With football season on the horizon, the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference hosted its annual media day Thursday at the Crestview Country Club in Wichita.
Saint Mary head coach Jay Osborne is entering his sixth season at the helm of his alma mater after a stellar run as the offensive coordinator under former head coach Lance Hinson. Since taking over, the Spires have struggled to maintain the success they experienced while Osborne was coaching top offenses.
It was a tale of two seasons last year for the Spires who opened the season with a win over Tabor College before dropping five straight games. Osborne and the Spires were able to end the season on a high note, winning three of their last four games to finish 4-6.
Osborne said the season was one of turmoil and change as the team made adjustments. He said the record was not indicative of how talented the team was.
“It’s hard to not get caught up in wins and losses,” he said. “But moving forward, we have a great group coming back and development and retention of those guys is the key to our success.”
Osborne said the goal is to build on and support the current personnel and likened it to the result it had on former Spire all-Americans he has coached. He also mentioned how it has benefitted former Pleasant Ridge High School quarterback Nicholas Holmes, who has lined up on the defensive side of the ball since joining the Spires.
“We had that (development) come to fruition with Holmes last year,” he said. “He seemed to catch everything he could get his hands on last season with 11 interceptions.”
Several impactful players will return for the Spires this season including senior linebacker David Burton, who led the team with 175 tackles last season. Sophomore running back Demontrel Wilson returns after rushing for 13 touchdowns and averaging over four yards a carry. Fifth-year senior wide receiver Bryan Barnhart opted to return to the team and continue his academics after scoring six touchdowns last season.
The Spires have a quarterback competition on their hands going into camp after the graduation of Drew Cortez. Junior Bryan Gudka and sophomore Jalil Grimes both return with the opportunity to compete for reps. Osborne said they have added a transfer player to the quarterback group as well.
Saint Mary struggled on defense last season, surrendering an average of 36 points and allowing 225 first downs. Osborne said with six returning starters, the key to success on the defensive side of the ball is making sure the players are on the same page.
“We need them to communicate and gel together,” he said. “We feel like we have some of our best personnel defensively. I think we probably have our best defensive line as a whole since I’ve been the head coach.”
The Spires will go into camp this month before the season gets underway. Osborne said they estimate there will be 120 athletes with the program this season.
Spire football is scheduled to begin on the road Aug. 31 at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas. The home opener is scheduled for Sept. 7 against Friends University.