The St. Thomas football team reported for its fall camp on Aug. 13, and there’s already a sense of urgency for the Tommies.
The regular season opener at UW-Eau Claire is a little more than a week away, and the expectations are as high as ever for the No. 4-ranked Tommies. That happens when you play for a national championship for the second time in four years.
Circumstances are a slightly different this year for coach Glenn Caruso and St. Thomas. Entering last year, the Tommies didn’t have a single preseason All-American, not one. This year, they have three in running back Jordan Roberts, linebacker Jesse Addo and defensive lineman Ryan Winter. Offensive lineman Will Hilbert also earned All-America Honorable Mention honors.
Coming off a run to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, the Tommies will get everyone’s best shot this season. They’ll welcome the challenge of having the target on their back every Saturday this season.
It all starts Saturday, Sept. 3 with a night game against the Blugolds. The Tommies will host UW-Stout for their home opener before opening MIAC play by hosting Carleton on Sept. 17.
Caruso is entering his ninth season as head coach and has a 101-15 record over that span. The Tommies were 14-0 last year before falling to Mount Union, 49-35. They had a 14-0 lead early.
The loss gives St. Thomas plenty to be hungry for coming into the season. They’ve had a taste of championship caliber football. A new season brings a clean slate and another opportunity, but it also brings a set of expectations that are as high as they’ve ever been. That concept is nothing new to Caruso.
They’ll do it all with a new quarterback running the offense. John Gould graduated. So who will it be this year? We don’t know yet, but the only returner with playing experience is junior Alex Fenske. He’ll get his chance, but a couple of Division I transfers will get their opportunity to prove themselves in practice as well. Jacques Perra was a standout quarterback at Roseville and walked on at Minnesota, but transferred to St. Thomas in the spring. The other is Gabe Green, a transfer who sat out last season at Southern Mississippi, yes the school in the SEC.
The Tommies will have five offensive starters back, including Roberts to lead the run game and receiver Nick Waldgvogel. They return seven of their defensive starters from last year, including Winter and Addo.
Caruso said on a recent Division III football podcast with Pat Coleman that they’ll have depth on the offensive line with 10 to 11 players battling for the starting five spots.
The Tommies hosted Rochester Community and Technical College last weekend for a scrimmage. It’s something most teams do so they see different plays, formations and most importantly a different team before the season starts for real.
St. Thomas had a formula last year that included a power run game, led by one of the top running backs in Division III last year in Roberts, and a dominating defense didn’t give up much and collected turnovers. That philosophy won’t change a ton, though the players attempting to execute that may.
Caruso’s expectations for his squad are pretty simple: Be the best St. Thomas that you can be. If that happens, everything else will take care of itself.
“We learned the only reason why we had a shot to make the run that we made and go to Salem for the second time was because we did have a team that bought into being the best they could be and playing well, to the best of their ability, at that moment,” Caruso told Pat Coleman of D3football.com. “It’s one thing to get there, it’s another thing to routinely be there. What do we have to do to get there? We have to be the best St. Thomas that we can be.”
St. Thomas has more than 130 players in fall camp this year, with more than 80 of them being returners. Their 2016 schedule includes a stretch where in four out of five games they travel to St. John’s (Sept. 24), host Augsburg (Oct. 1), travel to Concordia (Oct. 8) and Bethel (Oct. 29).