Coaching staff expects good numbers

The continuation of a new chapter for University of Saint Mary football rekindled itself Wednesday when the Spires' program embraced National Signing Day on campus at the Ryan Sports Center.

Third-year head coach Jay Osborne signed nine players on campus, those of which graduated early and began taking classes in January.

Those players who signed included Leavenworth’s Isaiah Ross who will transfer in after signing with Western Illinois of NCAA Football Championship Series. Ross was an all-state defensive back in 2014 for Leavenworth High School, and will play the same position for the Spires.   Another local signee is Nick Holmes, a 5-11 member of the Pleasant Ridge Rams who was recruited as an athlete. Holmes played quarterback and safety for the Rams and rushed for more than 1,000 yards his last two seasons.   Pleasant Ridge’s Robert McManigle also signed with USM. The former Ram was signed as a tight end after excelling on the defensive side of the ball the past two seasons.   Others who are ready to don the colors of Saint Mary are: AJ Barnett (wide receiver, Santa Ana College transfer), DJ Borman (offensive lineman, Rogers Heritage High School in Arkansas), Brandon Broddle (wide receiver, Pleasant Ridge High School of Colorado Springs, Colorado), Tommy Burton (center/defensive end, Hardin-Central High School in Missouri), Alexander Collingham (tight end/defensive end, Hardin Central High School), Jordan Cons (wide receiver, Verrado High School of Goodyear, Arizona), Kalyn Davis (running back, Lincoln College Prep of Kansas City, Missouri), Kyle Dougherty (wide receiver, College of the Siskiyous transfer), Tiller Gaston (defensive back, Long Beach City College transfer), Taylor Gilbert (running back, Savannah High School in Missouri), Ben Harvey (running back, Oskaloosa High School of Kansas), Brandon Keller (quarterback, Millennium High School of Litchfield Park, Arizona), Shane Kerschner (offenive lineman, Arlington High School of the state of Washington), Tyler Kline (athlete, Oak Park High School of Kansas City, Missouri), Zachary Lucas (wide receiver, Oak Park High School of Kansas City, Missouri, Anthony Piscitelli (wide receiver, Santa Ana College transfer), Joshua Smith (running back, Mansfield Timberview High School of Arlington, Texas), and Willie B. Taylor Jr. (center, Lincoln College Prep Academy of Kansas City, Missouri). He also projected 12 more players to sign at off-campus sites to wrap an initial signing date of nearly two dozen new Spires.

Osborne projected this year’s class at about 35 freshmen and 10 four-year and two-year transfers by mid-April.

“We have done well in Georgia and have done really well in Texas and California,” Osborne said. “You will see a lot of Missouri on our roster, including the Kansas City area.”

Osborne mentioned that former Spire assistants and players have helped spread the USM reputation during this recruiting process.

The priority needs for the Spires played on both sides of the ball with losses in the secondary and the USM receiving corps. Osborne said he and his staff have done well in working to fill those holes.

What has helped the entire process is the new football stadium and athletic complex.

“The stadium has been tremendous this year and there is a ‘wow factor’ now that hasn’t been there before,” Osborne said. “It’s also a beautiful campus. We have said that moms love the campus, but now dads love it too because we have a great facility over there. The guys are really impressed with our locker room and what we’ve done.

“We’ve gotten great feedback this year, which we struggled to get in years past. Last year, it was a little bit of a struggle, but were able to land some very talented guys. It’s changed the dynamic in recruiting and what guys look at our program as. At the end of the day, people want nice things.”

The Spires went 3-8 overall and 3-6 in Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference play last season, but they were mighty young, starting seven true freshmen in spots, and this class will be even more about adding depth, than plugging in replacements.

“We were pretty happy with what we were able to do,” Osborne said. “We had only about 40 guys return for the 2015 team. This year, we should be in the neighborhood of 60-65 returners and the majority with playing time and experience.”

Osborne projects that he will have a 105-man roster come August and despite his enthusiasm for this talent on hand, it’s still a smaller number than many.

“It’s on the lower end of the KCAC and we are going to be one of the smaller teams in the league,” Osborne said. “Benedictine and Missouri Valley are going with 200-plus man rosters.”

Osborne sees the KCAC as a tough league in NAIA football.

“The KCAC does a great job at keeping the quality of our conference,” Osborne said. “There are a couple schools spending a little bit more, but 80 percent are in the same boat financially. Some of it’s academic money, some of it’s athletic money. We do have a lot of competitiveness with the talent on the field.

“I have seen the evolution of the KCAC ... and to all the way back to 2003, I can say the level of talent, we’re getting a high level player. Fifteen years he’d be going to NCAA Division I or Division II.”

Osborne attributed the talent boom going hand-in-hand with the growth of population in the region.

The Spires opener the season Aug. 27 at Trinity Bible College in Ellendale, North Dakota. The Lions went 0-10 in 2015.

After three road games to begin the season, the Spires open their home slate Sept. 24 against Tabor. The previous week, USM opens league play at Friends University.

“We are definitely in position to do some great things,” Osborne said.

SPIRE NOTES: University of Saint Mary defensive back Josh Gittens-Johnson has been announced as a Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Champion of Character. Gittens-Johnson, a native of Houston, Texas, was selected by the conference as the University of Saint Mary's representative. The Saint Mary football program was also awarded the Team of Character Award for the conference. Gittens-Johnson finished his career at Saint Mary as an honorable mention all-conference pick at cornerback. In four seasons at USM, he accumulated 100 tackles, five interceptions and a touchdown.