JOLIET – Kenny Smith and Samie Sabbah were both recognized for their play along the offensive line for the University of St. Francis last season.
And the two senior captains, who were all-conference selections from last year’s 7-4 squad, figure to play a key role in whether the Saints can improve upon last year’s mark.
Smith, a Minooka graduate, and Sabbah, a Bolingbrook alumnus, will lead the way for an offensive line that will take on a different role this year for coach Joe Curry.
With the offense expected to be more run-oriented after the departure of record-setting quarterback E.J. White, much of USF’s success on that side of the ball will be because of the efforts of its veteran offensive line.
Smith, a first-team all-league pick in 2013, started all 11 games at right tackle. He also played at Saint Xavier, where he was a starting guard with the 2011 national champions. A second-team all-conference pick a year ago, Sabbah started all 11 games at right guard in 2013 and was a starter at right tackle the previous two years for the Saints.
Smith hopes his second season at USF will be just as successful as his debut, with the exception of seeing his squad enjoying success in the postseason.
“This year I feel like we all have the same attitude and the same common goal of just going 1-0 each week,” Smith said. “Everything that we’ve been doing in camp so far is all together – it’s for the team, not the individual, and that’s what I like most about this team.
“Coach said it last year. The success of our team depends on the offensive line, so as far as we go is as far as the team goes. We have a lot of potential since we all got playing time last year. We’re looking for something great this year. We expect it and will go get it. I know what it feels like to win a national title, and it’s all about coming together as one.”
Sabbah, who redshirted at USF in 2008 before spending time at Joliet Junior College, has enjoyed being a part of the Saints’ recent success and hopes for bigger things this season.
“I feel like we’re a really close-knit group. And we don’t really get leadership from one or two guys – it’s pretty much all of the upperclassmen who are taking a part in it,” Sabbah said. “It’s a big honor for the two of us to be named as captains since we didn’t really have an offensive line captain the last two years. And what’s special is we’re all having a lot of fun.
“I’ve been here four years and earlier before taking two years off. I’ve been lucky enough to be here for three winning seasons, and the program has definitely turned around. I don’t really play for me; I play for Kenny and the rest of the O-line and to keep the quarterbacks and running backs safe. We have a lot of depth along the line this season.”
Junior Zack Webster, from Tinley Park, has started the past two seasons at left guard while junior tackle Ross Stremme, a Lincoln-Way North graduate, will be a two-year starter. The Saints’ coach has also been impressed in camp with some of his true freshman, such as Brennan Mulroe from Lincoln-Way West, and Darrion Sole from Homewood-Flossmoor.
Curry feels that the group is up to the challenge and that its play will go a long way in determining whether USF is deserving of its 20th place NAIA preseason ranking.
“Our offense starts with the run, and that begins with the offensive line,” Curry said. “And I could not be happier with the fact that we have Kenny and Samie coming back. We have four returning two- or three-year starters. It’s a veteran group and one that has a little nasty in them and understands that we have to run the football in order to be successful.
“I’m extremely happy with the physicality that they’ve brought every day. Once we establish the run, then it’s our pass protection, and that’s been really good the past few days. We have never been this deep on the offensive line with guys who are capable of going in there and doing it. But for us, it all starts with Kenny and Samie, who make things go.”