MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – There’s a renewed energy and a greater sense of purpose as the St. Thomas football team opens its 2014 fall camp.
There were 136 players reporting for duty Saturday as Glenn Caruso opened his seventh season as the head coach of the Tommies. After failing to reach the NCAA Playoffs in 2013 for the first time in four years, two years removed from a run to the Division III national championship game, the program is hungry for better results in 2014.
The Tommies are coming off an 8-2 season with two devastating losses to rival St. John’s and Bethel, the eventual MIAC champion. St. Thomas played far from its best game against the Johnnies, but was a missed field goal away from escaping with the victory. The Tommies also had a 21-14 lead into the fourth quarter at Bethel last year, only to have the Royals score the last 14 points in a 28-21 win.
St. Thomas enters the 2014 regular season ranked No. 11 in the D3Football.com preseason poll. Bethel is the top MIAC school at No. 7, while St. John’s and Concordia-Moorhead are just outside the top 25.
As expected, UW-Whitewater is the preseason No. 1 after the winning the national title last year. Mary Hardin-Baylor, Mount Union, Linfield and Wesley round out the top-five teams.
Caruso’s squad has a majority of its offensive starters back and a total of 16 players from his top 24 back have starting experience. All signs point to another successful fall, but they still have to put in the work to get there. It seems like every MIAC school gets a little better every year, and St. Thomas will get every opponent’s best effort.
In six seasons leading the St. Thomas football program, Caruso has a 65-10 record, four NCAA Playoff appearances and three MIAC titles. That mark includes a 38-3 record at O’Shaughnessy Stadium, and those three losses are by a combined 10 points.
St. Thomas will be led offensively by quarterback Matt O’Connell, who is back for his junior season after missing the last six games of 2013 with a broken leg. In 27 career games, O’Connell is 15-2 as a starter with more than 1,200 rushing yards, more than 3,800 passing yards and 38 total touchdowns. He’s also thrown 21 interceptions in 538 career attempts.
They’ll bring back of balanced running attack with Brenton Braddock and Jack Kaiser, and they should have a solid passing game with returning receivers Nick Waldvogel, Dan Ferrazzo and Pete Fitzsimmons. Waldovogel had nine touchdowns last season and 974 all-purpose yards as a freshman, and St. Thomas was undefeated when he saw the end zone. Kaiser finished last season with 13 touchdowns and had 625 rushing yards.
St. Thomas scored more than 30 points per game last season while averaging more than 440 yards of total offense per contest. That mark included more than 200 yards per game rushing. Kaiser and Waldvogel combined to average nearly 115 yards per game on the ground, and O’Connell was also a running quarterback before suffering a leg injury in a win at Gustavus.
Paul Graupner, one of the top kickers in the MIAC, returns after going 6-of-9 on field goals last year with a long of 53 yards and going 33-of-35 on extra points.
The defensive group will have a little more to prove this year with a few new names, but the numbers from last season don’t lie. The Tommies had one of the top run defenses in the country, allowing less than 80 yards per game. St. Thomas allowed just 262 yards of offense per game, 14.3 points per game and had 27 sacks. All of those figures led the MIAC.
The Tommies’ top five tacklers from last year all graduated, so there are some holes to fill and and some younger players will have to emerge. Calvin Metzler, Josh Corbin, Sean Hamlin and Sam Pokornowski are the top four tacklers returning to lead the St. Thomas defense this season. Corbin had 3.5 sacks last season and will anchor the defensive line. Hamlin had two interceptions, seven pass break-ups and a fumble recovery last year. He looks to anchor another strong secondary this season.
WCCO Radio is back for another season of broadcasting St. Thomas football on 830 AM. Dave Lee will have the play-by-play and Eric Nelson will provide color commentary along with analyst and former St. Thomas star Fritz Waldvogel.