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Saint Xavier Football Ranked No. 4 in NAIA Coaches’ Preseason Poll

Contributed by admin on Aug 21, 2015 - 05:19 PM
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Kansas City, Mo. – Less than a week into preseason camp, Saint Xavier University head coach Mike Feminis and his SXU football team got some good news when the squad claimed a No. 4 national ranking in the 2015 NAIA Football Coaches' Preseason Top 25 Poll when it was released by the national office late Monday.  The Cougars finished the 2014 campaign with an overall record of 10-3 and made the program's sixth all-time appearance in the NAIA Football Championship Series Semifinals before falling to 2014 NAIA national champion Southern Oregon University (Ore.).  SXU tied for the No. 4 spot in the poll with Carroll College (Mont.) with both teams earning 277 points.  Southern Oregon and 2014 national runner-up Marian University (Ind.) shared the top spot in this year's national poll with 304 points apiece.  

"Anytime you are ranked among the top five teams in the nation, it is a great honor," said Feminis. "However, for our players and coaches, just being in the top five isn't enough.  Our guys want to be playing for a national championship in December down in Daytona Beach, Fla., and anything less than that will be a disappointment. 

"When you're playing the No. 1 team in the country to open the season, there's no need for motivational speeches," continued Feminis.  "Marian will present a tremendous challenge for us as they always do, but we'll be ready!  We've developed a great rivalry with them, so I'm expecting nothing less than a very exciting game between two of top NAIA programs in the country."

Saint Xavier kicks off the 2015 season against No. 1 ranked Knights of Marian University (Ind.) on Saturday, August 29.  The Mid-States Football Association (MSFA) crossover clash is scheduled for a 6 p.m. kickoff at Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field in Chicago.

New Football Season Opens With Big Challenge for No. 4 Saint Xavier

Contributed by admin on Aug 27, 2015 - 09:42 PM
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CHICAGO – When No. 4 ranked Saint Xavier University opens its 2015 football season this Saturday evening, it will be the farthest thing from a dress rehearsal.  In fact, it may prove to be one of SXU's toughest match-ups of the season as the Cougars host No. 1 Marian University (Ind.), the 2014 NAIA national runner-up, for a 6 p.m. Mid-States Football Association (MSFA) crossover match-up at Bruce R. Deaton Memorial Field in Chicago.  Making the match-up even more challenging is that the Knights return 19 of their 22 starters from a year ago.  Saint Xavier has many familiar faces back on the field as well, including nine starters from an offensive juggernaut that averaged 38.1 points per game in 2014 and scored 65 points against MU in Indianapolis in last year's season opener, the most points allowed by Marian in the history of St. Vincent Health Field. 

"I guess if you're a fan of small college football, Saint Xavier University will be the place to be this weekend," said Feminis.  "Marian deserves to be the preseason No. 1.  They're the national runner-up and return 19 starters.  But I'd like to think we're pretty good too and have the same bitter taste in our mouth that they do with both of us losing to 2014 NAIA National Champion Southern Oregon last December.  It should be a great game between two of the top NAIA teams in the country and I think there's a mutual respect, even though our rivalry isn't that old."

Junior quarterback John Rhode (Chicago Heights, Ill./Montini Catholic) returns to start at quarterback for the Cougars.  Rhode threw for 3,609 yards last season with 31 touchdown passes.  Three of his favorite targets from a year ago also return at wide receiver in senior Randall Wells (Matteson, Ill./College of DuPage/Marian Catholic) and juniors Stephen Simms (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) and Ryan Carroll (Evergreen Park, Ill./Marist).  The offensive line is a veteran group as well led by 2014 NAIA All-American Second Team honoree Kevin Lonergan (Oak Lawn, Ill./Oak Lawn Community), a junior left tackle.  The running back position also has plenty of experience with senior Austin Feeney (Morris, Ill./Morris), senior Joshua Hunter (South Holland, Ill./Thornridge) and sophomore Mike Ivlow (Channahon, Ill./Joliet Catholic) all expected to see plenty of time on the field.

The Saint Xavier defense brings back plenty of talent as well this fall.  The defensive line will be bolstered by the return of senior defensive tackle Nick Cemeno (New Lenox, Ill./Providence Catholic), who totaled 11.0 tackles for losses and 5.5 sacks a year ago.  Two of the team's starting linebackers remain in seniors Dan Fitzgerald (Chicago, Ill./St. Rita) and Michael Mettille(Morris, Ill./Pennsylvania/Joliet Catholic).  Fitzgerald led the defense last season with 92 total tackles.  The secondary will also feature some veterans in seniors Doug Ruggles (Mission Viejo, Calif./Saddleback JC/Mission Viejo) and Mark Williams(Evanston, Ill./Evanston Township) returning as well as junior Matt Johnson (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic).  In addition, the Cougars have the benefit of two experienced special teams weapons with sophomore placekicker Abdul Mahdi (Chicago, Ill./Bogan) and sophomore punter Joe Bailey (Lemont, Ill./Lemont) both back on the field.  Each was recognized as a MSFA Midwest League Second Team selection as freshmen last season.

