Brian Woitte, Videographer
Coming into the season ranked nationally in three separate preseason polls, the following are seven reasons why St. Thomas football could go undefeated in 2009. The Tommies (1-0) started the season Sept. 4 by throttling the Scots 54-14 at Macalester.
Reason #1 – The Tommies could have been perfect last year.
Going from 2-8 in 2007 to 7-3 last fall gave St. Thomas the nation’s third best turnaround. Just 11 combined points in those three losses separated St. Thomas from going 10-0.
-After going a record six overtimes at St. Olaf in early September, St. Thomas lost 29-23.
-Then there was the infamous fumble on the goal line in the game’s final seconds to lose the Tommie-Johnnie game at home 12-9.
-The third loss was decided on a controversial call on an Augsburg field goal that, if called the other way, would have given the Tommies a 20-19 win instead of a 22-20 loss.
Reason #2 – No holes left by graduating seniors that can’t be filled.
St. Thomas brings back 20 players with starting experience, and it won’t be too hard to fill the few vacancies left.
It helps when then-freshman quarterback Greg Morse was able to win senior David Sauer’s position in the middle of last fall’s homecoming game against Bethel. Morse went 11-for-16 for 130 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Passing efficiency after the games he started at the end of the season? 12 points higher than Sauer’s.
But don’t forget about sophomore Dakota Tracy.
Coach Glenn Caruso doesn’t just see a starting quarterback in Morse and a backup in Tracy, but rather two top-notch signal callers. While Morse is “smooth and has a great pocket presence,” Tracy has the quick feet. “(Tracy) gives us a dynamic of versatility and speed,” Caruso said.
Reason #3 – The MIAC’s best rusher is 15 pounds heavier.
Between-the-tackles running back Ben Wartman, who averaged 5.5 yards per carry and had 13 touchdowns last year, has gained some extra muscle and now weighs in at 210 pounds. The junior not only had a 300-yard performance against Augsburg last fall, but also led the MIAC with 131 rushing yards per game.
Last year’s second best rushing team in the MIAC should get even better with sophomore Colin Tobin coming on strong late last season, averaging 7.1 yards a carry.
“Colin’s field vision is remarkable,” Caruso said.
The then-freshman racked up 231 yards in the last two regular season games, including a 72-yard scamper against Bethel.
Reason #4 – Tommy Becker’s D shouldn’t miss a beat.
-Senior linebacker Becker, a Gopher transfer and the Tommie’s defensive leader, was eighth in the conference in tackles with 7.9 per game.
-Iowa State transfer Brady Ervin led the MIAC with six interceptions.
-Junior Tony Danna was not only 11th in the MIAC in tackles at 7.3 per game, but third in sacks, with six in 10 games, and second in tackles for a loss with 14 total.
-St. Thomas led the MIAC in sacks with 26.
-Four-year starter Jeff Hilliard will once again be at cornerback.
-Alongside Ervin, Bryan Villar (three INTs last year) returns at safety.
-Caruso called the defense the most athletic he’s ever been around.
Reason #5 – So many throwing targets, so little time.
Five receiver sets would be needed to maximize all the talent St. Thomas has in its receiving core.
Then-freshman Fritz Waldvogel, generously listed at 5 feet 9 inches, averaged more than 13 yards per catch and 80 yards a game last year. That helped make Waldvogel, who also returned punts and kicks, second in all-purpose yards on the team behind Wartman.
After being medical red-shirted his senior year last fall, fifth-year player Tony Margarit gets one more season to bring back the magic of 2007 when he led the team in both receptions and yards.
He’ll also be competing alongside, for the first time ever, his little brother, sophomore Ricky Margarit.
The MIAC’s third highest scoring offense, which racked up 26.5 points per game, will also have Sam Moen back. The senior totaled more than 300 yards receiving on 11.8 yards a snag last season.
Senior Jake Friederichs is back at tight end and has some serious competition. Joe Herrera, a senior transfer from South Dakota, will battle sophomores Chase Austin and Ben Graham for playing time at the offense’s pivotal tight end position.
“I’ve been around some really good receiving cores and I think this year it’s the deepest and best I’ve ever been around,” Tony Margarit said.
Reason #6 – Talented O-line will make big holes Wartman and Tobin.
It helps when the Tommies’ center is the best in the nation.
Senior Josh Ostrue was an All-American last year, in addition to receiving the Rimington Award as Division III’s best center.
Margarit said the team feeds off Ostrue in the middle of the huge offensive line. Caruso agreed.
“Josh is a big tough guy,” Caruso said. “He’s brilliant and by moving him to center we could get his presence emanated through the line. It’s almost like osmosis.”
The Tommie offensive line was second-best in the conference last fall as they allowed just nine sacks.
Reason #7 – Punter A.C. Clouthier: Seriously.
The team-favorite class clown is actually one of the MIAC’s best punters.
Clouthier will be the first to tell anyone that he’s a “play-maker, as play-makers come in on fourth down to make plays.”
The second-team All-MIAC punter tied St. Olaf’s Matt Nelson for the league’s best average at 37.4 yards per boot, which will be a valuable component of crucial special team play.
Shane Kitzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org