Aidan Hosler never envisioned stepping into the starting kicker role at Saint Francis in this fashion. Even coach Kevin Donley – now in his 43rd season as a college football head coach – couldn't recall seeing anything quite like the injury that sidelined Jack James.
Named one of four captains in advance of the 2021 campaign, James was 7 of 7 on kicks, averaging over 62 yards per kickoff and 44.8 yards per punt through two games. But in a walk-through practice the day before Saints Francis hosted Siena Heights, James kicked a slow, rolling onside kick.
As he slid to recover the football, his cleat caught in the turf, rolling his leg underneath him. The Snider graduate was diagnosed with a broken bone in his leg, likely bringing a premature end to his season.
Thrust into a wholly unexpected starting role, Hosler, has connected on all 11 of his kicks, including an 8-for-8 day on extra points in Saint Francis' 68-0 shutout over Madonna on Saturday.
With the Cougars (2-2, 0-1 MSFA Mideast League) traveling to Indianapolis on Saturday for the Franciscan Bowl against No. 14 Marian (4-2, 2-1), Saint Francis will need Hosler and newly minted starting punter Derek Robb to continue to produce in their respective roles.
“I think both guys have stepped up to the challenge,” James said. “It sucks being out, but I couldn't be more proud of them and just their mentality, knowing that even with me starting, their number could always get called. Obviously it has, and I think they've done a great job.”
Defensive back Brandon Lockwood discovered a similar path to the starting lineup against Madonna. With Andrew McCormick suffering a non-contact knee injury against Siena Heights, the player shuffle to fill out the starting lineup settled on Lockwood.
Lockwood said the jump to college represented not just a massive upgrade in talent all over the field, but also the need to keep his mind right so the struggle of finding his spot on the roster didn't prove too great a burden.
“You have to have that (next man up) mentality,” Lockwood said. “It's a mental roller coaster. That's just college football. You get moved up the depth chart one week and down the next. You just have to stick to your plan and just try to work your butt off, show what you have in practice and come out here in the games and in special teams.”
Hosler, a sophomore out of Huntington North, welcomes his chance to give the Cougars a leg up on special teams, but he recognizes and respects all that James brings to the roster.
“Derek and I had an eye-opening experience with (James' injury), we had to get ready for Saturday and we did our part on special teams,” Hosler said. “I came in when I was a freshman and I was like, 'Wow, this guy is good.' We have one of the best legs in the NAIA on our team and we couldn't be more lucky to have Jack. But I just stayed ready and never knew what was going to happen, and look where I am now.”
Hosler says the Franciscan Bowl will be “a fun time.”
“Hopefully (the Madonna win) is just nothing but momentum for us,” he said. “We just have to work and do what we have to do to prepare ourselves the best. In this conference, you have to be good every single week.”
at No. 14 Marian
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: St. Vincent Field, Indianapolis
Records: Saint Francis 2-2 (0-1 MSFA); Marian 4-2 (2-1)
Radio: 106.3 FM