Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – If you head over to Palmer field at O’Shaughnessy Stadium it’s pretty quiet these days. That will all change in a few short weeks as the St. Thomas football team prepares for the start of the fall season.
Camp starts in early August for the Tommies, who went 14-1 last season. That one loss prevented St. Thomas from winning its first national championship. The football program has an incredible combination as it heads into the fall season. Their 14 wins last season was the most in school history, yet they’re still hungry after losing to Mount Union in the Division III national title game.
St. Thomas returns 15 of its 22 starters from last year’s team, and coach Glenn Caruso has already said his incoming recruiting class is his best so far. In five seasons under Caruso, St. Thomas has a 57-7 overall record, three straight MIAC titles and four straight NCAA Playoff appearances. The Tommies have won 33 straight regular season games, 17 straight home games, and 27 straight MIAC games.
They enter the season ranked No. 2 in the nation in the most recent d3football.com poll, earning seven first-place votes to Mount Union’s 13. They’re also ranked No. 2 in the USA Today’s preview publication on Division III football.
St. Thomas’s biggest losses to graduation were center Curtis James, defensive tackle Ayo Idowu and Chinni Oji in the secondary.
The Tommies have a loaded bunch returning on offense, led by one of the top quarterbacks in the league in junior Matt O’Connell. He finished last season third in the MIAC in passing touchdowns (22) and third in passing yards per game (197.9). He was also St. Thomas’s second leading rusher. Brenton Braddock is back to lead the Tommies’ rushing attack after leading the league in 2012 with 16 touchdowns. Dan Ferrazzo is back to lead the wide receiving corps after finishing fourth in the MIAC last year, averaging more than 63 yards receiving per game.
St. Thomas will be looking to continue a trend they held for most of last season nationally. While having one of the top overall rushing attacks in the country, they also had one of the best run defenses in the nation. If you can run the ball and stop the run, you’re going to be in good shape for the season.
On defense, Riley Dombek returns after leading the MIAC with six sacks last season on the defensive line. St. Thomas also returns linebacker Harry Pitera, and Tremayne Williams, and Sean Hamlin to lead the secondary. Williams was recently selected a preseason All-American by both d3football.com and the Sporting News. He finished last season with third-team All-America honors.
Punter Garrett Maloney was also named a preseason All-American by d3football.com. Maloney is a three-year starter who punted 44 times in 15 games last season with a 42.3 average and 15 of 44 punts inside the 20-yard line. He’s averaging 40.5 yards in 113 career punts. Maloney also set a Stagg Bowl record last December as he averaged 48.2 yards on five punts against Mount Union. He had a streak of 109 punts without a block end in the final game of 2012.
There are also a couple of new faces to keep an eye on as camp ramps up this fall. Transfers Zach Martens of Apple Valley and Zach Burrington of Maple Grove should give a boost to the defensive line, as will Ryan Winter of Woodbury.
Nick Waldvogel, a receiver out of St. Thomas Academy, could be an early impact player for the Tommies and may have some big shoes to fill from his older brother, Fritz, who had an incredible four years at St. Thomas. Michael Backus out of Eastview could also contribute immediately to the offensive line.
There are several other incoming players who will at least have a shot to make in immediate impact on the St. Thomas roster, but specifics are unclear until fall camp can be wrapped up. There’s also always the threat of injuries, something Caruso had to battle through most of the 2012 season.
St. Thomas opens the regular season on Sept. 7 at home against UW-Eau Claire. The Tommies open the MIAC season against rival St. John’s on Sept. 21. Other key dates include Oct. 19 at Bethel, which is another preseason top-10 team. The Tommies are also at Augsburg Nov. 2 and host Concordia-Moorhead Nov. 9.
For the third straight year, all St. Thomas football games will be broadcast live on WCCO Radio 830 AM with Dave Lee on the play-by-play and Eric Nelson providing color commentary.