St. Thomas football coach Glenn Caruso said he’s been pleased with his team’s progress so far this spring as Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage approaches.
The football team will strap on the pads for Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage. The team will also play an exhibition game in Canada later this month. (Baihly Warfield/TommieMedia)
The Tommies have an extended practice schedule this spring for the first time since 2009. Typically, the team has seven non-padded practices in April, but every three years, teams across the country can add 10 additional practices if they take a foreign trip.
Later this month, the team travels north of the border to Winnipeg, Manitoba for an exhibition game against a Canadian team.
“It’s been an amazing spring,” Caruso said. “When we look back on the last opportunity we had to do this, it was 2009. The single greatest point of growth in our program was between year one and year two. I believe that it’s not just success on the field, but the brotherhood, the comradery off the field that was facilitated by the extra practices. And that’s what we have now.”
Caruso said that Saturday’s scrimmage will be a chance for the team to have some fun but will also be important for evaluating players.
“The more competition we can get, the more we are able to evaluate who these players are and what roles they can fill for us,” he said. “A lot of those roles that we need guys to fill are physical, but a lot of them are emotional too.”
The Tommies return 58 lettermen and 18 players with starting experience. Though four All-America players will graduate this spring, St. Thomas returns All-American center Curtis James and most of a defense that ranked among Division III’s best after allowing just 10.1 points and 216.5 yards per game.
Senior defensive lineman Ayo Idowu was a key part of last year’s defensive success and said he can’t wait for Saturday.
“I’m really excited. One of the reasons I play football is so I can hit people without going to jail,” Idowu said. “It’s been a long winter of lifting and training, and I kind of want to show what I’ve been working toward and put it out there.”
For senior linebacker Mike Valesano, Saturday’s spring game is his first chance to get back on the field after sitting out most of last year due to an ankle injury.
“I had a really tough decision last year to take my medical redshirt or not,” Valesano said. “In the end, standing out there on both ankles, healthy… there’s not a better decision in the world I could have made. I got another season; I get to keep on playing. That’s awesome.”
Last season, St. Thomas recorded a school-record 13 wins and reached the Division III national semifinals. The Tommies have now claimed back-to-back conference championships, the first since 1948 and 1949.
St. Thomas also comes into 2012 with a 24-game regular-season win streak and a 19-game MIAC victory streak but will have to replace key starters like quarterback Dakota Tracy, running back Colin Tobin and wide receiver Fritz Waldvogel.
“As I tell the guys, ‘I don’t know exactly how everything shakes out. The one thing I know is that we continue to get better because they handle adversity better than any team I’ve been around,’” Caruso said.
Idowu said the team’s practices have been high energy, and he feels there’s “a lot of unfinished business to attend to.”
“We’ve got a lot of people who have kind of been waiting in the ranks but are ready to go,” Idowu said. “(They’re) ready to win another conference title and hopefully bring back a big trophy to St. Thomas.”
Saturday’s 1 p.m. scrimmage is open to the public and will be held at O’Shaughnessy Stadium.
Be sure to check TommieMedia.com Thursday for a spring football edition of “The Locker Room.”
Ryan Shaver can be reached at email@example.com