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Last updated: Thu. Sep. 04, 2014 - 12:57 am EDT

6th-ranked Cougars set for Thursday night lights

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Saint Francis

vs. Missouri Baptist

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Bishop D’Arcy Stadium

Radio: 106.3 FM

FORT WAYNE — Monday, Labor Day, was a day off for most people. But not for the Saint Francis football team, which went through its only full-contact practice of the week.

With short preparation time for the Cougars’ season opener tonight against Missouri Baptist, it was necessary to get to work on the field. Cougars coach Kevin Donley said the team usually gets 48 hours of no live contact before a game.

“We just want to get our bodies back to the hitting stage, but you want to gradually lower the hitting as you go into the game,” senior defensive back Kory Stamps said. “But you can still install everything and fly around and control what you can, that’s about it.”

Saint Francis, No. 6 in the preseason NAIA poll, will open on a Thursday for the first time, and the game against the Spartans (0-1) will be No. 1 of a program-first 11 games in 2014. Most importantly, Saint Francis is simply ready to get the season started.

“We just got done with camp, and we are getting into the game week, so we are anxious to play,” said Stamps, who led the team with five interceptions and was named a second-team All-American a year ago. “We are tired of the talk and ready to play as a team. We just want to show everybody what we are all about. It’s more about us.”

The fewer contact practices this week might be a blessing for Saint Francis, which was hit by an injury bug last year that cost them two running backs among other losses.

“It’s good to have our No. 1s healthy,” Stamps said. “That’s why the coaches have been smart about managing practice and shortening practice so everybody can remain healthy throughout the year.”

Seniors Antoin Campbell and Garrett Harvey are back from last year’s injuries and ready to carry the ball – as well as the load – for the Cougars.

“The knee looks like it is fully recovered, but you never know until you get right into the middle of it,” Donley said of Campbell, who is 10th on the school’s all-time list for career yardage (2,559). “Harvey looks good as well. We are anxious to see them in competition.

“By nature as a coach, I am concerned about everything all the time. I am never totally content with everything. The bottom line is how are you going to be at kickoff, and that’s my job to make sure we are as close to being our best when that occurs. I always have concerns.”

Donley said he is eager to see how the veterans and newcomers will jell this season.

“You have to see where the next core of leadership is going to be,” Donley said of season openers. “You can work hard in the weight room, you can practice well, you can understand schemes and all the things you do to get ready for a football game, but there are so many emotions involved in a football game. That’s where leadership comes in, with youth and excitement. You have to pull it all together very quickly because you have to ride the highs and lows of a game.”

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