Monday
Aug172015

Now, it starts

Sixty-eight players unloaded cars. Sixty-eight players and their famiies shuttled boxes and baskets and crates of sports drinks into Ytterboe Hall this past weekend.

If that number is unremarkable to you, you weren't here last year. That's when 51 student-athletes made up the St. Olaf roster, the cumulative effect of two years' recruiting struggles sapping the program of much-needed depth and new talent.

Such is not the case this year, as nearly 30 incoming freshmen and transfer students will help St. Olaf get off on a much better foot. Want to know the difference another 20 players can make? Practices have more bodies to run drills and to model the other team's offensive and defensive plays. There is more competiton for playing time. Greater depth provides a greater ability to weather injuries. It provides the coaching staff with increased roster flexibility to fill positions of need.

So, watching the returning players joined by a sizeable freshman class was reason to smile. It was good to see more enthusiasm, more smiles. More young men.

Now, as they say, comes the hard work. Now, the coaches must develop that talent into competitive, successful MIAC football players. The players, through their hard work and determination and improvement, must come together to build a successful TEAM.

The Oles start their 2015 season with some major questions, and some real reasons for optimism. I will start with the questions:

Can the Oles successfully replace prolific receivers Joel Reinhardt and Alex Nelson? If the St. Olaf passing attack is to be successful, the Oles must quickly get several freshmen wide receivers and tight ends up to speed and contributing.

Can the Oles find effective defensive linemen? St. Olaf must replace three of the best players on the 2014 team in Colin Brown, Chad Wagner and John Bennett. And they are going to have to do it with youngsters. Returning sophomore Damone Coachman will be joined by several large and speedy freshmen who should benefit from the coaching of defensive coordinator Justin Lerfald, who returns to coaching the D line this season.

Will the Oles offensive line continue to grow and improve? St. Olaf lost two starters from last year's line -- center Nate Carlson and tackle Laish Boyd -- but returns with several starters in Justin Schmidt, Ted Dietz and Jaylen Jones, as well as several other players who saw significant game time. In a familiar refrain, it will be the job of new offensive line coach Eugene Crosby and Eric Yuen, promoted to offensive coordinator, to mold this group into a cohesive unit.

Now, the reasons for optimism:

Senior quarterback Nate Penz returns. Nate passed for nearly 1,700 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. A three-year starter, his leadership among his teammates is clear. In fact, he might be among the most well-liked players on the squad. If he can find new targets to replace Reinhardt and Nelson, Penz's senior year could be his best yet.

Senior running back J.J. Strnad, who rushed for 776 yards and had more than 250 yards receiving, should give the Oles' offense a real home run threat. And leaning on J.J's broad shoulders should give St. Olaf time to find and develop its new downfield receiving threats. J.J. played better as the season went on last year and even more will be expected this season.

Defensive backs Coleman Foley and Seamus Walsh, two of the team's three leading tacklers last season, and senior cornerback Tyler Vajdic return to anchor a defensive backfield that is smart and experienced. Foley led the MIAC in tackles with 95, had nine tackles for loss and an interception. Walsh, with 60 tackles, two sacks and more than seven tackles for loss, was in the league's Top 20. Vajdic had two interceptions.

Linebackers Colton Yahn, Ethan Lunning, Sam Kuss, David Jean and Danny Opitz give the Oles good size, speed and tackling ability.

Receiver/slot back/quarterback Troy Peterson had 28 receptions for 251 yards and two touchdowns and is sure to be an even bigger part of the offensive game plan in 2015. Running back Connor McCormick, the Oles' leading rusher in 2013, returns fully healthy after missing much of last season.

Over the next several weeks, Head Coach Craig Stern and his staff will attempt to translate the promise of a bigger roster into the tangible result of a successful football team. After two 1-9 seasons, the coaches know they will be judged on more than improving roster numbers and talent levels. They will be expected to win more games.

The real test begins Sept. 5, when the Oles host the University of Northwestern Eagles at Manitou Field.

Wednesday
Jul082015

Five weeks.

Five weeks.

There are five weeks until the opening of fall camp for St. Olaf football. Five more weeks of lifting and running and preparing for the 2015 season. But, when a team is rebuilding a program and replenishing the player pantry, recruiting is never-ending.

