December 12, 2012

UST aims to be known as OL U

More news about: St. Thomas
Luke Marks, backup tight end Matt Allen, Curtis Hames, Jason Flesher, David Simmet and fullback Willie Schneider all get on their assignments in the Tommies' ground game.
Photo by Scott Pierson, d3photography.com 

By Jason Bailey
D3sports.com

The undefeated Tommies owned a two-touchdown lead. They possessed the ball in enemy territory. They were 152 seconds away from reaching the first Stagg Bowl in school history.

And St. Thomas head coach Glenn Caruso grimaced.

The directions were clear. Caruso wanted to drain as much hope from the UW-Oshkosh sideline as possible, pointing to the play clock while telling the line judge to call timeout just before it expired. “One second. No more.” But when the official blew his whistle, two seconds remained.

It was a minor misstep, but every detail is important when you’re rebuilding a program.

Since Caruso took the reins of a 2-8 team before the 2008 season, the Tommies are 57-7 with two NCAA quarterfinal appearances, a trip to the semifinals, and now a national championship berth. The next challenge St. Thomas (14-0, 8-0 MIAC) faces is Mount Union (14-0, 9-0 OAC), a perennial power that has won 10 national titles while playing in 15 of the past 19 Stagg Bowls.

That’s a dynasty by any definition, and St. Thomas has potential to create its own because of a demanding and meticulous coach whose attitude trickles down to his players. Although they’re not a flashy team loaded with superstars, it’s impossible to ignore the growing pile of victories.

“A lot of people thought I was crazy,” said Caruso, a former center at Ithaca. “I told anyone who was willing to listen that we were going to build this program around the offensive line. I think a lot of people wondered why. You have a lot of places that are Quarterback U or Linebacker U.”

There are the obvious physical benefits to building a solid offensive line. St. Thomas uses about 1,500 pounds of synchronized smashes — sophomore left tackle T.J. Woodrow, sophomore left guard Ulice Payne III, senior center Curtis James, junior right guard Jason Flesher and freshman right tackle Luke Marks — to fuel a run-oriented offense that relies on sophomore quarterback Matt O’Connell’s mobility and freshman running back Brenton Braddock’s vision.

But the group that has allowed only 15 sacks also brings stability in another way.

St. Thomas upholds the offensive line as a symbol of the attitude – fulfill your role without regard for outside recognition — it demands from every player. The offensive line sits in the front row during offensive meetings, starters filling the five seats to the left of Caruso. Their lockers are in the middle of the locker room, they eat first at team meals, and they lead the Tommies onto the field before games. It’s a unique experience for the sport’s least glamorous position.

“(When) they walk across campus, everybody probably waves and shakes hands with the tailback and the quarterback and the outside linebacker,” Caruso said. “But they probably don’t jump up and down when they see the left guard walking into the union.”

Prioritizing the offensive line is already paying dividends. James and Marks joined the program after redshirt seasons at Minnesota and South Dakota State while Flesher played at Division II Minnesota State-Moorhead for two years. They follow in the footsteps of all-American center Josh Ostrue (2008, 2009, 2010) and tackle Dan Chapman (2011).

St. Thomas takes pride in wearing down opposing defenses, as it did last week in a 16-play first-quarter drive against UW-Oshkosh.
d3photography.com file photo by Ryan Coleman 

Offensive line coach Joe Lepsche said that fielding big, athletic players along the offensive line helps St. Thomas wear down opponents during a game. The Tommies had 58 rushing attempts in their 28-14 semifinal win over UW-Oshkosh, continuing to chip away even though their longest run was only 17 yards. It marked the fifth time they reached 50 carries this season.

“Yardage that we pick up is great. Touchdowns we score are fantastic,” James said. “But what we take the most pride is in the fourth quarter when the other team is huffing and puffing.

“You can just see the look in their eyes. They definitely know what’s coming. We can feel that as an offensive line, and we take advantage of it like a pack of hungry dogs.”

That ferocity originates from James and tight end Logan Marks, the only senior starters on an extraordinarily young offense. Marks is an extension of the offensive line who enjoys blocking and is usually the top target on play-action passes, ranking second in receptions (45), receiving yards (506) and total touchdowns (seven) for St. Thomas. James must be intelligent enough to quickly identify defensive fronts while brutish enough to push defenders around seconds later.

The Jekyll-and-Hyde act can be seen in neighboring photos on Caruso’s desk: James reveals a nasty scowl while burying an opposing nose guard in one; he holds two of Caruso’s children in the other. James harnessed the former while motivating the offense with a staccato rally before the UW-Oshkosh game. The latter spills out in interviews, where his passion is equally evident.

“They follow that energy and attitude I’m able to portray,” James said. “If I come off as fearless against a team we play like Mount Union, it starts to infiltrate their psyche as well.”

Confidence is shared by the entire St. Thomas program, which has finished undefeated in the MIAC for three consecutive seasons. Despite showing flashes of excellence during this regular season, James and Marks said the offense didn’t truly hit its stride until the playoffs began.

