From now on, I will be prepared when somebody stops me and asks, “Why would anyone in his right mind play small college football?”
My answer: St. Xavier University.
The Cougars capped a stirring run to the NAIA national championship with a 24-20 victory over Carroll (Mont.) on Saturday at Barron Stadium in Rome, Ga. The game was a classic—just like St. Xavier’s season—featuring enough back-and-forth drama and late-game heroics to fill a scrapbook with memories that will last a lifetime.
And that’s what small-college football is all about—making memories with friends and classmates, sharing in a camaraderie that comes from a large group working together as one to achieve a single goal.
St. Xavier is the first school from Illinois to win a national collegiate football championship since Augustana won the last of four straight Division III titles in 1986 and the first from Chicago to win a national football crown since 1913.
Simply put, the Cougars play football for the love of the game, not the drudgery of two-a-day drills in August or the bumps and bruises that mount in November and December. I can think of only one with a shot of moving on to play in the professional ranks, Frankfort resident and former Lincoln-Way East standout Tom Lynch. He is a placekicker with a cannon-shot leg. He will draw some NFL interest.
For the rest of the bunch, the attraction is the competition. Think of the strategy employed by St. Xavier coach Mike Feminis and his staff as akin to that of matching wits with a worthy opponent in a version of Scrabble on the hand-held communication device of your choice. It’s all about one-upmanship.
Few can top Feminis at his own game. He expertly shuffles Xs and Os around, putting his players in position to climb that imaginary mountain, dare to do something great, something heretofore unheard of and perhaps beyond what even they thought possible.
He recognizes “Champions of Character” too, senior defensive tackle Patrick Appino serving as the prime example here. Appino was credited with five tackles in St. Xavier’s win over Carroll College, including one sack and two tackles for loss. The performance, while good enough to earn him Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game honors, paled in comparison to how he conducts himself off the field.
“Pat is the epitome of what the ‘Champions of Character’ award is all about,” Feminis said. “His individual accolades (three-time Mid-States Football Association all-league selection) speak for themselves. But Pat is a selfless individual who only cares about the success of the team.
“From a character standpoint, he’s among the best kids that I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching. Pat’s a, ‘Yes, sir, and, ‘No, sir,’ type of young man who will do whatever is asked of him without complaint.”
A team player.
That’s what small college football is all about. Being part of a team, in this case one filled with homegrown talent, the Cougars’ roster stacked with folks from Oak Lawn and Oak Forest, Frankfort and Tinley Park.
Representative Dan Lipinski (IL-3) recognized as much when he entered a statement into the Congressional record Monday congratulating the Cougars. While the argument can be made Lipinski merely was playing a game of political football, he deserves credit on at least one front for his public grandstanding.
He called to attention how St. Xavier football rallied a community together.
“The players, Coach Mike Feminis and his staff, St. Xavier, the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois should all be proud,” Lipinski said.
Indeed. Chalk it up as small college football at its finest.