Arvia: St. Xavier football finds it’s good to be king
PHIL ARVIA firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5949 February 3, 2012 8:24PM
St. Xavier University football coach Mike Feminis. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 6, 2012 8:17AM
On signing day, St. Xavier football coach Mike Feminis received letters of intent from five players. The next day, he got four more.
“That is a little unusual,” the coach of the reigning NAIA national champs said.
To set the record straight, signing day is supposed to be for what once were sensibly known as NCAA Divisions I and II. The names have changed and so, for St. Xavier, has the game.
To get so many kids to commit so quickly to a school in college football’s smallest four-year division owes directly to winning a national title.
“I think more kids and parents are aware of us,” Feminis said. “We’ve got a greater pool than before. Some kids are considering us now who wouldn’t look at us.”
And the change is just beginning.
While picking up his American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year Award last month, Feminis chatted with Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Lance Leipold, whose teams have won three straight Division III titles.
“He said, ‘Wait till next year,’ ” Feminis said. “A lot of (2012 recruits) had already decided where they’re going by the time we won (Dec. 17).
“He said the jump from (the year he won his first title to the next) was incredible. It’s definitely helped, but it’s going to help us more in the future.”
How much more could become evident as soon as April.
“Everyone’s got their spring ball in March and April,” Feminis said. “Kids competing for a starting job or maybe an immediate backup at a state school, if it doesn’t work out, they might want to go someplace else.
“To be honest, that’s what puts us over the top. We’ve probably got 10 or 11 guys that are legit (Division) I-AA players.”
St. Rita grad Dave Marciano is one, having transferred from Eastern Illinois.
“He was a preferred walk-on at Eastern; it didn’t work out,” Feminis said. “There couldn’t be a happier guy in the world right now than Dave Marciano.”
Except, perhaps, John Rhode, who will compete in 2013 to replace Jimmy Coy at quarterback.
Coy, a transfer from Division II Valdosta State, has another year of eligibility. Rhode, a Chicago Heights native who started at Marian Catholic for two years before transferring to Montini and winning a state title, will redshirt as a freshman.
Rhode ran a spread offense at Montini and will be comfortable stepping into St. Xavier’s breakneck offensive pace. In Montini’s state title win over Joliet Catholic, he threw for seven touchdowns and 583 yards in a 70-45 decision.
Feminis went to Marian with Rhode’s father, and began recruiting the player when he was still at the Chicago Heights school.
After Rhode transferred, Feminis, who played under Dave Mattio at Marian, asked the veteran coach about the player he’d just lost.
“I talked to him over the summer,” Feminis said. “He told me he thinks he’s a good kid. Dave didn’t say a negative word about the kid.”
Though Feminis trusts his own recruiting eye, Mattio’s recommendation didn’t hurt.
“Dave was instrumental with me getting recruited by Gordie Gillespie,” Feminis said of the legendary University of St. Francis coach. “I owe a lot to Dave.”
St. Xavier’s continued success will owe much to Feminis’ dedicated recruiting of his immediate environs.
Wednesday’s signees were Rhode, Joliet Catholic offensive lineman Jake Jankowski; defensive linemen Nick Cemeno, of Providence, and Alex Hamilton, of Minooka; and Morris’ Austin Feeney, who played quarterback but will switch to running back/slot receiver.
“The thing about the Joliet area, I played my college ball at St. Francis for Gordie, I was the defensive coordinator there until 1998,” Feminis said. “I developed a lot of great relationships there, and I know how good the football is. I want to get as many guys from Joliet Catholic, Providence, Minooka, Morris and the Lincoln-Ways as I can.”
Then there were Thursday’s signees: linebackers Dan Fitzgerald (St. Rita) and Mike Sheehy (Brother Rice), and receivers Dan Ladd (St. Rita) and Ryan Carroll (Marist).
“It’s always great to get guys from your own back yard,” Feminis said.
Even if success gives you access to more real estate.