College Football: St. Xavier ready for NAIA title defense
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media August 26, 2012 3:18PM
St. Xavier quarterback Jimmy Coy. | File photo
Inside the Cougars
St. Xavier’s strong defense often has been overlooked, thanks to its high-powered offense. Has that changed after the Cougars turned in defensive stands at the end of both the 2011 national semifinal win over Marian and the national championship game against Carroll?
“I still think we’ll be in the shadow of (the offense),” linebacker Dave Marciano said. “But the fact is the offense has a better feeling about us now that they’ve seen us with our backs against the wall on the goal line, and we were able to do it.”
Big shoes to fill
The Cougars lost three starters on the defensive line, including All-Americans Mike Prosser and Pat Appino. Jimmy Sandling, Ryan Miles and Greg Hayward (Oak Lawn) will be heavily counted on up front.
“I was always competing against (Prosser) and it’s pretty hard when he’s getting all those sacks every game,” Sandling said. “He made me play better. Same with Appino. We have some holes to fill and I feel like I’ve really got to step it up.”
Defensive back Mark Williams made the biggest play in school history as a freshman, knocking down a fourth-down pass to seal the Cougars’ championship game win over Carroll.
That got him some celebrity treatment in his hometown of Evanston.
“When I went back home, a lot of people were congratulating me,” he said. “I got a lot of recognition, but I’m not big on being cocky so I was just kind of like ‘Uh, yeah, thanks.’ I wasn’t used to that kind of stuff.”
Quarterback Jimmy Coy ran for 78 yards and a touchdown in the title game win over Carroll. Don’t be surprised to see the signal-caller take off more often this year.
“I would like to use my feet a little more this year,” he said. “It kind of keeps guys guessing. It’s just another element that will make us a bit harder to prepare for.”
Quite a slate
The Cougars figure to get some tests during their 10-game regular season, especially at home, where they welcome No. 7 St. Francis (Sept. 8), No. 22 Langston (Sept. 15), No. 6 St. Francis (Ind.) (Sept. 29) and No. 3 Marian (Nov. 3).
Updated: September 28, 2012 6:08AM
St. Xavier returns nine starters from an offense that averaged 44 points per game last season on the way to the first NAIA national championship in school history.
If that fact alone isn’t scary enough for opposing teams, Cougars coach Mike Feminis says fifth-year senior quarterback Jimmy Coy is just getting started.
“I’d certainly like to think we’re going to be as potent as we’ve been or even more so, mainly because the most important position in sports is the quarterback,” Feminis said. “For Jimmy to do what he did last year when all he had was a spring and summer camp under his belt was phenomenal. If people thought he was good last year, they’re really going to be impressed this year.”
Coy passed for 4,261 yards and 42 touchdowns in 2011, his first year with the Cougars after previous stops at Valdosta State University and El Camino College.
“He really knows the offense now,” Feminis said. “If there’s a better small-college quarterback in the country, I’d like to know who it is. He’s special.”
And when the Cougars open the season at 6 p.m. Saturday at Olivet Nazarene, Coy will have a plethora of familiar weapons to utilize.
St. Xavier lost offensive linemen Michael Johnson and Kenny Smith from its 2011 offensive starters. That’s it.
Returnees include receivers Shane Zackery (95 catches, 1,208 yards, 18 TDs in 2011), Corey Wennmacher (60 catches, 937 yards, 10 TDs) and Wes Gastel (64 catches, 811 yards, 11 TDs).
Oak Lawn product Nick Pesek returns at running back after gaining 1,135 yards on 200 carries and scoring 10 touchdowns.
“As a whole, I’m excited about our offense,” Zackery said. “We’re just explosive. Anybody can get hot any day. Our offense is fast-paced and so exciting.”
The Cougars were the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation in the NAIA’s preseason poll and are experiencing the pressure of being the defending champion for the first time, but Coy isn’t too concerned.
“There was a target there anyway,” he said. “These guys were a contender for years before I got here. Those teams were going to circle us on their schedules, anyway. We’ve just got to worry about ourselves and focus on improving each day.”
Another thing Coy isn’t worried about is complacency from a Cougars squad that’s spent a good part of the offseason showing off its trophy.
“When something’s new to the entire program, you don’t really know how people are going to respond to it,” he said. “But we had guys working hard all offseason. It seems like everybody’s hungry for another one.
“Our goal is to repeat, but also to win our conference title. We lost our conference last year. That’s something that Marian took away from us that we want this year.”
St. Xavier’s defense, which returns eight starters, has a strong linebacking core led by St. Rita graduate Dave Marciano and a secondary that features Clayton Fejedelem (Lemont) and Mark Williams — breakout stars as freshmen last year — plus senior Jeremy Rhodes (Brother Rice).
According to Marciano, there’s still plenty for the Cougars to prove.
“That’s when you know you’re a real good team,” he said. “If you win it once and then you can defend it. We’re hungry and we want it again.”