University of Saint Francis senior quarterback Nick Ferrer has been around long enough to speak bluntly.
His team is ranked No. 1 in the NAIA, coming off a national championship. The Cougars open on the road against a Jamestown (N.D.) team coming off a 31-3 loss.
There's no sense pretending.
“We know we're the better team, no question,” Ferrer said. “But at the end of the day, you still have to go out and perform. They have played a game, they've hit somebody else this year, which we have yet to do. We don't want to come out slow. We want to come out fast.
“The big thing for us is to play our game and once we settle in and everything, I think we'll be just fine.”
Saint Francis opens its defense of the NAIA title at 1 p.m. Saturday in Jamestown. The team left on a 15-hour bus ride west Thursday.
Ferrer makes sure to emphasize that he respects Jamestown, credits them as possessing a “fast-flowing” defense and knows his offense has some new pieces to fit into the mix. Jamestown lost 31-3 to Hastings, Neb., last Saturday.
Ferrer remains every bit as confident as a quarterback should be when he's thrown for 8,342 yards and 97 touchdowns in his career. Saint Francis' record during Ferrer's two seasons as starting quarterback is 24-2, with both losses coming to rival Marian.
“I think our run game, if we execute, will give them problems, and then there will be holes in the passing game as well,” Ferrer said.
The game will be the first for Ferrer with a new center (Connor Holcomb) and a new set of receivers after the graduation of record-setting Seth Coate and teammates Montay McDowell and Akeim Kelsaw.
Senior inside receiver Sean Boswell returns, along with senior tight end Zach Gegner and sophomore outside receiver Rocky James. Sophomore outside receiver Dan Ricksy has stepped into a starting role for the first time.
“We have our four or five guys marked down on the outside as the guys we'll be rolling with,” Ferrer said. “The scrimmage (last Saturday) was a good, last-ditch effort to make sure the timing was there. We're ready to go. I remember last year, it was a little slow to start and then we picked it up. I go into this game kind of expecting that but hoping that doesn't happen.”
While James saw some action last season, Ricksy is new to regular time at receiver, as are the primary backups, including Will Chrisman, a sophomore out of DeKalb High School, Andreas Gomez-Espino, a junior out of Snider, Duke Blackwell, a sophomore out of New Palestine, Nate Carson, a senior out of Terre Haute North Vigo and Dylan Hunley, a freshman out of East Noble.
Boswell and Gegner might not be as flashy in the open field as the speedy outside receivers, but Ferrer will count on them in critical situations.
“I'd call them security blankets, I really would,” Ferrer said. “They know what to look for and they're consistent, too, catching the football and making plays and being really strong. A lot of times they have to catch the ball and get hit and take a lick, and they accept that and go make the play. Those are the kind of strong guys you need.”
“Nick has the arm to put the ball wherever we want to get it,” Boswell said. “I'm confident in that.”
The game will be played on natural grass, which will be the only time Saint Francis plays on grass this season. The Cougars played on it only once last season, in the season-opening 34-20 win at Trinity International.
Defensively, Saint Francis returns six starters and at least six other players who regularly saw time during the championship run. Leading tacklers linebacker Piercen Harnish and Eric Dunten return in the middle, tackle-for-loss leader Eric Hemmelgarn is back at nose tackle, Spencer Cowherd at outside linebacker and Wilmer Cole and Lee Stewart III are back in the secondary.
“We have a long trip, they're at home, they're on grass,” Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said. “We played on grass last year in the first game and struggled a little. But I believe in our kids and that they can take care of business.”
QB Nick Ferrer
RB Justin Green
WR Sean Boswell
WR Rocky James
WR Dan Ricksy
LT Alex Woods
LG Jaylen Gamble
C Connor Holcomb
RG Shawn Moore
RT Nick Shoemaker
TE Zach Gegner
DE Jordan May
DL James Jamicich
NT Eric Hemmelgarn
LB Piercen Harnish
LB Eric Dunten
OLB Devin Green
OLB Spencer Cowherd
CB Wilmer Cole
CB Ryan Johnson
SS Lee Stewart III
FS Blake Schumacher
PK Gavin Gardner
P Joe Knepper
PR Sean Boswell
KR Justin Green
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