Protecting the head gets taken to heart

More news about: St. Scholastica
The number of head coaches in Division III football which limit contact in practice is growing, and that includes Kurt Ramler at St. Scholastica. 
St. Scholastica athletics photo 

In addition to being known as the winningest coach in college football history, former St. John’s head coach John Gagliardi was known for limiting contact in football.

Kurt Ramler, a former starting quarterback for Gagliardi, took that philosophy to heart. Now in an age where more is known about concussions and the ramifications of head injuries, Ramler and the St. Scholastica football team are taking things further.

While working with his staff to teach St. Scholastica players a safe way to prepare for football games on Saturdays, Ramler is trying to help coaches everywhere do the same with his HeadSmart Football program.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work under and learn from John Gagliardi at St. John’s, as well as with Mike Grant at Eden Prairie (Minn.) High School. I learned a lot from them in terms of how to practice,” Ramler said. “I knew I wanted to coach football in a way that takes into account some of the scary things we’ve learned in the last few years.”

Ramler emphasized the love he has for football, but stated the importance of cultivating a danger-free environment around the sport.

“So I asked myself, how can we be the safest program possible? What are all the factors? What things can be considered? How can we take care of everything we can, and can you do that in a way that still allows you to be really, really good?” Ramler said. “This plan is a result of those thoughts.”

Ramler, along with his defensive coordinator/assistant head coach George Penree, crafted a plan to share the philosophy and last spring created a website – www.HeadSmartFootball.com.

The goal is to help programs of any level avoid concussions and still have an excellent opportunity to be successful on the field.

“I thought that I had to share it in case it could do that,” Ramler said. “The website is just a way to provide a resource for folks who might want to look at doing things in similar ways.”

The Saints’ coach said the response he has received from others has been positive so far.

“It’s still relatively new and I don’t think that many folks have seen it yet,” he said. “But it is something that the staff and I are really proud of.”

Harry Griffin, a senior offensive lineman at CSS, said the players have embraced the concept of limiting collisions during the week.

“It’s a lot different. There’s not much contact throughout the week of practice,” Griffin explained. “There’s not much defensive line vs. offensive line, one-on-one blocking drills or things like that. We kind of stay away from that.”

As a result, Griffin said the players feel better physically once that week’s game arrives.

“It helps out a lot,” he explained. “You feel it on game day and in the later part of the week. You just have more energy than normal.”

Ramler said the team only engages in full contact twice a year outside of game competition.

“It’s a controlled setting early on in camp, and then our preseason scrimmage and then our games,” Ramler said, adding the team still works hard and plays tough in practice. “We’re just doing everything we can to lead the nation in fewest injuries during the week.”

Rather than hitting one another, Griffin said many drills involve hitting with bags. That allows the team to avoid injury but still ready themselves for competition.

“It easier to prepare mentally because we’re focused more on what’s going on in the game, than the physical aspect of it,” Griffin said. “Also since we feel fresher, we go harder and we go longer on game day.”

Griffin said St. Scholastica’s practice style took some adjustment, but he viewed it optimistically. He thinks other players view it similarly.

“I feel like it attracts (recruits) here because it lets them know they don’t have to worry about injuries during the practice week and things like that. It’s kind of a safer way to play football,” Griffin said. “I feel like that’s a big recruiting point that we can lean on.

“I think it’s having a very positive effect on the team as a whole.”

“You have to, first, get rid of some preconceived notions about toughing kids up by hitting every day – full contact, full tackle,” Ramler added. “It goes a little bit against the grain, but I think the grain is catching up, if that makes sense.

“There’s a way of practicing at full speed, but without dangerous contact. There’s also a way of tackling and way of blocking, in which you see everything,” the coach continued. “You really need to train that. You really need to practice that the right way.”

For the Saints, this philosophy is paying off.

St. Scholastica has won five consecutive UMAC championships and would like win at least a share of another this season.

The Saints suffered a setback Saturday when Northwestern (Minn.) claimed a 14-7 victory and snapped St. Scholastica’s 35-game UMAC winning streak. However, while the Saints forge on toward their goals, they’ll continue to do so in the safest manner possible.

But with that said, Ramler is always open to ideas on the subject from others.

“We are trying to do absolutely everything we can to make this great game of football as safe as possible. I’d love to talk with any coach who might have an idea or two that works for them, and if anyone has any questions on how we do things, I’d love to hear from them,” Ramler said. “We think it’s important.”

Coe seizes control of the IIAC

Coe scored 16 fourth-quarter points and defeated Dubuque in a meeting of undefeated IIAC teams.

Gavin Glenn threw two touchdown passes and ran for another to account for the bulk of the scoring, but it was Trevor Heitland who picked up the majority of yards.

Heitland carried the ball a school-record 51 times, picking up 216 yards on the ground. It was his third straight game eclipsing the 200-yard mark.

In the last three weeks, Coe has defeated Wartburg, Central and Dubuque to take the outright lead in the IIAC race.

“Back-to-back-to-back like that is tough,” Heitland told the Cedar Rapids Gazette after the game. “I’m proud of the guys and how we fought through each game.”

Dubuque, which led 12-0 at halftime, got 161 passing yards and two touchdowns from Conor Feckley.

Number of the week

200 – as in the number of career wins Steve Johnson has logged as head coach at Bethel. He is the 78th coach among all divisions of college football to reach 200 wins, and he is the 12th active coach to do so. Johnson ranks third among active NCAA Division III coaches in wins. The coach’s milestone victory came in the Royals’ 32-17 triumph over Gustavus Adolphus. Jake Marsh scored two rushing touchdowns and threw a scoring strike to Bryce Marquardt. Brady Bomsta added two touchdowns on the ground as well.

