Plan in place for USM football after tough pandemic season

Jason Brown
The Leavenworth Times
The University of Saint Mary football program has released its schedule for the 2021 season.

University of Saint Mary head football coach Lance Hinson took to the podium Thursday to discuss the upcoming 2021 football season at the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference's virtual media day, hosted on Facebook Live. 

Hinson is entering the second season of his second tenure at Saint Mary after previously coaching the Spires from 2005-2014 and returning in 2020. 

The Spires competed in a shortened season last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and went 0-4. They were unable to begin competition until the middle of October and suffered losses to Tabor, Southwestern, Avila and Ottawa before deciding not to participate in the KCAC's spring season in 2021. 

Saint Mary was selected to finish 11th in the KCAC media and coaches polls, which were released Thursday following media day. 

"We have a plan that was put into place this past spring," Hinson said. "I love what we're doing with our program. What's more important than a plan is to have a purpose. Because if you have a purpose, your plans will be able to evolve and manifest. So our purpose with our program was to develop as much grit and toughness as we possibly can."

Hinson said the Spires have some impact athletes returning but will need to rely on the contributions of many to start making progress. 

"We're going to be very, very young, on both sides of the ball," Hinson said. "Especially depth-wise, we'll have some young guys come in and contribute right away. But depth-wise, we're going to be very, very young."

Defensive back Nick Holmes is back for his senior season after totaling 25 tackles and an interception in four games last season. Leading tackler Hennessey Thomas (29 total tackles, two sacks and eight tackles for loss) is also back for the Spires' linebacker corps. 

Saint Mary also gets back a couple of its top offensive weapons in running back Cole Nequette and wide receiver Jordan Hill. Nequette rushed for 222 yards on 53 carries with two touchdowns while Hill caught 10 passes for 113 yards. 

Hinson said the Spires will rely on newcomers to contribute immediately in some cases but he is looking forward to watching them develop.

"I feel like we've done a really good job identifying kids who are going to be really good fits for the University of Saint Mary," he said.

The Spires open the season on the road Sept. 4 against Sterling College. Saint Mary will have to wait until Sept. 25 to play its first home game when they host Friends University at Charles J. Berkel Memorial Stadium.