Saint Francis junior receivers Dan Ricksy and Rocky James formed a friendship a couple of years ago that has given the Cougars a solid 1-2 pass-catching punch and a nice safety net as the two-time defending NAIA national champions will have to break in a quarterback for the first time in four years.
Despite injuries to both players, Ricksy and James combined for 124 catches, 1,923 yards and 17 touchdowns. Ricksy led the team with 1,172 yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games and was tied for the team-lead with 73 catches, while James had 51 catches, 751 yards and seven touchdowns in 11 games.
“Just coming in here, and I didn't know anyone and living in the same dorm and getting to know each other throughout the year as freshman, we just clicked from the beginning,” Ricksy said Friday after a spring practice session. “We were just trying to get better together sitting behind (the graduated) Seth (Coate) and Montay (McDowell) ... we were bouncing ideas off each other and trying to get better. Playing the same position has brought us together a little more.”
Ricksy suffered an injury early in the season that hurt his production even though he didn't miss any games for the Cougars (14-0 in 2017).
Just as Ricksy was getting back into the groove, James went down with an injury in early October and missed three games. He returned for the playoffs and played sparingly in the 24-13 win over Reinhardt (Georgia) in the national championship game.
“Last year was kinda a roller coaster year for me and him because he started off crazy hot, and then he goes down with the injury and kinda right after I got back from my injury,” Ricksy said. “It was a rough time ... just trying to keep his head up and telling him he is going to be back in the playoffs and telling him not to rush it, and we knew we were going to get him back for the playoffs when we really needed him.”
James said opponents should be ready in the fall for the return of the two healthy star receivers.
“When Dan went down first, it was kinda hard for him ... I knew he was frustrated and he tried to get back there a little early, but you could tell he wasn't ready,” James said.
“When I went down, he was right there in my corner and picking me up. It was kinda difficult, but this year we are both back healthy, so it is going to be a scary sight.”
Ricksy and James will also have a different role than in their freshman seasons, this time serving as mentors with the search for a new starting quarterback with the graduation of NAIA Player of the Year, Nick Ferrer.
“It is different this year,” James said. “We have more experience with (running back Justin) Green in the backfield, and Dan and me on the outside, so we aren't worried about how the quarterback is going to fit in; they are all looking good right now.”