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Local colleges

Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Wesley Hunsucker and the rest of the Saint Francis squad began spring practice Wednesday morning.
Spring football

Donley puts his focus on improving Cougars’ ‘D’

Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
With the sun rising behind him, Saint Francis quarterback Bradley Jarzab loosens up his arm.

– During the early stages of Wednesday morning’s cold football practice beneath the lights of Bishop D’Arcy Stadium, Saint Francis head coach Kevin Donley was facing south.

For him, it’s a new direction. But then, that’s the point – a new direction.

Normally, the offensive players work at the north end of the stadium, and the defense toils at the south. And for years, Donley’s concentration has been with the offense. But when the Cougars broke spring camp early Wednesday, Donley was directing the defense.

Former defensive coordinator Warren Maloney was not present.

“I thought I had to instill a lot of energy and excitement,” Donley said. “There had to be some strong leadership, which I feel like I provide. We’ve got good, young coaches. We’ve got talented, young athletes. I wanted to try to recharge the batteries and get them having fun and excited about playing.”

Part of the reasoning behind Maloney’s apparent dismissal dates back to last season’s NAIA playoffs, when Donley was displeased after the Cougars’ 45-34 loss to eventual champion Marian in the second round of the NAIA playoffs. It was the third consecutive game in which Marian had scored 40 or more points against the Saint Francis defense. The Knights beat Saint Francis 45-38 in the 2012 regular season and won 40-13 in 2011.

“Little different system,” Donley said of the change. “I’m involved with the defense more than I have been.”

One of the significant personnel switches was sending backup tailback Kyle Mathewson to linebacker.

The former Churubusco standout had 48 carries last season for 247 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Antoin Campbell led the team with 109.4 yards per game and 11 touchdowns.

“Great speed and size,” Donley said of Mathewson. “We think that’s going to be a good move for us.”

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Mathewson already thinks it’s a good move.

“I like it a lot,” Mathewson said. “It’s a big change for me, but I’m going to take it on just like I did offensively. Just come in with a game plan, head on a swivel, and be ready to play defense.

“I guess you need a lot of speed at linebacker, and I think I can fill that. In years past, I don’t know how the speed was, but I feel confident I can do that.”

He said he welcomed the head coach taking over the defense.

“It’s a change, obviously, but we all seem to like it here on the first day,” Mathewson said.

Saint Francis, 9-3 last season, opens its 2013 schedule Sept. 14 at William Penn. Its home opener is Sept. 21 against Saint Ambrose.

The Cougars’ annual spring game will be at 7:30 p.m. April 19. A portion of the proceeds will go toward the family of Noah Barbknecht, the former Northrop football player who was paralyzed from the breastbone down after a December skiing accident.