As the No. 1 University of Saint Francis football team prepares for its season opener, many familiar names return.
Nick Ferrer is back at quarterback, Justin Green at running back and Piercen Harnish at linebacker, for starters. That's a trio of nationally recognized playmakers for the defending NAIA champions. There are nine other returning starters and multiple contributors, too.
But to make another run, beginning with its opener at 1 p.m. Saturday at Jamestown, N.D., Saint Francis must have some new players step up and make big contributions.
So who are some relatively unknown players to keep an eye on? Here are seven under-the-radar players who could be more important as the season progresses:
Dan Ricksy, wide receiver
A 5-foot-10 sophomore from Lafayette, Ricksy caught three passes for 55 yards last season. He is listed as a starter at wide receiver alongside sophomore Rocky James.
“Dan is a tremendous athlete,” coach Kevin Donley said. “There's not a lot of difference between Dan and Rocky. They're both sub-4.5 sprinters with great vertical leap. It's just a matter of getting more and more confidence with repetition.”
Ferrer said he is impressed with Ricksy's ability to turn any play into a big gain. "When he gets the ball in his hands, he's a YAC guy, yards after catch," Ferrer said. "He gets in space and makes a couple guys miss."
Connor Holcomb, center
Saint Francis graduated one of the top centers in the country in Brian Gegner. Holcomb, a senior who played at East Noble High School, moves over from left guard to center. It's a critical position, with Holcomb to be responsible for line calls as well as a smooth rapport and center exchange with Ferrer. Gegner is also still around the program and regularly communicating with Holcomb about the position, Ferrer said.
“He's going to be Dr. Holcomb someday, he's never had a B (grade), so he'll be smart enough to figure it out,” Donley said.
Zach Gegner, tight end
Gegner, a senior from Indianapolis, could be a pivotal player in the offense with a number of inexperienced receivers stepping into bigger roles on the offense. He's 6-2, 232 pounds and difficult to bring down. He caught 18 passes for 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season but receptions were hard to come by with Seth Coate, Montay McDowell and Akeim Kelsaw in the lineup.
"Zach's a 10- to 15-yard tool guy," Ferrer said. "When you need a first down here and there, he knows how to get it."
Sean Boswell, inside receiver
Boswell, a senior from Indianapolis, returns with the most experience, having caught 27 passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns last season. With so many new receivers in the lineup, Boswell has the most long-term rapport with Ferrer. The duo enters their fourth season as teammates in the passing game. Saint Francis fans are well aware of Boswell, but this could be the season he takes on his biggest role.
"It feels weird being the old guy," Boswell said. "I've always been the young guys on the receiving corps. It's a different role now, but I've embraced it and I'm excited about it."
Devin Green, outside linebacker
Green, a junior from Bloomington, was injured last season but has had a strong camp in competing with Marcus Stepp for time as a linebacker/defensive end who will be asked to be pivotal in the pass rush and pass coverage game.
“He's a big strong guy, a big tough redhead,” Donley said. “I haven't had many redheads who weren't tough.”
Stepp said the competition has been good. "Green's a great player and we push each other every day," Stepp said.
James Jamicich, defensive end
A 6-3 sophomore and former Carroll High School standout, Jamicich will be counted on as one of the players to step up and help the Cougars adjust to life without pass rusher Lucas Sparks. Donley said he believes Jamicich can be a dominant player if he develops his full potential.
Caleb Hankenson, linebacker
Hankenson, a freshman out of Bellmont, has one of the more difficult tasks of any freshman. He's seeking to earn playing time behind Harnish and former Carroll player Eric Dunten, who were 1-2 in tackles for the Cougars last season.
“He's a player,” Donley said. “You see a blue flash go by and say, 'Who in the world was that?' It's Hankenson. He'll be right on (Harnish's and Dunten's) heels. Those are tough acts to follow but he'll let those guys know he's around.”
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