It’s easy to look at St. Thomas football coach Glenn Caruso and think he was naturally fit to take one of the biggest leaps in college football history and instantly compete.
He exudes curiosity and confidence, two traits that seem to fit right in with what the Tommies accomplished last season – moving from NCAA Division III MIAC to Division I Pioneer Football League and finishing one game out of the top spot.
“Whether we are a good team or not, I don’t know, time will tell. But I am sure we will not sneak up on anyone this year.”
But on a recent media day, Caruso leaned forward in his chair and said with a smile that the biggest harbinger of the team’s success was something he hadn’t expected – leading a group of fourth- and fifth-year seniors who came to the team to play junior college football.
“I had no idea going into … how important and crucial culture is in a transition,” he said.
This culture is thriving.
The Tommies, who opened their season Thursday night at Southern Utah, 7-3 last year, were unbeaten in a home game and brought 20 novices back to their experienced roster and strive to get back on the field. They went from an unknown curiosity in 2021 to their own choice 3rd place in the pre-season 2022 coaches poll.
They also have to deal with the 12-month swing from trying something unprecedented to achieving success on a grand scale, and the expectations that come with it.
“We can’t control what strangers say or our rank in the polls or who they think will win or that kind of thing,” said Luke Glena, who is in charge of fifth-year safety. “We control how hard we work in practice, how much movies we watch, and how we build that locker room fraternity.”
It is not every year the football team tries to maintain control in the whirlpool of change and we have set a good example.
The Edina native is a lively leader in defence, and it’s Balhawk who led the team in tackles last season with 65 points while making four interceptions and two faltering recoveries. He was recently appointed to the Pioneer Football League team.
The Tommies don’t make the transition to Division One as easily without veteran leaders like him, but if he’s a sophomore this year, he might not be recruited by the team.
“I’m thinking about some of the players who played with us last year, they were recruited in their Division III days and were able to work themselves in a position where they were able because they were in their fourth or fifth year of the year and they stuck to a very high level of play,” Caruso said. Luke Glenna, a case in point, was one of those.
“Will I necessarily go back to enlist Luke Glenna today after graduating from high school?…I don’t want to say I won’t, but maybe not.”
Join Glenna at PFL Pre-Season Team They were senior offensive lineman Matt Wyman, sophomore running back Hope Adebayo, sophomore quarterback Luke Herzog and young teen Kolby Gartner.
Adebayo, of Inver Grove Heights, appears to embody the new ranger of the Tommies athletes. He was the NFL’s newest offensive player last season after rushing for 693 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games.
But he is entering his third season with the show and said he notices a difference in the journey it took to acclimatize to this level of play and the speed with which young players absorb concepts.
“Things that probably took me a year and a half to pick up, guys started picking up within a week,” Adebayo said. It’s hard not to wonder, ‘What’s the difference here? “”
How young talent flows into the roster of seasoned veterans will be shaped throughout the season as the Tommies bring the best of their new league to O’Shaughnessy Stadium.
The two teams who finished first in the PFL standings last season — Davidson and San Diego — will travel to St. Paul for the marquee conference encounters.
For Caruso and his players, there is energy that comes from building competitions, gathering data for their new conference, and showing themselves and their fans what the team can do.
“There were fans who asked me, ‘What does San Diego look like? What does Davidson look like? “I’d say they’re really good, really good, really talented and really well trained and they’ve been doing this department that I’ve been doing for 40 years,” Caruso said.
A little forward feels like right. In a year, the unsung underdogs in the Premier League are playing a more familiar role as a pre-season contender. Everyone in the locker room is ready to see if their culture can handle another transformation.
“Whether we are a good team or not, I don’t know, time will tell,” said Caruso. “But I’m sure we won’t sneak up on anyone this year.”