On the first day of training camp last year, Matt Crable felt a little different. Saint Francis' junior quarterback was new to the program, was attempting to fill the shoes of Cougars great Nick Ferrer and was given the reins of the back-to-back defending NAIA national champions.
He was nervous to say the least.
“After what we did last year, there's a lot of confidence coming in this year, not just from me, but from a lot of other younger guys,” Crable said.
“Everybody having the confidence to know that we can do this is going to make all the difference.”
Crable transferred in from Grand Valley State with three seasons of eligibility.
“It's something you kind of forget,” Crable said. “It's like riding a bike. Once you get in the groove of things it takes over, and gosh, it's fun. That's what it's all about; that's why I'm taking six years to keep playing football.”
As Crable – who celebrated his birthday with the first day of two-a-days – took the field for the first official day of camp Tuesday at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium, the Cougars are eager to get back to work after the 34-28 overtime loss to Morningside in the NAIA championship semifinal last season.
“Anytime you lose in an overtime game when you're that close to a national championship you can't help but think about it,” Crable said. “I have no regrets about that game; we fought back more than anything, and I think that's what we need to take from it.”
Crable comes into his second year with a boatload of confidence and strong chemistry already built.
“There's a familiarity now with a whole year-plus working together,” coach Kevin Donley said. “He understands what we're trying to accomplish, offensively, and we're aware of his strengths. You try and build what you do according to the strengths of what you have.”
Senior receiver Rocky James and Crable built a strong connection last year and have continued that all summer.
“Last year you could tell he was a really good quarterback,” James said. “It just took him a minute for him to fit into our system, but he's got it locked down and is ready to go.”
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound James finished with 783 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018.
“He's so big, tall that any ball I throw he's going to get up and get for me,” Crable said of James. “We've worked up an incredible chemistry over the summer and winter, so I think he's going to have a breakout season – not that he's not had good seasons before – but I think this season he's going to do something special.”
Week 1 of camp is big for the Cougars in learning schemes, plays and each other's strengths.
“It's all the stuff that we're going to run every week, so being able to get this stuff now and know that any week we can throw this in and we're going to be able to execute at a high level with it is really important,” Crable said.
Donley is eager to see his team's response to last year's playoff loss.
“How you respond to disappointment and adversity is the real secret of success,” Donely said. “There's not anybody that hates to stub their toe and lose any more than I.
“I hate losing more than I like winning, so you do everything possible to avoid that.”
Saint Francis kicks off the season on the road Sept. 7 against St. Francis (Ill.)