College Football: St. Xavier aims to rebound from ‘embarrassing’ 2013
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media September 3, 2014 8:30PM
Nick DeBenedetti, of St. Xavier | Supplied photo
St. Xavier 2014
Coach: Mike Feminis, 16th season (134-47)
Last year: 7-4 overall, 4-2 in the Mid-States Football Association Midwest League, did not qualify for postseason
Key players: WR Ryan Carroll (453 receiving yards, 2 TDs), so.; WR Nick DeBenedetti (935 yards receiving, 10 TDs), sr.; DE Greg Heyward (50 tackles, 6.5 sacks), sr.; RB Josh Hunter (3 rushing TDs), jr.; RB Mike Ivlow, Fr.; QB John Rhode (1,275 yards passing, 8 TDs), so.; WR Stephen Simms (490 yards receiving, 309 yards rushing), so.; LB Alex Walters (58 tackles), sr.
Sept. 6: at Marian (Ind.), 5 p.m.
Sept. 13: Indianapolis, 6 p.m.
Sept. 20: at Robert Morris, 1 p.m.
Sept. 27: St. Francis, 1 p.m.
Oct. 4: at Grand View (Iowa), 1 p.m.-x
Oct. 11: St. Francis (Ind.), 6 p.m.
Oct. 26: at William Penn (Iowa), noon-x
Nov. 1: St. Ambrose (Iowa), 1 p.m.-x
Nov. 8: at Trinity International, noon-x
Nov. 15: Olivet Nazarene, 1 p.m.-x
x-Mid-States Football Association Midwest League game
Updated: September 4, 2014 2:16AM
For many college football programs, a 7-4 season would be seen as a success.
St. Xavier is not one of them, however.
In fact, the Cougars don’t hold back when discussing what the 2013 campaign felt like to them.
“It was embarrassing,” receiver Nick DeBenedetti said. “It was very disappointing. The motivation is there for us. What could be more motivating than what happened to us last year?”
The Cougars, ranked No. 16 in NAIA, open their season against rival Marian University at 5 p.m. Saturday in Indianapolis.
Finishing 7-4 and missing the postseason certainly fall below the standards St. Xavier has set for itself in recent years.
From 2009 to ’12, the Cougars went a combined 51-5 and advanced to the national semifinals every season, winning the program’s first national championship in 2011.
St. Xavier coach Mike Feminis said part of getting back to that high level is mental.
“I told the guys after the season last year that from ’09 to ’12, we played with a swagger,” he said. “There was a confidence level where we didn’t think we were going to lose a football game, and I think in most cases our opponent didn’t think they could beat us. I think we lost a little bit of that last year, and I think our main objective this year is to regain that.”
Feminis believes the talent is there to bring the swagger back to St. Xavier.
Last season, the Cougars were young — especially offensively — and hurt by injuries. Redshirt freshman John Rhode initially split time at quarterback with senior Joe Gill, but was expected to become the full-time starter. A shoulder injury, however, limited Rhode to five games of action. He threw for 1,275 yards and eight touchdowns, to go with eight interceptions.
“For a redshirt freshman last year, I thought he was outstanding when he played,” Feminis said of Rhode. “Unfortunately, he was banged up a lot. He had a great spring; he knows the offense inside and out now.”
Rhode should have plenty of weapons to throw to with DeBenedetti — an Andrew product who’s also a big threat in the return game — returning for his senior season after catching 10 touchdowns last year.
Stephen Simms and Ryan Carroll (Marist) had nice campaigns as freshmen in 2013 and should continue to improve while big things are expected from transfer Randall Wells (Marian Catholic).
Khary Ferguson, Josh Hunter (Thornridge) and freshman Mike Ivlow (Joliet Catholic) figure to see time in the backfield with the graduation of the school’s all-time leading rusher, Nick Pesek.
“We had some growing pains last year,” DeBenedetti said. “Now the younger guys are a year older, a year smarter, a little faster and stronger. I think we can be deadly.”
Defensively, the Cougars must replace their top three tacklers. Big things will be expected from a trio of senior returning starters: defensive lineman Greg Hayward (Oak Lawn), defensive back Danny Lombardo (Lemont) and linebacker Alex Walters.
The Cougars seniors will also be expecting big things from themselves.
“Last year was a down year,” Walters said. “We’ve got to get back to tradition. We’re going to the national championship this year.”