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NAIA Football: St. Xavier enjoys summer reign

St. Xavier University football coach Mike Feminis. |  Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media

St. Xavier University football coach Mike Feminis. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 6, 2012 6:22AM



One of the last things on the St. Xavier football team’s list of things to do this offseason is attend a White Sox game at U.S. Cellular Field on Aug. 25. Then the NAIA defending national champions can really get down to business — but first things first.

“I’m going to throw out the (ceremonial) first pitch, but I’m not sure if they’re going to allow the whole team on the field,” coach Mike Feminis said. “We are going to sit up in the bleachers, but my 4-year-old daughter (Sophia) is afraid of fireworks and that’s a fireworks night. So we may have to gravitate up to the suites.”

It has been a suite — er, sweet — kind of offseason for the Cougars, who spent a championship summer rarely paralleled in Chicago sports history.

The title was the first in the school’s 41-year athletics history and the first football national title for a Chicago university since the University of Chicago won one in 1913. St. Xavier also was the first Illinois school to win a national football title since Augustana College won the last of its four straight Division III titles since 1986.

Since then, the Cougars have taken the NAIA trophy on an Illinois tour. Much like the Stanley Cup, the NAIA trophy is on loan to St. Xavier for a year, so the Cougars took it with them to film a segment on Fox-32’s morning news show, a Blackhawks game, city hall to meet Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Springfield for a meeting with Gov. Pat Quinn. The trophy is expected to make the trip to the Cell for the Sox game, too.

“I just love looking at it,” said returning linebacker Dave Marciano, a St. Rita graduate.

The Cougars begin looking toward their title defense — officially — with the beginning of their preseason camp Friday. Two-a-days start Saturday, and the season opener is Sept. 1 at Olivet Nazarene.

Feminis has nine starters returning on offense and eight on defense, and feels as confident about the 2012 version of the Cougars as he did with the 2011 edition.

Senior quarterback Jimmy Coy leads the no-huddle, spread offense that helped Coy put up these 2011 numbers: 68 percent passing for 4,261 yards and 42 touchdowns.

The Cougars offense looks to replicate what it did in 2011, when it outscored its opponents 666-290 and averaged 44 points per game.

“I love the no-huddle (offense),” said Coy, who ran a similar offense when he quarterbacked Maine South High School. “As last year went on, the game slowed a lot more. We have a bunch of kids back, but we’ll need underclassmen to step up, too.

“We put more emphasis on making linebackers tired early and make them run a lot early, too.”

The defense is led by veteran linebackers Marciano and Zach Dolph (Joliet Catholic) and defensive back Jeremy Rhodes (Brother Rice).

“This is the most athletic group we’ve ever had here,” Feminis said. “We could almost use (Marciano) in the secondary because he has to be like a safety since we play so fast. He runs like a defensive back.”

With three starters gone from the defensive line, Feminis has penciled in Greg Hayward (Oak Lawn) and Jimmy Sandling at one end and Ryan Miles at the other end.

Other newcomers who are expected to make an impact in the Cougars’ national title defense are sophomore safeties Clayton Fejedelem (Lemont) and Mark Williams, and sophomore running back Cole Midgett.

“We have guys who can move around and we can put people where we need them to be,” offensive lineman Matt Munizzi, a St. Rita product, said. “We’ll have very good competition during (two-a-days) and we should be able to get that chemistry going.”

For most of the Cougars, the national title took a while to sink in. Wide receiver Shane Zackery said it took a couple of weeks; same for Munizzi. But for Feminis it was almost instantaneous.

A self-described “techno-phobe,” Feminis said he bought an iPhone a week or two before the national title game. After the Cougars beat six-time NAIA champion Carroll 24-20 on Dec. 17 in Rome, Ga., in the team’s first national title game appearance, Feminis said his phone practically blew up with text messages.

“It sunk in on the bus ride home,” Feminis said. “I had just started texting for the first time and I thought the phone was going to explode because it kept beeping. I heard from people I had not heard from in 30-35 years.

“I still wake up and pinch myself.”



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