The rest of the West

Cal Lutheran handed Claremont-Mudd-Scripps its first loss of the season, 34-0. The Kingsmen recovered three fumbles, including one by Nick Gordon that was returned 35 yards for a score. … The Northwestern (Minn.) defense secured four interceptions, including two by Gideon Burnham, as they defeated St. Scholastica, 14-7. … UW-Whitewater won its third straight game against an undefeated WIAC foe, topping UW-La Crosse, 32-22. Drew Patterson rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns for the Warhawks. … Alex Berg led Concordia-Moorhead with 12 tackles, recording one of the Cobbers’ five sacks and one of the team’s four interceptions, in a 34-14 win over Hamline. … Sam Markham caught 10 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown in Central’s 43-17 win at Nebraska Wesleyan. He now has 71 catches on the year, which betters his own school record for receptions in a season. … Campbell Summerfield threw touchdown passes of 20, 84, 65 and 70 yards as Pacific shut out Lewis and Clark, 55-0. … Coy Dorothy threw seven touchdown passes and racked up 327 passing yards in MacMurray’s 59-46 victory over Greenville. … Tom Kelly threw four touchdown passes and Dan Arnold hauled in seven catches for 160 yards and two scores as UW-Platteville cruised by UW-River Falls, 45-14. … Duke DeGaetano, who gained 172 rushing yards in the game, scored two of his three rushing touchdowns in the final five minutes to help rally Whitworth past Pacific Lutheran, 45-41. The Lutes led 41-24 early in the fourth quarter. … Pomona-Pitzer got 174 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Aseal Birir during the Sagehens’ 35-21 win over Whittier. … Eureka’s LeAnthony Reasnover turned in a 140-yard, four-touchdown performance to help his team take down Iowa Wesleyan, 29-15. … Buena Vista had six players score touchdowns – three through the air and three on the ground – in a 48-24 win over Luther. … The St. John’s defense registered 10 tackles for a loss in a 62-0 win over Carleton. Ben Alvord threw two touchdowns and rushed for another to lead the Johnnies’ offense. … Linfield held Willamette to one conversion on 13 third down attempts during a 40-0 victory. … Zak Tomlinson threw a touchdown pass to DaeJohn Logan with 1:04 to go and Alex Arellano’s ensuing two-point conversion gave La Verne a 57-56 win over Occidental. … Latif Adams ran for 243 yards and three touchdowns to lead Westminster (Mo.) past Martin Luther, 48-0. Bret Robertson recovered two fumbles and intercepted a pass as the Blue Jays defense generated seven takeaways. … UW-Oshkosh scored 10 points in the second quarter and shut out the UW-Stevens Point offense the rest of the way to win, 13-3. Devon Linzenmeyer scored the game’s lone touchdown. … Connor Schrader ran for 118 yards and a touchdown, helping Wartburg’s offense overcome three turnovers and four sacks, in a 20-6 win over Simpson. … Quentine Lake passed for 303 yards and two scores to lead Augsburg past St. Olaf 27-9. … Grant Schroeder had 210 yards passing and three touchdowns as well as 96 rushing yards and two touchdowns to power George Fox past Puget Sound, 44-10. … Redlands took down Chapman, 31-13, as Alex Andrighetto and Devin Appleton combined for 241 rushing yards and three touchdowns. … Matt Michaud and Ryan Synoground combined for 210 rushing yards and three touchdowns as Crown defeated Minnesota-Morris, 27-17. … Adolfo Pachecho and Jay Alton combined for 215 rushing yards and three touchdowns as UW-Stout beat UW-Eau Claire, 30-7.

Be heard

Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, breakout players or any other storylines in the region. Or just drop me a note to let me know what you think of the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at josh.smith@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter @By_Josh_Smith.

Josh Smith photo

Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
2010: Tim Walsh
2003-09: Adam Johnson
1999-2000: Don Stoner 

Previous Columns

November 15, 2017
Tommies' defense is a team effort
The St. Thomas defense pitched four shutouts in 10 regular season games, but there might not be a...
November 7, 2017
Seeing red in the red zone
Dusty Krueger, the St. John's offensive line and the rest of the Johnnies' offense in general have...
October 31, 2017
Linfield bringing the D
The Wildcats have been known for putting up huge numbers on the offensive side of the ball, but this...
October 24, 2017
Aiming for perfection
When the football leaves Ricky Bautista’s hands, his teammates and coaches as well as Chapman...
October 18, 2017
It's more than Chazz in the backfield
When D-III leading rusher Chazz Middlebrook got dinged up and was held out of most of Saturday's...
October 10, 2017
A Titan in the backfield
Pat Cerroni recruited Dylan Hecker to play quarterback at UW-Oshkosh. But, when an ill-timed injury...
October 3, 2017
Cobbers celebrate history, but revel in moment
Concordia-Moorhead is celebrating its 100th year of football this season. But they're not just...
September 26, 2017
A new development at Wartburg
Last year's Knights had several players getting some significant and much-needed on-the-job training...
September 20, 2017
L&C boldly goes where none of these players have gone before
Every player on the Lewis & Clark football team got to experience something for the first time...
September 13, 2017
Taking the long road to college football
Matt Younkers graduated from high school in 2009 and left for the Marine Corps about seven months...
September 6, 2017
Two head coaches better than none
When Minnesota-Morris found it was losing its coach six days before camp started, it didn't have too...
November 16, 2016
The time is now
The adage “make the most of your opportunity” is used frequently. But it really hits...
November 8, 2016
Pair of pass-catchers leading for Linfield
When Wildcats quarterback Sam Riddle is looking for targets for his many passes, he's looking first...
 • More Division III football news releases

Other Columnists