Against talented playoff teams, St. Thomas has adopted the goal of picking up first downs. By chaining together those small victories, the offense will inevitably score touchdowns with the outside zone plays where running lanes are created by tight ends in motion or pulling guards.

“It’s just ‘will’ and ‘want,’ ” Lepsche said. “It comes down to being selfless and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to throw our body in there. A lot of it has to do with timing. Keeping your chest up, eyes up, getting a good punch and running through the defender.”

Effort is important because perfection is impossible. Even James struggled against Oshkosh by fumbling one snap and forcing O’Connell to snag several others. It wasn’t a case of nerves, James said, but rather the defense keeping him preoccupied by disguising their pre-snap looks. Fixing those mistakes has been a top priority this week considering the national title is at stake.

St. Thomas has taken a surprising squad to this year’s Stagg Bowl while avoiding the traditional Division III powers. But the seeds for beating St. Norbert, Elmhurst, Hobart and UW-Oshkosh this postseason were planted long ago. St. Thomas isn’t afraid of the dirty work needed to grow.

“It’s been there since the second I stepped on campus freshman year,” Marks said. “This year has been a testament. We’ve had so many guys step up when we need them. It’s everybody having the backs of the person next to them. It’s definitely been instilled from Day One.”

comments powered by Disqus
Sep. 27: All times Eastern
Final
at Buffalo State 32, Salisbury 28
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Framingham State 48, Western Connecticut 31
Box Score
Final
at Endicott 28, Curry 6
Box Score Recap
Final
Worcester State 48, at Massachusetts Maritime 14
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Amherst 30, at Bowdoin 7
Box Score Photos
Final
at Tufts 42, Bates 24
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Springfield 63, Rochester 27
Box Score
Final
at MIT 48, Salve Regina 26
Box Score
Final
Middlebury 27, at Colby 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Wesleyan 43, Hamilton 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hobart 42, Merchant Marine 7
Box Score Recap
Final
Rhodes 12, at Berry 0
Box Score
Final
Coast Guard 28, at Nichols 12
Box Score
Final
Lycoming 27, at Wilkes 14
Box Score Recap
Final
Catholic 54, at Anna Maria 25
Box Score Recap
Final
Ursinus 42, at McDaniel 13
Box Score Recap
Final
Mass-Dartmouth 20, at Plymouth State 5
Box Score
Final
Stevenson 13, at Albright 6
Box Score Recap
Final
Franklin and Marshall 35, at Juniata 33
Box Score
Final
at DePauw 24, Kenyon 0
Box Score Recap
Final
at Moravian 21, Dickinson 14
Box Score Recap
Final
Castleton State 36, at Alfred State 23
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Carnegie Mellon 22, Geneva 21
Box Score Photos Photos
Final
Bridgewater (Va.) 32, at Apprentice School 16
Box Score
Final
Widener 30, at FDU-Florham 0
Final
at LaGrange 30, Averett 29
Box Score
Final
Western New England 80, at Maine Maritime 16
Box Score Recap
Final
at Wesley 47, Southern Virginia 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Gettysburg 31, at Susquehanna 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at St. Lawrence 28, Union 20
Box Score Recap
Final
St. John Fisher 48, at Frostburg State 7
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at King's 36, Misericordia 29
Final
Wittenberg 48, at Oberlin 10
Box Score Recap
Final
at St. Vincent 31, Grove City 14
Final
Delaware Valley 59, at Lebanon Valley 41
Box Score Recap
Final
at Morrisville State 38, Cortland State 31
Box Score Recap
Final
at Denison 34, Ohio Wesleyan 31
Box Score
Final
at Case Western Reserve 23, Thiel 16
Box Score Photos
Final
Ithaca 17, at Alfred 6
Box Score Recap
Cancelled
Pacific at Chicago
Preview Live Stats
Final
at Eureka 17, Minnesota-Morris 10
Box Score
Final
at Franklin 54, Bluffton 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at Centre 50, Washington U. 20
Box Score Recap Recap Photos
Final
Huntingdon 35, at Maryville (Tenn.) 21
Box Score
Final
at Thomas More 49, Westminster (Pa.) 6
Box Score Recap
Final
Anderson 45, at Earlham 15
Box Score
Final
at Mount St. Joseph 49, Manchester 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Defiance 31, at Hanover 28
Box Score
Final
Trinity (Conn.) 38, at Williams 0
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
N.C. Wesleyan 34, at Ferrum 30
Box Score
Final
at Heidelberg 69, Ohio Northern 52
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Johns Hopkins 42, at Muhlenberg 26
Box Score Recap
Final
at Wabash 63, Allegheny 0
Box Score Recap
Final
at Austin 19, Howard Payne 16
Box Score
Final
St. Scholastica 31, at Westminster (Mo.) 24
