The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • FOOTBALL: Talented freshmen highlight new beginning for Saint Mary

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  • The Saint Mary football program may have been around since 2000, but 2008 will truly be a new beginning for the Spires.
    This year’s recruiting class is the largest in school history, with 41 newcomers making up more than half the roster.
    “This is the most talented freshman class we’ve ever had ... ” said head coach Lance Hinson, who is in his fourth year at the helm and his seventh overall with the program. “I love the attitude of this incredibly young team. I feel like we have done a good job as coaches of recruiting talent here.”
    Still, the most exciting part of the rebirth at Saint Mary might be the construction of the new athletic complex. The home opener will be week two against Bethel on Sept. 20 at 1:30 p.m., and will mark the first time that the school’s football fans will be able to watch a home game on campus.
    “Having that for our students to just be able to walk out their dorms and walk down to the game is going to create a great atmosphere,” Hinson said.
    The players are starting to feed off the excitement as well.
    “We’ve been working real hard,” said senior captain Chuck Lee. “I’ve been going at it ever since I got out of school. My fellow players have been working out over the summer, getting ready for the season. We’re just looking forward to that first game, and we’re going to come out ready.”
    That first game will be on the road against Southwestern College on Sept. 13, and even though the Spires will have to get that one out of the way before their exciting home opener, which will be filled with tailgates and the return of dozens of alumni, they aren’t looking past Southwestern at all.
    “That first game at Southwestern is what we’re looking at now,” said Sam Ritter, the other senior captain on a squad with only five seniors. “We’ve got to start out with a win, otherwise it’s hard to get going.”
    St. Mary is coming off a 3-6 season last year, and with each of those games coming against opponents in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, they finished in a tie for seventh with Ottawa and McPherson.
    The schedule has been expanded to 10 games this year, the team adding a non-conference tilt at home against Haskell on Oct. 11. The Spires are only ranked ninth out of the 10 KCAC teams in the pre-season coaches’ poll, however Hinson said he’s not worried about that.
    “That stuff doesn’t really concern me at all. Every year we’ve been picked either 9th or 10th, and every year we have never been 9th or 10th.”
    The team returns six starters on each side of the football and close to 30 total lettermen, including Lee, who was honorable mention all-KCAC at wide receiver last year.
    Page 2 of 3 - “I believe he was second in the league at wide receiver in touchdowns last year,” Hinson said. “I expect a lot of big things out of him.”
    Lee had eight touchdowns last season, and combined with the other returning wide-outs Derrick Schulte, Glen Wallin and Willie Harris, the expanded corps of 12 receivers that includes newcomer Justin Richter should allow the Spires to throw effectively.
    “We don’t have a bad receiver out there,” Hinson said. “We have size and we have speed.”
    They also return last year’s starting quarterback Daniel Robles, who threw for 860 yards as a sophomore.
    The Spires may be more excited about their ability to run behind honorable mention all-KCAC linemen senior Carlos Navarro and sophomore Nate Helvey, even though they lose second-team all-KCAC running back Brian Bosley. The reason is a trio of new running backs that have been impressive since practice started last week — Kyle Jones, Greg Kaplan and Rocky Rosales.
    “[Bosley] was a good running back, but I feel like I’ve replaced him with three guys who were just as good, maybe even better.”
    The Spires will also lose all-conference performers Cortez Young, a second-team defensive back, and LaKaito Barr-Miller, a first-team linebacker.
    The most painful loss, though, may be that of running back Nate Carey, who was paralyzed from the waist down this summer when a falling crate crushed one of his vertebrae in an accident at work this summer.
    He is still being cared for at Craig’s Institute in Colorado, but is hopeful that he will be in attendance at the home opener, where the team plans to honor him.
    “I expect them to play inspired,” Hinson said. “I expect them to play every down like it’s their last. That’s one thing that every kid that plays here does, or they don’t play.”
    That inspiration will be especially focused on the defensive side of the ball, where the Spires hope to make a statement this year with their unique scheme that features only three down linemen and three linebackers to go with five defensive backs.
    Returning nose guard Pat Dermann will anchor the defensive line. He and linebackers Gideon Anderson and Noah Wooten all started as freshman last year and will yet again be big contributors. Junior Tyler Wise also returns at linebacker.
    The biggest question marks are in the secondary. Punt return specialist Dameon Gordon started a few games at cornerback last year, but the corner spots are otherwise up for grabs. Ritter returns at safety, and both he and the linebacker Anderson were honorable mention all-KCAC last season.
    “We’re out here to have a winning season,” Ritter said. “We want to go to the playoffs for the first time ever. We might be young, but those young guys that are in here are doing a good job.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Doing so will be a tough task, as only 16 teams nation-wide will qualify for the NAIA playoffs. Still, the program believes it is headed in the right direction and can build on the excitement provided by the new complex.
    “I have a bunch of very jealous alumni,” Hinson said. “They’re thrilled to death. I’ll bet you I’ve heard from 50 to 100 former players of mine that said, ‘Coach, I’ll be back there for that first home game.’ They’re excited, with guys flying in from all over. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
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