In the hours—then minutes—before kickoff, St. Xavier football coach Mike Feminis will not waiver his tried and true routine, at least not much.
Feminis will call on his captains to speak in a team meeting at the hotel before St. Xavier takes the field to face Carroll (Mont.) in Saturday’s NAIA national championship football game (3:30 CST, CBS Sports Network). Then, ‘Fem’ will open the floor for other players and his assistants to say a few words.
Finally, he will finish up with his own thoughts, those thoughts ranging from paying attention to assignment detail and execution of the Cougars’ game plan. I suspect he will go further, though, in an impassioned plea for a show of St. Xavier emotion and pride. Feminis understands this is a moment that will live with this group for as long as they’re breathing in life itself.
“This is something they’ll tell their kids and grandkids about,” Feminis said of St. Xavier’s bid to win its first national championship of any kind.
Picture him challenging his defensive linemen. Picture him revving the engine on the Cougars’ speed-based offense. Picture this kind of dialogue.
Double-teamed. Flattened like a pancake.
Get up, look your brother in the eye. Draw strength from the knowledge that comes from the undeniable realization he will be reliving that agony with you for the next 35 or 40 years. Redeem yourself. Experience ecstasy. Let the Saints pray for mercy.
Saints. Carroll College’s nickname. They’re as hard to shake as devils. They’re 13-1 and the defending national champs, the Goliath of NAIA football stepping back into a ring otherwise known as Barron Stadium in Rome, Ga., a place they have called home often.
St. Xavier is David, the erstwhile underdog looking to pull off a second straight upset. The Cougars (13-1) ousted then-No. 1 ranked Marian (Ind.) in semifinal play two weeks ago and have arrived at this juncture at long last, a victory already secure in a sense.
“Well, it is a victory of sorts to be playing for the national championship,” Feminis said. “We’ve had this goal forever it seems like, but specifically for the last three years. I’m a big Blackhawks fan. I love their slogan, ‘The one-goal thing.’ I adopted that a couple of years ago. When we didn’t get it, I just added the word ‘still.’ Still one goal. No doubt, we’re happy to be there. But we’re not satisfied.”
In the days leading up to the game, Feminis promised to soak in the atmosphere. The Cougars were scheduled to visit children at area grade schools, attend luncheons and dinner banquets.
“The people down here in Rome do a great job,” he said. “It’s like a bowl atmosphere. They treat you like kings. I want our guys to know they deserve that kind of treatment. I don’t want to say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience because I want to come back two, three, four times. But it could be.”
And that’s why Feminis will deter from his routine, albeit slightly.
He will remind his Cougars of graduation losses and how the public perception going into the year was that St. Xavier football would be down this season. He never bought into that notion.
“I felt if a couple of freshmen could contribute right away and some of the guys playing behind the Mike Mahers and Anthony Kropps produced we had a shot at a special season,” Feminis said. “That is what’s happened.”
To give you an idea how special, consider this: Feminis’ players were watching “Tommy Boy” on the bus ride to Rome. Know this: The Cougars’ empire wasn’t built in a day.