FORT WAYNE — The first morning of practice at Bishop D’Arcy Stadium was halted prematurely Monday because of heavy rain, but coach Kevin Donley wasn’t about to get irked at that.
“You learn all those lessons, dealing with adverse circumstances,” Donley said, after his Saint Francis Cougars football team opened training camp.
The Cougars, ranked No. 6 in the NAIA preseason poll released Monday, are used to adversity after last year, when they went 9-3 and reached the quarterfinals of the NAIA playoffs, losing to the University of the Cumberlands, after myriad injuries throughout the season.
Running back Antoin Campbell tore his ACL in the first game of the season, against eventual NAIA national champion Grand View.
Two weeks later, his backup, Garrett Harvey, was lost, too.
The Cougars remained a formidable team offensively – running backs Jason Nicodemus and Aaron Harris stepped up to combine for 651 yards and six touchdowns – while wide receiver Cam Smith had a team-leading 59 catches for 921 yards.
He was an all-conference selection and, this year, he has been picked to the USA College Football NAIA Preseason All-American Team, along with Saint Francis linebacker Keith Harris and cornerback Kory Stamps.
“Yeah, we’ve got the players to be successful this season,” Stamps said. “We just have to come through as a unit on both side of the ball and learn from last year’s mistakes and get better as the season goes on.”
On Monday, Donley had the thrill of seeing his full roster out on the field running around as if it hadn’t been almost a year.
“Kids are uplifting when they come back in to camp,” Donley said. “It’s rejuvenating for all of us. I’m excited about our team. We’ve got some holes to fill and questions to answer. Like, who will be our quarterback? And, how about the guys recovering from ACL surgeries? But the outlook is exciting here.”
Last year was tough not just because of the injuries, but also because of a fatal crash that took place in October, when a car swerved into the Cougars’ bus after a game. It took its toll emotionally on some of the players, but time has helped.
As for the Cougars’ physical injuries, Donley said he will learn more about his team once the pads go on this week.
“Campbell looks good running on air,” he said. “But we’ll probably have a much better idea of where everyone is later in the week.”
The competition for the quarterback job is between fifth-year senior Wesley Hunsucker, sophomore Bradley Jarzab and freshman Nick Ferrer.
Hunsucker has played in 20 games, completing 66 of 119 passes for 971 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
“We’ll just see how it shakes up. When you get into the fourth or fifth day, when the pads are on, that’s when you really start to get an idea of everything,” Donley said.
The Cougars open their season Sept. 4 at Bishop D’Arcy Stadium against Missouri Baptist University.