You want to play for a nationally ranked program in a family-like atmosphere where your relatives can watch you play on Saturdays?
You really do not have to travel very far. A short trip to 103rd Street in Chicago's Mount Greenwood neighborhood will suffice.
St. Xavier University is a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national power, and over the last 10 years it is the winningest program in Illinois and third-winningest in the NAIA. Since coach Mike Feminis' first season in 1999, the Cougars are 102-40. They will make their seventh postseason appearance Saturday when they host Bethel (Tenn.).
"We have done everything but play for a national championship," Feminis said. "That's our goal: to get to the championship. We've been to the semifinals the last three years."
There is no magic formula, only a lot of hard work in Feminis' 13 years from him, his staff and the players. The Cougars were 8-51 before Feminis took over. He has done it with homegrown talent, as most of his players are from Chicago, Northwest Indiana and Rockford.
"We stress local kids, and we have been successful," Feminis said.
He not only stresses it and talks about it; he does it. Feminis and his staff have a good relationship with local coaches. If a player goes to a Division I school and decides it is not for him, the door is always open.
One of the reasons for the program's success is continuity and good coaching. Feminis is the first to credit his assistants for their hard work.
Mark Yanule has been on the staff for all of Feminis' 13 years, the last nine as offensive coordinator. Defensive coordinator Werner Emmerich is in his 12th season at St. Xavier.
"Mark, Werner, my whole staff, they are great guys, and they have been here as long as I have," Feminis said. "I had two great coaches in Dave Mattio at Marian Catholic and Gordie Gillespie at (the University of) St. Francis. I played against Gordie his last year at Joliet Catholic, and then Mattio was instrumental in getting me to St. Francis.
"I am so fortunate to have played for two great head coaches."
His current job is not a stepping stone for Feminis, as witnessed by his own longevity.
"I am really happy here," he said. "My mom (Carmela), my wife (Meredith) and daughters (Gianna, Francesca and Sophia), they can come to the games. This is a great place to be."
Sometimes, coaches are on a ladder, looking to move up, but not Feminis. He is genuine, and there are no smoke screens.
The Cougars had a 31-game regular-season win streak snapped recently by Marian University, of Indianapolis. Ted Karras Jr. is Marian's coach and a former St. Xavier assistant.
"If we were going to have it snapped, then I would rather have Ted beat us than anyone else," Feminis said.
St. Xavier is not a bad place to play some great college football, get a great education and learn about life. It might bring a national football championship back to Chicago this year.
This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.