Arm strength, passing accuracy and inner confidence all remain intact for University of Saint Francis senior quarterback Nick Ferrer.
But let's talk about his improved vision.
Vision separates the good quarterbacks from the great ones. It's an intangible of sorts, a combination of knowledge, intelligence, experience and sixth sense. Ferrer was already blessed with great vision. It looks even clearer now.
Ferrer drops back, surveys the defense and calculates space, time and receiver routes. If the first option is defended, he moves on. Eventually he sees, or senses, that opening.
“Not trying to toot my horn, but I'm seeing stuff faster, seeing stuff better, seeing the whole field and I'm able to go through things quicker,” Ferrer said. “It's something I noticed during camp, that I'm really anticipating stuff and that sort of thing, and that's where I've really gotten better.”
Inside receiver Sean Boswell has caught passes from Ferrer for four years. He'll testify that Ferrer has moved into new quarterback territory.
“He's playing like he sees everything before it even happens,” Boswell said.
Ferrer completed 22 of 29 passes for 301 yards and five touchdowns – all of those completions, yards and scores were before halftime – in Saint Francis' 68-23 win over Saint Francis (Ill.) on Saturday in Bishop D'Arcy Stadium.
That brings Ferrer's two-game totals to 39 of 49 passing (79.5 percent) for 554 yards and seven touchdowns. Needless to say, the NAIA No. 1 and defending champion Cougars are 2-0.
“I think Ferrer is the best quarterback in NAIA football,” Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley said. “Not even close.”
Ferrer's blazing start – he exited early with a big lead in both games so far – is even more remarkable considering he's operating with an almost entirely new receiving corps.
Boswell is a returning target, as is Rocky James, but they were the fourth or fifth option a year ago when Seth Coate, Montay McDowell and Akeim Kelsaw were playing. Coate, especially, was Ferrer's and every defense's No.1 target.
Ferrer hit five receivers with at least two passes Saturday: James caught seven for 111 yards and three touchdowns, Boswell five for 70 yards and a score, Dan Ricksy four for 59 yards, Zach Gegner three for 24 yards and Duke Blackwell two for 24 yards and a touchdown.
“I have that connection with him to get where he wants me to be, and the younger guys are starting to do that, too,” Boswell said. “He knew when we came in this year that he didn't have those guys he's been throwing to the last three years. He's going to put that ball in the right place. You have to trust him and trust yourself, and he'll make plays.”
Ferrer extended his streak to 28 consecutive games with at least two touchdown passes. His first touchdown Saturday, a 33-yard strike to James down the left sideline, was Ferrer's 100th career TD pass. His second was a thing of timing beauty as he delivered the outside shoulder pass and James turned to look at the exact second.
His third touchdown pass to James might have been the most impressive.
“That last touchdown to Rocky was a fourth progression,” Donley said of Ferrer checking through his options. “When we do that, it's pretty good stuff. He's pretty special.”
Ferrer said Saint Francis (Ill.) was trying to take away the run game, which only opened up more opportunities with the pass. The run game pulled its weight fine: Justin Green rushed 22 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
“I audibled a couple of them and I had to come over and say (to Green), 'I don't mean to take away your carries, but they're just giving it to us,' ” Ferrer said.
Donley said heading into the game that he felt Saint Francis (Ill.) would be among the most talented teams the Cougars would face during the regular season.
Saint Francis capitalized on defense and special teams, as well. Wilmer Cole and Blake Schumacher had interceptions, and the Cougars blocked a punt and a field goal. Ryan Johnson blocked the field-goal attempt and returned it 67 yards for a touchdown. Piercen Harnish led Saint Francis with nine tackles, Eric Dunten had eight and Caleb Hankenson and Spencer Cowherd six apiece.
The defense was expected to start the season strong. It was the offense that was presumed to need time to get in sync.
The ease with which Ferrer picked the Fighting Saints apart bodes well for the Cougars moving ahead.
“I think we've got a chance to be pretty good,” Donley said with a smile.
They'll likely be much better than pretty good. I don't need Ferrer's vision to see that.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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