A 162-person University of St. Thomas football fan charter, expected to leave mid-Thursday morning, is full, university officials said Tuesday.
Sun Country, the charter service, could not arrange an additional plane in time, said university vice president Doug Hennes. This is a change from an initial report that said fans could travel to Salem via a fan charter. The Thursday charter will carry parents, staff members and media, he said.
“Unfortunately, there is not room for alumni and other fans on the flight,” Hennes said. “Parents will be contacted by email about their reservations.”
The Tommies will play in their first national championship against top-ranked Mount Union (Ohio) Friday at 6 p.m. Central Standard Time. The team was scheduled to leave Tuesday afternoon aboard a charter flight for Roanoke, Va., and will stay for three nights before competing in the 40th Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.
Fans celebrate St. Thomas' win over Wisconsin-Oshkosh Saturday. Family members, alumni and students will be able to board a charter plane Thursday and will fly back after the game Friday. (Rosie Murphy/TommieMedia)
Athletic Director Steve Fritz said there will be a great turnout for both St. Thomas and Mount Union fans.
“They’re drivable from Ohio, so it’s not nearly as far,” Fritz said. “They thought they will travel 1,000 people. I don’t know if we’ll get to that but I think we will still have a nice representation.”
Quarterback Matt O’Connell and safety Tyler Erstad said they have family members flying down to support the team.
“I’ll have my immediate family coming down,” O’Connell said. “It sounds like we’ll have a pretty good fan base coming down toward the end of this week, so that’ll be exciting.”
The Stagg Bowl is only the second bowl game the in school history. The 1948 team played in the Cigar Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
Coach Glenn Caruso has much respect for Mount Union coach Larry Kehres, who has won 10 national championships.
“We are not trying to be the best Mount Union,” Caruso said. “We are trying to be the best St. Thomas, and I’m OK with that.”
Since players will be leaving Tuesday afternoon, they will be missing nearly four days of class the week before finals. Running back Brenton Braddock said he must balance academics and athletics.
“You have to be able to focus on football and also be able to juggle all your schoolwork and staying up late and trying to get ahead, so we don’t have to do so much when we go down to Salem,” Braddock said.
Even though finals are happening next week, some players must complete group projects that are due this upcoming week, which affected Erstad.
“I crammed all the projects that are due next week in last minute so I could turn them in today, and then all my finals are scheduled as planned next week,” Erstad said.
Some of the players share the same classes and plan to study together during the trip.
“There’s a few guys that I have classes with and we may get together on the plane,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell said the players have learned to balance both academics and athletics throughout the season, and the coaches are supportive.
“As student athletes, we have to realize when it’s time to study and when it’s time to have fun,” O’Connell said. “Our coaches do a really good job at keeping the mentality of what we are supposed to be doing and at what time.”
For the senior class, it’s the end of a successful era, and Erstad said he can’t imagine a better way to end his football career.
“I just know I’m really excited for this trip. I’ve been working my butt off for four years to get where we are,” Erstad said.
Game tickets can be purchased in advance ($7 for students and $12.50 for adults) from JoAnn Andregg in the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex. There is also a ticketed pregame party on Friday at the Salem Civic Center.
The game will be televised on ESPNU and broadcast on JACK 104.1 FM.
Stephanie Dodd and Jesse Krull contributed to this report.