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The Journal Gazette

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette University of Saint Francis football players watch training videos in the locker room during practice at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium on Wednesday.  

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette University of Saint Francis football assistant coach Patrick Donley teaches drills to players in the locker room during practice at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium on Wednesday.  

Thursday, August 09, 2018 1:00 am

New dad Harnish back with Cougars

Returns to field after wife gave birth to son Jaxson on Saturday

Victoria Jacobsen | The Journal Gazette

This week, as he was sitting in the hospital with his newborn son, Piercen Harnish looked up at his wife, Arissa, and said, “Can you believe I have a game in 18 days?”

The senior linebacker missed the Cougars' first two days of practice Monday and Tuesday to be with his wife and their first child, Jaxson, who was born Saturday. Harnish returned to training camp Wednesday, still wearing his identification wristband from the hospital, even though mom and baby have gone home and are doing well. 

“I'm just going to wear it until it falls off, probably,” Harnish joked. 

But as he adjusts to life as a new parent, there are still practices and workouts, film to watch and new teammates to get to know before two-time defending NAIA champion Saint Francis plays host to Robert Morris in its season opener Aug. 25. 

“I haven't even gotten to meet the freshmen yet, because I haven't been here. So, I've got to go around and learn some names,” Harnish said. “I see numbers out there, I see a kid wearing No. 9 out there. I wear 9! I'm like, I have to figure out who that is.” (The other No. 9, by the way, is freshman Dequincy Davis, a wide receiver out of Brownsburg High School.)

Harnish, who was named to his second straight College Football America 2018 Yearbook NAIA Starting Lineup along with teammate Justin Green, said he was excited to guide some of the younger players now that he is in his senior season, but he also said that declaring himself a leader isn't enough to garner respect from underclassmen. 

“I'm going to be a vocal leader on the field, but some voices fall on deaf ears if you talk too much,” Harnish said. “So we've got to be able to go out on the field and show it. Sometimes it takes visual leadership to get some guys going.”

Although Harnish joined practice a few days late, he did not miss any full-pad practice sessions. New NAIA rules taking effect this season limit the amount of protective equipment that teams can use early in the season so players can acclimate to increased physical activity and contact. Helmets are the only protective gear allowed for the first two days of practice, and shoulder pads only for the third and fourth days of camp. Full pads are allowed starting day 5. 

“That (rule) is actually new this year, but we've kind of done it on our own,” Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said. “We don't practice in pads nearly as much as most do. When I played, you would practice in full pads every time, that's just how they did it. But we've learned over the last 15, 20 years how to practice safely, because the body can only take so much.”

In the meantime, that means the team is spending a lot of time studying.

“We've been on the field for four hours a day, but we've been in the classroom for about six, and that will continue,” Donley said. “There's been as much time studying film and learning assignments and that sort of thing.”

Still, Donley said he knows much of the team is eager to finally strap on their shoulder pads and helmets.  

“You really don't get a great evaluation, it's more of a learning process, until you create competitive situations, which we're about to start doing,” Donley said. 

And while he hasn't put on a helmet since December, Harnish said he is starting to feel the urgency of that impending season opener, counting down the days until the Cougars face Robert Morris. 

“They've had our number: We've beaten them, but they take us down to the wire,” Harnish said, referring to a 38-29 Cougars win in 2015 and a 28-21 victory in 2016. “It does not matter that they were 2-9 last year. That does not matter. Everyone's going to want us. It's all about these next few days and how we come together as a team.”