DALLAS — It's been nearly 22 months since the announcement was made that Misericordia was going to start a football program.
From the point Mark Ross was hired as head coach in January of 2011 he was doing everything from finding vendors for equipment and chairs to helping recruit players.
In the last few months, the focus has shifted to all on-field activities.
And with the planning all in the rearview mirror, the coach can't wait to lead his team onto the field Saturday for the first game in school history in what everyone involved in the program hopes will be a season to remember.
"I've had a ball. It's been one of the most fun preseasons I can remember," said Ross, who spent 10 years as assistant coach and defensive coordinator at Ithaca. "Part of it is that it's new, it's fresh. You spend that much time not really coaching and dealing with administrative type tasks and now to see it all together. … The facilities have turned out fantastic and the kids are fun to work with so I've enjoyed it a lot."
Usually when a school is beginning a football program, it starts up with a JV team the first few years. The Cougars are jumping right into things in the MAC just like Stevenson did last fall. Stevenson finished 1-7 in the conference and 2-8 overall last year.
"I expect our kids to play hard and play as fast as they can," Ross said. "We tell them everyday play as hard and as fast as you can and we'll correct any mistakes we see on film.
"We don't want them out there worried about making mistakes and letting it affect the next play because they're going to make mistakes, we all do. Just play hard and fast and try to take the pressure off them and let them play and have fun."
As of the middle of last week, Ross and his coaching staff were still monitoring position battles for the majority of the offense as evaluating took a step up. A few players have appeared to lock up starting roles, like tailback Robin Custodio.
"There's a handful of kids that probably started to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. But we tell them everyday that you're only one play away from your role increasing immensely," Ross said.
When it comes to calling plays, Ross will leave that duty to longtime coaching partner Mike Hatcher, the team's offensive coordinator, but he may chime in occasionally.
"Our main thing is put the ball in the hands of our best kids. Balance to us is being able to run or throw to either side of the formation with equal efficiency," Ross said. "It's not having equal amount of runs or throws, because the game dictates that stuff. You have to be able to run the ball because that's how you get play action and get big yardage plays is through play-action. We're always going to try to run because of that."
Ross also added that he likes his offensive line, which includes Alec Garrity at center, Trevor Davis at tackle and John Ameen.
Ross likes his depth on the defensive side and stated that one of the most talented players on defense is cornerback Jiwan Petties-Jackson, a freshman from Somerville, N.J.
"He's a super-talented kid who has a good future ahead of him if he keeps working hard," Ross said. "He's raw and talented."
Also in the secondary, Kevin Bagasevich and Phil Arnold are in line to play a bulk of the snaps, while freshman Hunter Pates has made an impact at linebacker.
"We could use more depth, but in year one, I couldn't be happier," Ross said.
Year 1 of a football program is always a trying time. With a young team having two-thirds of its roster made up of freshmen, there will be a few bumps in the road.
However, there are winnable games on the schedule and with a coaching staff that has been around the sport for a long time, the Cougars might be able to pull off a few upsets.