Box Score Recap
Final
Emory and Henry 44, at Sewanee 27
Box Score
Final
Bethel 38, at Carleton 7
Box Score
Final
Gustavus Adolphus 55, at Augsburg 31
Box Score Photos
Final
at Concordia-Moorhead 52, St. Olaf 14
Box Score Photos
Final - OT
at Beloit 27, Lake Forest 24
Box Score
Final
at Hendrix 48, Birmingham-Southern 31
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 30, Langston 29
Box Score Photos Photos
Final
at St. Norbert 32, Illinois College 27
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Macalester 21, at Grinnell 16
Box Score
Final
at Sul Ross State 27, Wayland Baptist 24
Final
Cornell 43, at Ripon 24
Final
Greenville 23, at Martin Luther 14
Box Score
Final
at Iowa Wesleyan 40, MacMurray 34
Box Score
Final
at Knox 45, Lawrence 14
Cancelled
Maranatha Baptist at Concordia-Chicago
Final
at Carroll 32, Monmouth 27
Box Score
Final
St. John's 24, at St. Thomas 14
Box Score Recap Photos Photos
Final
at Okla. Baptist 51, Southwestern 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at UW-Stevens Point 34, North Central (Ill.) 27
Recap Recap
Final
Louisiana College 37, at Bacone 13
Box Score
Final
Chapman 49, at Whitworth 34
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Texas Lutheran 54, at Southwestern Assemblies 21
Box Score
Final
at Bethany 33, Waynesburg 27
Box Score Recap
Final
at RPI 27, WPI 6
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Muskingum 36, Capital 20
Box Score Photos
Final
at Mount Union 63, Marietta 7
Box Score Photos
Final
at Wooster 39, Hiram 24
Box Score
Final
Otterbein 49, at Wilmington 21
Box Score
Final
at Utica 42, Brockport State 28
Box Score Recap Recap
Final - 2OT
at Christopher Newport 51, Methodist 48
Box Score
Final
at John Carroll 45, Baldwin Wallace 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Millikin 30, Aurora 9
Box Score Recap
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 73, Kean 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at East Texas Baptist 68, Millsaps 15
Box Score Recap
Final
Pacific Lutheran 38, at Trinity (Texas) 14
Box Score Photos
Final
Buena Vista 55, at Waldorf 28
Box Score
Final
at Carthage 21, Lakeland 14
Box Score Recap
Final
Northwestern (Minn.) 40, at Crown 14
Box Score
Oct. 3: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
MIT at Curry
Live Stats Live Stats
10:00 PM
George Fox at Willamette
Live Stats Video
Oct. 4: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Thomas More at Washington and Jefferson
Live Stats Video Audio
7:00 PM
Millikin at North Central (Ill.)
Live Stats Video Audio Audio
2:00 PM
Hiram at Wittenberg
Live Stats Video
1:30 PM
John Carroll at Ohio Northern
Live Stats Video Audio Audio
1:30 PM
Heidelberg at Otterbein
Audio
3:30 PM
UW-Platteville at UW-Eau Claire
Live Stats Video Audio Audio Tickets
1:00 PM
Hampden-Sydney at Catholic
Video Audio
1:00 PM
Wooster at Wabash
Live Stats Video Audio Audio
1:00 PM
Louisiana College at Wesley
Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Utica at Ithaca
Live Stats Video Audio
1:00 PM
Stevenson at Lycoming
Live Stats Video Audio Audio
3:00 PM
UW-Stout at UW-Oshkosh
Live Stats Video Audio
12:30 PM
Mount Union at Capital
Preview Live Stats Video Audio
2:10 PM
St. Thomas at St. Olaf
Audio
12:00 PM
Juniata at Johns Hopkins
Audio
12:00 PM
Salisbury at St. John Fisher
Live Stats Audio Audio
12:00 PM
Hobart at WPI
Live Stats Video Audio
2:00 PM
Wartburg at Central
Audio
2:00 PM
UW-La Crosse at UW-Whitewater
Live Stats Audio Audio
2:00 PM
Concordia-Moorhead at Bethel
Live Stats Video Audio
2:00 PM
North Park at Wheaton (Ill.)
4:00 PM
Linfield at Pacific Lutheran
Live Stats Audio Audio
Sep. 27: All times Eastern
Final
at Mount Union 63, Marietta 7
Box Score Photos
Final
at John Carroll 45, Baldwin Wallace 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 73, Kean 7
Box Score Recap
Final
Pacific Lutheran 38, at Trinity (Texas) 14
Box Score Photos
Final
at Wabash 63, Allegheny 0
Box Score Recap
Final
Johns Hopkins 42, at Muhlenberg 26
Box Score Recap
Final
at Heidelberg 69, Ohio Northern 52
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Thomas More 49, Westminster (Pa.) 6
Box Score Recap
Final
at Wesley 47, Southern Virginia 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
St. John Fisher 48, at Frostburg State 7
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Wittenberg 48, at Oberlin 10
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hobart 42, Merchant Marine 7
Box Score Recap
Final
Lycoming 27, at Wilkes 14
Box Score Recap
Final
Ithaca 17, at Alfred 6
Box Score Recap
Final
at UW-Stevens Point 34, North Central (Ill.) 27
Recap Recap
Final
St. John's 24, at St. Thomas 14
Box Score Recap Photos Photos
Final
Bethel 38, at Carleton 7
Box Score
Final
at Concordia-Moorhead 52, St. Olaf 14
Box Score Photos

What We're Reading