Thanksgiving is over, but the gobblenecks are still playing football.
Affectionately referred to as fatnecks by University of Saint Francis offensive line coach Trevor Miller, those blocking for the high-powered offense of the reigning NAIA national champion recently underwent a name change in keeping with the season.
Starting left tackle Alex Woods, a senior, takes pride in being a fatneck. Then again, the 265-pound former Center Grove player figures he’s probably the lightest of the Cougars’ starting offensive linemen, so maybe the moniker doesn’t quite work in his case.
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Woods is one of two former Trojans working the trenches for NAIA No. 1 Saint Francis, the other being junior right guard Austin Smogor.
“A fatneck doesn’t look good or sound good,” the 6-foot-3, 285-pound Smogor said. “He’s just good at playing football.”
Both will start Saturday when Saint Francis (12-0), a team averaging 45.3 points a game and a four-touchdown margin of victory, hosts Morningside College in the semifinal round of the NAIA playoffs. Kickoff is at noon against the third-ranked Mustangs, who are 13-0.
A Saint Francis victory qualifies it for the national championship game in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Dec. 16. The Cougars would play the winner of Saturday’s game between two more unbeatens — No. 5 Southern Oregon and No. 2 Reinhardt (Georgia).
Woods, one of three Johnson County fatnecks (second-string right tackle Ryder Burchett is a freshman from Greenwood Community High School), wants to end his college football career in warmer temperatures for a second consecutive year.
Saint Francis defeated Baker University (Kansas) in last season’s finale 38-17.
“The whole experience felt like a bowl game. It was just a great time,” Woods said.
Woods has been a starter at left tackle since the start of the 2015 season, with the Cougars winning 36 of 38 games in that time. Both losses were against two-time national titlist Marian University, a team the Cougars beat 31-24 in Week 5 of this season.
Smogor’s contributions weren’t as immediate. Used primarily as a backup lineman his first two years, he said he thinks the experience came in handy as he broke into the starting lineup this season.
“There’s a lot of pride, especially coming out of high school and working my way up from being a starter in high school to sitting a lot here the first couple of years,” Smogor said. “The big thing I learned is that you might have been good in high school, but you’re not college good.
“College football is much more of a technical sport. There’s so much stress on your form.”
The Saint Francis offensive line clears the way for the offense to generate an average of just under 500 yards per game. The Cougars have produced single-game outputs of 70, 68, 56 and 55 points this season.
Woods started his final three years at Center Grove. The Trojans produced a 32-9 record and qualified for semistate competition every season, so there are similarities between his alma mater and Saint Francis.
“Tradition speaks for itself. We never graduate tradition here or at Center Grove,” Woods said. “I’ve come from a winning program in high school and it carried over. The family aspect of both of what builds championship teams.
“I know Morningside will be ready to go, but I trust in the process here. I’m really excited for this weekend.”
NAIA football semifinal
Morningside (Iowa) at Saint Francis
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Bishop D’Arcy Stadium in Fort Wayne
Johnson County players at Saint Francis: Alex Wood (Center Grove), senior LT; Austin Smogor (Center Grove), junior RG; Ryder Burchett (Greenwood), freshman RT