St. Francis is one of the top programs in the state, having been to eight state title games in the last 13 years, and head coach Greg Vaughn and a very experienced staff are looking to make another run this year after a disappointing playoff loss to Whittemore-Prescott last season.
The team is on the young side, but they are well disciplined, they hustle around at practice and are well coached. I think the biggest sign that I was looking at a group of kids that had been coached, was that they ran to every drill, hopped in without coaches having to tell them, and they ran the practice like clockwork, and yet the coaches felt like they had a bad day. They have a different standard here.
Despite all the youth, there is senior leadership. Quarterback and now middle linebacker Riley Bullough is the heart and soul of this team. I first saw him as a freshman, when his older brother Max was that player and it's been fun to see him develop into the player he is today. Riley has grown in that time. The Michigan State commit is now a bona fide college linebacker prospect at 6'2, and he was 210-lbs this summer, he looked a little bigger than that even at this practice. This was the first day in pads, and he set the tone right away when they went to team drills, filling the gap and blowing up a run play on the first series. Later, in what is called "Glad Ball," a three on three blocking, tackling drill, he came up and absolutely drilled a ball carrier, jarring the ball loose. For a kid who is adjusting to being a MIKE, he showed his football smarts and instincts. And during sprints, drills, everything they did yesterday, he was first and always encouraging his teammates. He's a true leader.
Fellow senior Zach Swaffer is a good prospect in his own right. 6'5, 225-lbs with good athleticism, the coaches feel like his offers will come if he does what they know he can do this season. He's a SAM for St. Francis, but will end up with his hand on the ground in college. He started working on that this summer at various college camps and there are a number of programs wanting to see senior film on him. The staff noted his foot speed, something that is surprising for a bigger kid.
One senior to watch is Marc Stein. He has not played football since 8th grade, but came out this year and the staff is excited about his potential. He stands 6'7, and around 250-lbs. That's after dropping some weight. This was his first day with pads on in four years, so I wanted to see if he'd hit anybody, and he was physical, did not seem tentative and wants to get better. He's raw, but he's going to be coached well. The coaches say colleges who saw him this summer really liked his potential. He'll almost certainly have 1-AA and GLIAC opportunities, but if he puts it all together and catches on quickly, his frame and athleticism could have him as a late FBS offer.
The 2014 class at St. Francis tore through their youth leagues and now it is time for them to step up on varsity, as it is a talented group. Jake Khoury already played varsity last season. At 6'3, and currently 265-lbs, he's going to end up likely being 285-290 by the time he leaves high school and he moves around well for a kid that young and that big. He's a tough kid, and his dad coaches the defensive line, so he's technically sound and works hard at his craft. He certainly has the look of a future Division-1 prospect.
The same can be said for Byron Bullough, the last of the brothers (although I hear the younger sister may be the best athlete in the family), Byron is slated to be the starting free safety for the Gladiators. I did not get to see him cover much, but the coaches tell me his recovery speed and ball skills are top notch. I got to see some of his speed and burst in the drills. I also got to see him in tackling drills, where he was not afraid to stick his nose in against bigger kids (including Khoury, who had stepped in as a ball carrier). He will get bigger and stronger over the next few years. We'll see if, like his brother, he outgrows the secondary, but right now, he looks like he'll be a big asset in coverage for this team.
Another in their class who caught my eye was Eric Coggon. He has a nice frame at around 6'3 and 215-lbs. He gets off the ball well, plays hard and low and also seemed technically ahead of most rising sophomores. This will be his first year of varsity though, so we'll wait to see him this year before we say more.
One last player of note we saw was Austin Lints, the younger brother of Michigan State walk-on Kyle Lints, who will be a freshman at St. Francis this year.