QUINCY -- The Quincy University football coaching staff's goal in recruiting was to build depth.
That depth is being tested before the Hawks even play a game.
Two projected starters have been lost to injury, a returning starter on defense has been moved to the other side of the ball and the depth chart for Thursday's season opener at Indiana State features 14 true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen.
"We've got a young football team, and they've gravitated toward everything we've wanted them to do," second-year coach Gary Bass said. "That first week of camp was seeing physically if the young kids could do the things we needed them to do. The second week was seeing, from a schematic standpoint, if they could understand what we need them to do.
"They're doing a good job and practicing the right way."
It might not eliminate the freshman mistakes, but it should shorten the learning curve.
"We know they are going to have some growing pains," Bass said. "Some patience will be needed."
There isn't time to be too patient.
After the road trip to Terre Haute, Ind., the Hawks play four straight games at QU Stadium, where they went 3-2 last season and led at halftime in one of the losses. The comfort of home could help the maturation of freshman quarterback Tionne Harris.
Justus Spillner, a junior transfer from Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif., emerged as the No. 1 quarterback after spring practice. However, he's battled injuries to his knee and shoulder this fall and is currently not practicing. His return is uncertain.
That vaulted Harris, an all-state quarterback last fall at St. Louis Vianney, into the starting role. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Harris finished his prep career with 8,175 passing yards and 78 touchdowns and 4,719 rushing yards with 38 scores. His versatility makes him a good fit at QU, but his demeanor won him the job.
"Mentality-wise, we have the guy who is very similar to Nick Lonergan from the standpoint he's cool, calm and collected," Bass said. "He doesn't get rattled. Sometimes you want him to be a little more emotional because you want that vocal leader, but he also understands as a freshman he's still feeling that out playing alongside some upperclassmen.
"He's super athletic. When it comes to busted plays, he finds a way to make things happen. All in all, his progression has been good."
Harris will benefit from having two veteran anchors to the offensive line to help protect him. Devon Hickman is beginning his fourth season as a starter at right guard, while junior Justin Rosendahl is in his third season as a starter at tackle.
"We have to get more snaps in with him all the time," Rosendahl said. "The practice is critical."
With three new starters -- sophomore left guard Max Snell, redshirt freshman center Noah Kauffman and redshirt freshman right tackle B.J. Wilson -- up front, the offensive linemen understand they have to find their chemistry to allow Harris to relax.
"It's a little more pressure on everyone on offense," Rosendahl said of having a freshman quarterback. "We all need to ramp it up another step. He's young, but he makes plays. He's very disciplined in everything he does. So at this point, he needs more reps. The more reps, the better."
Harris will have a host of running backs at his disposal, although junior college transfer Oscee Calhoun, the No. 1 tailback coming out of the spring, suffered a fractured bone in his foot that required surgery and will miss the season. It makes Chris Brinson, a transfer from Eastern Arizona Community College, the starting tailback.
Four new wide receivers to go along with sophomore tight end Adam Hillis give the Hawks playmakers in the passing game. One of those new wideouts is Shane Barrett, who started last season at safety and finished the year with 42.5 tackles, one interception and two passes broken up. He has been moved to wide receiver full-time this fall because of his quickness and play-making ability.
"When he gets the ball in his hands, he's different," Bass said. "He's tough. He's physical. He's tenacious. He's the type of guy we have to get on the field as much as possible."
The depth they've created in the defensive backfield has allowed Barrett to shift positions.
The Hawks have four players with starting experience in the secondary and three veterans at linebacker, headlined by All-Great Lakes Valley Conference linebacker Cody Leonard. The senior set a single-season school record last season with 72 solo tackles and is being touted as an All-American candidate this fall.
"It's always nice having a guy like Cody to anchor our defense," Bass said. "He just finds ways to get to the ball every waking second. He plays with a relentless desire to be at the ball at all times."
The question mark defensively is up front. The Hawks made defensive end a priority in recruiting, and junior college transfers James Perryman and Kris Sutton are in the rotation along with sophomore Marcel Scott. In the middle, 6-foot, 290-pound junior Bryce Johnson and 6-foot, 260-pound junior Dominique Gatewood have experience.
"We've made improvements at every level," Bass said. "Now is the time to show it."
QU at a glance
Coach: Gary Bass (3-8 at QU, second season).
2017 record: 3-8 (1-6 Great Lakes Valley Conference).
Offense -- LT Justin Rosendahl, 6-4, 300, Jr.; RG Devon Hickman, 6-4, 290, Sr.; K Mickey Klotz, 5-9, 200, Soph.
Defense -- DL Bryce Johnson, 6-0, 290, Jr.; DL Dominique Gatewood, 6-0, 260, Jr.; LB Cody Leonard, 6-1, 225, Sr.; CB Jordan Wynn, 6-1, 200, Jr.; CB Theo Hopkins, 5-10, 185, Sr.; SS DT Christiansen, 6-2, 205, Jr.; FS Keenan Stegall, 6-0, 205, Jr.; P Nathan Kewney, 6-0, 170, Jr.
Other returning letterwinners: QB Andrew Rund, 6-3, 230, Jr.; WR Jordan Smith, 6-0, 205, Jr.; LG Max Snell, 6-5, 310, Soph.; C Austin Reiter, 6-1, 275, Jr.; LB Clayton Cole, 6-2, 210, Sr.; LB Sam Mock, 6-1, 230, Jr.; DE Marcel Scott, 6-4, 255, Soph.
New faces: QB Tionne Harris, 5-10, 185, Fr.; RB Chris Brinson, 5-9, 210, Jr.; FB David Tabakovic, 61, 240, Fr.; WR Carlton Stamp, 6-3, 225, Sr.; WR Gabriel Bryant, 6-3, 190, Fr.; RT B.J. Wilson, 6-7, 290, Fr.; C Noah Kaufmann, 6-0, 285, Fr.; DE James Perryman, 6-1, 250, Jr.; DE Kris Sutton, 6-2, 230, Sr.; LB Marvion Harris, 6-2, 225, Fr.
Key losses: OL Ray Gieseo, OL Les Sakaria, OL Jared Carlton, RB Chris Harris, WR Brendan Saak, WR Kody Wood, LB T.J. Daniels, LB Nate Rueckemann, DE Jacob Lounsberry.
Schedule: Aug. 30 at Indiana State, 6 p.m.; Sept. 8 vs. Kentucky Wesleyan, 1 p.m.; Sept. 15 vs. Saint Francis (Ill.), 5 p.m.; Sept. 22 vs. Davenport, noon; Sept. 29 vs. McKendree, 6 p.m.; Oct. 6 at Lincoln, 2 p.m.; Oct. 13 vs. Indianapolis, 5 p.m.; Oct. 20 vs. Missouri S&T, 5 p.m.; Oct. 27 at Truman State, 2 p.m.; Nov. 3 at William Jewell, 5 p.m.; Nov. 11 vs. Southwest Baptist, 1 p.m.