MISSOURI BAPTIST vs. No. 6 SAINT FRANCIS
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Bishop D'Arcy Stadium on the campus of Saint Francis
Cost: $6 for adults, $3 for kids 12 and under. Infants free.
Thursday night will kick off the 18th consecutive fall of football for Saint Francis senior Kegan Morris.
It will in all likelihood be his last.
The offensive lineman is one of a number of Cougars prepped to begin their final season of football competition after a childhood and young-adult life dominated by the sport.
The last go-around begins against Missouri Baptist under the lights.
“I am a little nervous,” said Morris about his emotions heading into Thursday. “My parents have been watching me since I was little, so it is tough to see it go.”
Senior linebacker Kyle Mathewson identifies his final season as beginning all the way back on Dec. 1 of last year, the day after Saint Francis fell to the University of the Cumberlands in the NAIA Football Championship Series.
“From that point on, I knew this was going to be my last year,” said Mathewson, who led the Cougars with 99 tackles a season ago. “From off-season work up to now, I've wanted to make sure me and my team is ready to go.”
Morris has had some added emotions this preseason as he has been nursing a hamstring injury that has kept him out of a lot of contact drills. To miss a lot of his final training camp has been difficult, but making sure he was ready for the season opener was a priority.
“It was tough to sit on the sidelines,” Morris said. “I really was able to start going full go at the beginning of last week, so it was tough for sure.”
Details are magnified when just one more go-around remains. While in past years Mathewson may have been able to shrug off a bad performance or a defeat easier in knowing that he and the team had plenty of future opportunities, this season represents the end-all for his playing career.
His focus has adjusted accordingly.
“It really hits home when you have to win every single game to have home field in the playoffs,” Mathewson said. “We are focusing on doing everything we need to do week to week.”
This week presents a new opponent for Saint Francis as first-year program Missouri Baptist comes to town on Thursday. The Spartans – who compete in the American Midwest Conference in NAIA – began their season last weekend in a 77-0 loss to Southeast Missouri State.
Missouri Baptist's roster includes 61 freshmen as the team gets off the ground under Coach Jason Burianek.
Saint Francis will be looking to get off to a good start to the season with a gauntlet of early games on the slate, including Sept. 27 when 2013 National Champion and top-ranked Grand View University comes to town.
“We have looked good (in practice), but it's hard to judge what the season is going to be like,” Morris said. “With our schedule we will find out pretty quick how we'll be.”