2015 MIAC FB Tour - St. Thomas

By Matt Higgins, MIAC

Hi again everyone. Sorry for the delay, but the 2015 MIAC Football Camp Tour is back on track. I finished off my trip around the league last week with visits to St. Thomas, Hamline, Saint John's and Concordia. However, the blogs and videos have fallen behind a bit due to the release of all our fall Previews & Preseason Coaches' Polls, as well as my long day in Collegeville and Moorhead, and a quick mini-vacation to Chicago from Thursday-to-Sunday to enjoy a little last-minute downtime before the craziness of the fall season.

But now we're back on track and we'll finish off the tour with a blog and video from each of the final four stops this week as the excitement builds toward kickoff on Thursday night. Also, look for our first Weekly Football Preview of the year on Thursday, and the return of our Athlete-of-the-Week awards and our popular Play-of-the-Week feature early next week.

Last Monday marked the sixth stop on the tour as I spent a great afternoon on the St. Thomas campus with Head Coach Glenn Caruso and the Tommies. Each time I visit a UST practice I'm ready to throw on a pair of shoulder pads and jump into the next drill because the practices are super high-energy, and super fun. It's just a great vibe, and last week's stop was no exception.

My top four observations from last Monday's practice are below in "Four Downs" and be sure to check out our updated photo gallery with some images from St. Thomas' practice, as well as a video with highlights and interviews with Caruso, Senior CB Mozus Ikuenobe and Senior TE Charlie Dowdle.

St. Thomas had a high-intensity practice
during the MIAC Camp Tour on Aug. 24.
FIRST DOWN - Culture & Atmosphere
As I mentioned in my lead-in, the first thing that jumps out to anyone attending a practice at St. Thomas is the energy and the tempo. It's a fun atmosphere to be around, and last Monday's high-paced practice revealed a team that is both excited for the upcoming season, but also extremely focused on the details (more on that in a minute). Caruso has created a culture that permeates the entire team, and it comes across in each interaction with his players. After practice, Ikuenobe mentioned several times the "essence of football," which is 11 guys all doing their job and working together as one unit. This philosophy is evident in the team's approach and preparation.

SECOND DOWN - Super-sized spring
During just week two of camp, St. Thomas certainly looked well ahead of schedule in terms of the finely-tuned details on offense, defense and special teams, and there's an easy answer for that beyond the number of returning starters. The team enjoyed its NCAA-allowed foreign tour, which lets teams travel and compete abroad to enhance student-athletes' experiences. Additional practice time comes with the tour exception, and the additional off-season work shows. The team spent 13 days in late May and early June in Italy, culminating with a June 6 game against Giaguari Torino. Caruso reminded me that their first foreign tour in 2009 resulted in a Playoff bid and run to the third round, and when they did it again in 2012 they reached the national championship game, so the additional off-season work and time for team bonding could have UST in position for big dividends yet again in 2015. The team was certainly sharp last Monday, and was particularly impressive and effective during several situational drills as they prepared for game situations.

The St. Thomas ground game could be among
the MIAC's best again in 2015.
THIRD DOWN - Offensive expectations
The sky appears to be the limit for this UST offense, after averaging a MIAC-best 44.4 points and 493.7 yards per game in 2014. John Gould eventually took the reins at QB and the senior returns after completing 65.6 percent of his passes for 1,425 yards and 16 TDs (vs. just six INTs). Dowdle is back at TE after leading the Tommies with a Gronkowski-like 49 catches, 704 yards and 13 TDs in the passing game, and both Jack Kaiser (654 rushing yards, 7 TDs) and Nick Waldvogel (496 rushing, 344 receiving, 13 total TDs) also return, along with a lot of talent on a big, physical offensive line. To top it off, RB Jordan Roberts transferred in from Division I South Dakota where he had more than 1,000 all-purpose yards over his first two seasons of college football. With Kaiser, Waldvogel and Roberts leading an unbelievable stable of backs and another strong St. Thomas defense on the other side of the ball, a usually-balanced offense could possibly tilt more toward the run in 2015.

FOURTH DOWN - Dial up the 'D'
During its recent run of success, the Tommies have typically been dominant on defense. They were very good in 2014, but hope for improvement back to that elite level in 2015. UST was third in the MIAC in points allowed (22.3 per game) and yards allowed (333.3 per game). The team picked off just eight passes, but was second in the MIAC in both sacks (21) and fumble recoveries (12). Ikuenobe is the lone All-MIAC selection in 2014 that returns this year for St. Thomas, as he was named a First Team CB a year ago. The Tommies graduated three other First Teamers and one Second Team selection, so there will be some holes to fill in 2015. However, junior DB Bennett Celichowski (44 tackles, three fumble recoveries) joins Ikuenobe in the secondary and senior Tim McClanahan (62 tackles, three sacks), and junior Jesse Addo (26 tackles, 5.5 TFL, two forced fumbles) are back to help UST re-load. The best recent St. Thomas defenses have been so balanced that there were rarely any statistical standouts, so if the team can work on more three-and-outs and Ikuenobe's well-described "essence of football" it should compliment a high-powered offense nicely for one of the MIAC's top title contenders.

The MIAC Football Camp Tour has hit each of the nine schools, and this week we'll be catching up with recaps from the final stops. Look for a report from Hamline camp tomorrow, followed by Saint John's on Wednesday and Concordia Thursday. The full camp tour schedule is listed below with my date I visited each school.

Tuesday, Aug. 18 -Gustavus - St. Peter, Minn.
Wednesday, Aug. 19 - Bethel - Arden Hills, Minn.
Thursday, Aug. 20 - Augsburg - Minneapolis, Minn.
Friday, Aug. 21 - St. Olaf and Carleton - Northfield, Minn.
 Monday, Aug. 24 - St. Thomas - St. Paul, Minn.
Tuesday, Aug. 25 - Hamline - St. Paul, Minn.
Wednesday, Aug. 26-  Saint John's and Concordia - Collegeville and Moorhead, Minn.

Follow along with the tour on social media, as I'll be posting on FacebookTwitter and Instagram at each stop, and we'll be using the hashtag #MIACcamptour for both our football and volleyball treks around the MIAC. Kelsey has been crushing it on the MIAC Volleyball Camp Tour as well, and you can follow her progress on the blog or the Volleyball Camp Tour home page.

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