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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • First-year coach, second-year quarterback to lead Spires' high-wire offense this season

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  • University of Saint Mary quarterback Josh Ervin was alone Friday morning on the floor of McGilley Field House, running back and forth across the gym following a workout.
    The Ervin-led Spires last season ended 4-7 overall and 3-6 in the conference, a step back from the team's 6-5 2012 campaign.
    Ervin came into the season a year removed from a redshirt season he spent watching starting quarterback Mike Keese lead the offense that head coach Jay Osborne said was built around him.
    Following an offensive staple, Ervin said, came with the pressure to keep the offense steady despite never starting a college football game. After a hot start, Osborne said Ervin's inexperience slowed him during the waning weeks of the season.
    But, it's a new year, and Ervin said he's pulled only positives from the disappointing season.
    "We learned a lot," Ervin said. "We definitely weren't happy with the outcome of the season, but I feel like it was a good learning season. So we're going to learn from that and translate it to this year."
    Not lost in translation is new head coach and former offensive coordinator Osborne. A former Spire, he returned to the program, he said, to bring his alma mater back to prominence.
    And that prominence, he said, starts with the team's quarterback. The coach said the main problem last season was transitioning a new quarterback into the pass-heavy system Keese excelled in.
    The system is ripe for a strong arm to fill the void Keese left when he graduated, Osborne said.
    "Our style of play offensively makes it to where you're not going to come and watch us run and put a pile of people in the middle of the field," Osborne said. "The ball's going to fly a round a little bit, it's going to go all over the field."
    A quarterback is only as good as the targets he's throwing to, and the Spires aren't lacking at wide receiver.
    Former first-team all conference wide receiver Billy Owens, coming off a two-year stint at the University of Kansas, is back with the Spires for his final year of eligibility. Also in his final year is wide receiver Alex Gomes, who was named second-team all conference last season.
    Ervin flashed a grin as he professed the excitement the Spires have about their deep receiving corps.
    "Every year since I've been here, we've had stacked receivers," Ervin said. "There's depth, it's a lot of good receivers. It's going to be fun, we have a lot of weapons."
    The Spires are set to officially report to school Saturday to begin offseason preparations for the new season.
    Though reporting during the weekend, the Spires won't begin practice until Tuesday.
    Page 2 of 2 - "We're not in a hurry to get out on the practice field," Osborne said. "We're coming in earlier than anybody in the conference as far as I know. We're going to make sure our guys have their feet underneath them ... so they can go out there and compete. Life's got to be good if football's going to be good."
    Per NAIA regulations, USM will have its first practice with helmets only. As the week progresses, so will the equipment players will be wearing.
    Starting Thursday, the Spires will be practicing in full pads and come next week, Osborne said the team will be in full game-preparation mode for the season.
    Defensively, the Spires will be anchored by Osborne's first hire as head coach, elevating running back coach Fran Schwenk to defensive coordinator.
    Hailing from Northwest Missouri State University, Schwenk is one of the few coaches on staff who isn't a former Spire. Last year's coaching staff had four coaches who had previously suited up in the blue and gold, and it's because of this that Osborne said a primary goal for his team this season is to become more involved with the Leavenworth community.
    "You're going to see our kids in the community of Leavenworth," Osborne said. "We're going to really try to be a part of this long-term. It's not expensive to come to one of our games and you get to see college football. ... We're going to build something here and we want the community to be a part of it."
    The Spires begin the 2014 season Sept. 6 at home against Oklahoma Baptist University, a repeat from last season's opener, which the Spires won 36-30.

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