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University of Saint Francis football: Some unfamiliar players to keep an eye on

University of Saint Francis quarterback Matt Crable, center, prepares to take a snap in the spring game. (News-Sentinel file photo)

Plenty of familiar names return as two-time defending NAIA champion University of Saint Francis football team opens practice next Monday.

There are preseason All-Americans in running back Justin Green and linebackers Piercen Harnish and Eric Dunten. The list of returning starters runs deep, too, with receivers Dan Ricksy and Rocky James, offensive linemen Austin Smogor and Nick Shoemaker, defensive linemen Jordan May and James Jamicich, defensive backs Willy Cole, Blake Schumacher, Stan Jackson and Ryan Johnson and outside linebacker Marcus Stepp.

If you’ve been following Saint Francis football, you recognize those names as well as many of the team’s top backups. But which freshmen or newcomers could step forward and become more recognizable this fall?

Here’s a quick look at some “new” names to watch for 2018:

Offense

Matt Crable, QB, sophomore

Fans will already know this name since Crable came in and played in the spring game after transferring to Saint Francis from Grand Valley State. The former Cincinnati Moeller High School standout brings a different style of play from that of graduated Saint Francis record-setting passer Nick Ferrer. For one thing, he is likely to have a designed running play every once in a while. His mobility and ability to throw on the run will change things up. He has the biggest shoes the fill.

Jordan Schmeling, WR, sophomore; Jay Segal, WR, freshman

The slot receiver position manned so deftly by graduated receiver Sean Boswell would be a natural for Duke Blackwell to step into, but Blackwell suffered a torn ACL in the national title game and may not be back to open the season. If Blackwell is unable to go, the battle for that spot could include unproven players such as Schmeling, a Carroll alum, and Segal, out of Lafayette Jefferson. There a lot of other receivers in the mix, too, and it’s possible Ricksy or James could move into the slot with another receiver, such as junior Will Chrisman, lining up outside. The Cougars have a ton of unproven receiving talent vying to join Ricksy and James.

Nate Barney, OL, freshman

Barney, from Whitehouse, Ohio, is 6-foot-1, 265 pounds, so he could still add some heft to his frame, but he has some skills at the center position that could make him a contender to be the rare freshman to earn offensive line playing time.

Defense

Zane Fisher, ILB, freshman

Fisher is 6-1, 200 pounds and a natural to play middle linebacker. How much time he can find will be open for debate with Harnish and Dunten set to be the best duo in the NAIA. Coaches would love to get the next wave of inside linebackers into action so there is some experience entering the post-Harnish/Dunten era in 2019.

Nick Lucas, OLB, sophomore

Lucas was a medical redshirt in 2017 and should be behind Stepp in the outside linebacker/strong safety spot manned so well by graduated Spencer Cowherd. Lucas is capable of being “a special teams animal,” coaches say.

Keyveon Evans, OLB, freshman

Playing for Toledo Whitmore, Evans helped lead the team to a 12-1 record while averaging 6.2 tackles per game. The 6-1, 190-pound Evans could challenge Lucas for playing time as the primary backup to Stepp, who should assume the Cowherd role this fall.

Ethan Vanover, DL, sophomore

The graduation of big man Eric Hemmelgarn leaves a huge gap in need of filling. Vanover, out of Southport High School, redshirted last season but has a 6-3, 235-pound frame and shows some quickness. He could find some playing time at end or tackle.

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