To begin every meeting, Siena Heights football coach Jim Lyall talks to his team about who they are and what that all means.
In being the program's inaugural team comes added responsibilities, Lyall tells his 138 players, such as performing well in the classroom and on the field, and not embarrassing themselves in the community.
So far, things have gone off without any glitches. The Saints are 2-1 heading into this Saturday's home opener and, all things considered, they've made their baptism into the college football world a relatively seamless one.
"I feel very good about the progress that we've made as a football team, by and large, because of the quality of the kids we recruited," Lyall said.
Ninety-eight of the players Lyall brought to the Adrian, Mich., campus were captains of their high school team, and the Saints' roster is littered with high academic achievers. Lyall, the head coach at Adrian from 1990-2009, targeted Michigan, Ohio and Indiana to identify prospects, and spent considerable effort reaching out to players in the Toledo area.
As an NAIA program, Lyall has 24 full scholarships to distribute throughout his roster and augments that number through academic aid.
Those on the team from northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan are: Alex Palicki, Andrew Maciolek, Tevin Boykin and Shane Brown from Whitmer's state final four team in 2010; Austin Lake and Erik Jones of regional finalist Bedford; Sophomore Eric Gilbert, of Findlay, who is one of seven non freshmen on the team; Calebb Goings, Cecil Marious and Josh Stump of state qualifier Central Catholic; Jonah Harter, a kicker from Otsego; Justin Chandler (St. Francis); Eric Boger (Evergreen) and Joey Mravec (Start).
The Saints opened the season Sept. 10 with a 30-7 win over Robert Morris, a school from Illinois which was also playing in its first game ever. Harter made a 20-yard field goal and all three of his extra points, Goings rushed for 39 yards on seven attempts, and Maciolek recorded a tackle for a six-yard loss.
"I thought the first time we came together as a team I knew that we had great athletes," said Jones, a defensive back, who had a tackle in the game. "All through camp we became strong with team unity and that played a big role in how we played on the field. I thought we were pretty prepared for the first game."
In week two, the Saints traveled to Owensboro, Ky. to play Kentucky Wesleyan. SHU was paid $5,000 for its appearance, and Lyall believed Wesleyan wanted to schedule a perceived weaker opponent for its first home game of the year. In the end, though, it was the visitors erasing an early two-touchdown deficit before prevailing 28-26. Goings had an 8-yard TD run late in the first half, Marious posted a tackle for loss, and Harter made all four of his extra points.
"I think it's reasonable to be expecting to take some lumps your first couple of years, but we're doing a little bit better than expectations," said Goings, an All Ohio third team selection in 2010.
A week later, SHU suffered its first loss when it traveled to northeast Ohio and fell 30-6 to Notre Dame College. The Saints sat idle last Saturday and are now focusing on Saturday's historic match up against Michigan-Flint. Lyall said additional bleachers will be rolled into the 1,600-seat stadium to accommodate a crowd of 5,000 or so. Others will view the game live on BCSN.
"The whole campus, all of the students, are really excited," Jones said. "They have that school spirit already."
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