said of the returning quarterbacks. “Now there is a battle; I see the intensity turned up. We don't put helmets on until (this) morning, so I am guessing a couple weeks from now I will have a lot better answer.”
Besides Ferrer's talent throwing the football, Donley said he is also looking for a replacement for Ferrer's leadership.
“Probably the leadership and who is going to take over leading the team,” Donley said of things he will be looking for during spring practice. “I am expecting (junior linebacker Piercen) Harnish to (step up); he's a natural leader on defense, and we are still looking for that guy offensively. You have to walk the walk before you can talk the talk, so we have a lot of guys who are going to fight for that spot.
“You have to lead by example first. Before you can lead and directing others, you have to take care of your own business first. We have other guys who have worked hard, and they have definitely walked the walk. We'll see their comfort zone in terms of being able to address the squad, but it will be a work in progress. But we will get there. I have confidence, and I am sure we will have them ready to go.”
Returning defensively for Saint Francis include Harnish and a veteran and talented linebacker corps, with junior Eric Dunten, junior Devin Green and junior Marcus Stepp, as well as junior defensive lineman Jordan May and sophomore defensive lineman James Jamicich and junior safety Wilmer Cole.
Offensively, junior running back Justin Green is back to add to his record-setting career, along with receivers Rocky James and Dan Ricksy, both sophomores.
Donley's biggest concern might be the uncertainty of recent Indiana weather.
“Every day I get up, it's a bit brisk out there,” he said. “We have to go in the morning because of class conflicts, and it is not very warm at 6 a.m. That's part of the mental toughness, and we will fight through it and be ready to roll.”