The following notes provided by Alan Grosbach, NAIA Manager of Communications and Sports Information:

Around NAIA Football
• This weekend marks the first full week of football action in the NAIA, as 24 games are on the docket, including 10 contests that feature programs ranked in the preseason coaches' poll.
• The inaugural game of 2015 featured Montana State-Northern and Dickinson State (N.D.) on August 22. The Blue Hawks, aided by a pair of Montana State-Northern turnovers, won the contest 17-7. Dickinson State quarterback Robert Sterling accounted for 170 of the Blue Hawks 222 total yards and was responsible for both of the team's touchdowns – one rushing and one passing.
• For the first time since the NAIA moved to one division in 1997, two teams – Southern Oregon and Marian (Ind.) – tied for the No. 1 ranking in the NAIA Football Coaches' Preseason Top 25 Poll. For the complete release, click here.
• NAIA football fans will have to wait another week to see defending national champion and top-ranked Southern Oregon in action. The Raiders enter 2015 looking to build off a historical 2014 campaign that included the program's first-ever national title. Prior to last season, Southern Oregon had never advanced past the quarterfinals. The quest back to the title game is not an easy one, as the Raiders open the year with a road trip to No. 4 Carroll (Mont.) on Sept. 5 before returning home to host inner-state rival No. 13 Eastern Oregon on Sept. 12.
• Southern Oregon returns six starters on offense and seven on defense, highlighted by junior running back Melvin Mason and junior wide receiver Matt Retzlaff. Mason ran for 1,013 yards and 17 touchdowns last season with seven of those scores coming during the playoffs. Retzlaff was a key cog in Southern Oregon's top-ranked passing attack with 56 catches for 785 yards and six touchdowns en route to Second Team All-Frontier Conference accolades in 2014.
• National runner-up Marian (Ind.) faces perennial powerhouse No. 4 Saint Xavier (Ill.) in arguably the marquee game of the weekend. The Cougars boast a 8-1 all-time record against Marian with their only loss coming in 2011 (27-9). Saint Xavier won the 2014 meeting by the score of 65-38.
• No. 3 Morningside (Iowa), possibly one of the most dominant teams in NAIA football over the past 11 years, looks to continue that trend this season. The Mustangs have advanced to at least the semifinals of the NAIA Football Championship Series (FCS) each of the last three years, including a title game appearance in 2012. Morningside returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense from a team that went 11-2 a season ago and won a fourth-consecutive Great Plains Athletic Conference championship. Since 2004, the Mustangs own a record of 112-23 (.830). Morningside kicks off the season at Sterling (Kan.) on Sept. 5.
• Lyon (Ark.) will play its first varsity intercollegiate game in 64 years on Saturday when it hosts No. 22 Tabor (Kan.). The Scots, who are members of the Central States Football League, also host No. 7 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) (Sept. 5) and No. 18 Langston (Okla.) (Sept. 31) this season.
• With the addition of Grand View (Iowa) and William Penn (Iowa), the Heart of America Athletic Conference will break into two divisions for the first time in its history. The winner of each division will earn an automatic berth into the 2015 FCS.
o North Division – Benedictine (Kan.), Culver-Stockton (Mo.), Graceland (Iowa), Grand View, Peru State (Neb.) and William Penn
o South Division – Avila (Mo.), Baker (Kan.), Central Methodist (Mo.), Evangel (Mo.), MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) and Missouri Valley
• This week's Top 25 schedule:
   o Thursday – Cumberlands (Ky.) at No. 16 Campbellsville (Ky.)
   o Saturday – No. 1 Marian (Ind.) at No. 4 Saint Xavier (Ill.)
   o Saturday – No. 15 Baker (Kan.) at No. 6 Grand View (Iowa)
   o Saturday – Culver-Stockton (Mo.) at No. 8 MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.)
   o Saturday – No. 19 William Penn (Iowa) at No. 9 Missouri Valley
   o Saturday – No. 13 Eastern Oregon at College of Idaho
   o Saturday – No. 17 Valley City State (N.D.) at Jamestown (N.D.)
   o Saturday – No. 22 Tabor (Kan.) at Lyon (Ark.)
   o Saturday – No. 24 Webber International (Fla.) at Arizona Christian
   o Saturday – Evangel (Mo.) at No. 25 Benedictine (Kan.).
• Sterling (Kan.) head coach Andy Lambert enters the year six wins shy of No. 100. Lambert and the rest of the Warriors open the year on Sept. 5 against Morningside.
• Three NAIA football coaches – Monty Lewis of Friends (Kan.), Paul Troth of Missouri Valley and Mike Feminis of Saint Xavier – are within striking distance of the 150-win plateau. Lewis and Troth both sit with 145 victories, while Feminis owns 144.
• For the second consecutive year, the NAIA Football National Championship will take place at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla. Prior to last year's title game, the game had been held in Rome, Ga., the previous six years. Municipal Stadium, which was built in 1988, is the home field of NCAA Division I Bethune-Cookeman (Fla.).