The Saint Francis coaching staff has resigned itself to the fact that they will not be able to field a player with the same skill set as the departed Austin Coleman this upcoming season.
The speedster with 4.4 speed will surely get a look from several NFL franchises and may be on a training camp roster this fall after setting the NAIA career record for kickoff returns for touchdowns with eight.
In addition to the return game theatrics, Coleman was the Cougars’ leading receiver a year ago with 42 receptions for 645 yards and seven touchdowns.
While no single player can completely fill Coleman’s shoes at the receiver position, coach Kevin Donley believes he has numerous options to offset the loss.
“You tweak systems according to what you got, not to what you had,” said Donley, whose Cougars will hold their annual Blue vs. Black Game at 7:30 p.m. Friday. “We have to move some things around … you adjust to what you have.”
What Saint Francis has is an abundance of talent for the outside. Snider product Akeim Kelsaw was solid in his redshirt freshman campaign a year ago, catching 42 passes for 413 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He will be coupled with senior receiver Aaron Knight at the inside receiver positions.
“(Kelsaw and Knight) are different players than Coleman, but I think they can be effective players in different ways,” offensive coordinator Pat Donley said. “We want our best players close to the ball so those inside guys are very important to us.”
Cameron Smith, a Bishop Dwenger graduate, will get a chance to shine on the outside this season after finishing with 336 yards receiving and a pair of scores on 20 catches a year ago. Former Homestead standout Colin Harruff (11 catches, 147 yards, three TDs in 2012) is set to line up at the other outside receiver spot for the Cougars.
Plenty of talent at receiver, but no one has the burst of speed that Coleman exhibited nearly every time he touched the ball.
“We won’t have that type of game-breaking ability where anytime (Austin) touches it he could go 99 (yards) if he needed to,” Pat Donley said. “Nobody can come close to the speed, but we have different types of players.”
Saint Francis will also get some reinforcements at the position in the fall, including Homestead senior Seth Coate. The Spartans standout finished 2012 with 563 yards receiving and seven touchdowns.
Other incoming recruits listed as wide receivers include 5-foot-9 Taron Graham (North Side), 6-1 Yeshwa Moore (South Side) and 6-3 John Naumcheff (Zionsville).
“You never count on a freshman (to contribute), but it sure is nice knowing you have a little security blanket coming in that could help right away,” Kevin Donley said. “There is so much involved with freshmen … everything is new. How will they transition to that? There are a lot of factors, but we have some real possibilities there.”