So it is for the Oles, as coaches last week entertained 30 prospective players from places as far-flung as Georgia and Texas and as close as Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri and Illinois. That prospective class of 2020 would join an anticipated freshman class this fall that hails from Arkansas, Washington, Ohio, California, Oregon, Florida and South Dakota.

Recruiting now has become more systematic, more meticulous, more detail-oriented than in years past, said Eric Yuen, the Oles offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. It has to be. When you are competing against St. John’s and St. Thomas and Bethel and Gustatus for student-athletes, the process needs to be thorough. It’s not just about getting numbers, but about recruiting students who will thrive in an academically challenging, family-oriented environment.

So far, it appears to be paying dividends.

Nearly 30 new first-year players are expected to arrive at the Hill on Aug. 14 for the opening of fall camp. It would be the largest class of incoming recruits in Head Coach Craig Stern’s three years at the helm. In all, Yuen said the Oles expect first-years, returning players and a handful of older students who are coming back to football after a year or two off to boost the total roster to 73 players in 2015. That is a marked improvement over last year’s 52-man squad.

It’s an improvement. But Stern and Yuen say they are not resting on improvement. Their roster goal for the 2016 season is 85-90 players; in 2017, it’s 100-105.

So, in a way, this next five weeks will be the first step toward the next several years of improvement, of replenishment. Of rebuilding back to levels once regularly enjoyed by Ole football – back to a future of contention in one of the country’s strongest D-III football conferences.

Five weeks.

I can’t wait.

Monday
Apr062015

THE 2015 TOM PORTER GOLF TOURNAMENT REGISTRATION IS OPEN!!


Registration for the 2015 Tom Porter Golf Tournament is now open!!! 

The Tournament will be held on July 13, 2015, at Willinger's Golf Course, with a 1:00 p.m. shotgun start.  Please put the date on your calendar and plan on attending.  More details will follow.  You may register for the event at http://www.oletouchdownclub.org/golf-registration/.  If you have questions, please contact George Wood at olefootball@comcast.net or 612.670.5709.

Friday
Feb202015

2015 Tom Porter Golf Tournament: Help us make it great!

http://pausenthrow.com/wp-content/uploads/winter-golf-examiner.jpg

 

Okay, I realize that golf may not be top of mind now that we are well below zero here in Minnesota; but believe it or not, the 2015 Tom Porter Golf Tournament is right around the corner! That's right, the 2015 installment of this important tradition is scheduled for Monday, July 13th at Willingers Golf Club in Northfield.

This year we are asking for volunteers who are willing to help organize and put in a little extra effort for this worthy cause. Listed below are a few of the many ways you can help.

  1. Recruit event sponsors, or encourage your own company to sponsor
  2. Donate auction prizes, or encourage others to donate
  3. Run the course games (punt-pass-kick, beat-the-coach, etc.)
  4. Coordinate gifts and prizes
  5. Help on-site on the day of the event

As you can see, helping out doesn't have to be a huge commitment, but any time you can put in will make a huge impact - and you'll have fun doing it! If you would like to help be a part of this special event, please contact us by replying to this email, or to me directly at gwood@littler.com

Thanks,

George Wood

2015 Tom Porter Golf Tournament Chair

Monday
Feb162015

Celebrating young men, looking ahead.

Post-season football banquets are always bittersweet. You celebrate the accomplishments of some fine young men and some amazing players, yet you know you are saying goodbye to several friends -- players, and their parents.

For the third time, I have been fortunate to witness the St. Olaf College Football post-season banquet. For the third time, I was immensely impressed with the maturity, the intelligence, the perspective and the talent of St. Olaf's players, coaches, trainers and staff. For the third time, I have left feeling optimistic about next season ... and a bit wistful about what has passed.

Once again, we say goodbye to some awesome seniors.

Junior defensive back Tyler Vajdic did an amazing job talking about how the Oles learned something unique from each of the team's 10 seniors. Determination, drive, resilience, passion, humor, spirit, leadership. Colin Brown, Joel Reinhardt, Kyle Foster, Dylan McDonough, David Skandera, Laish Boyd, Chad Wagner, Alex Nelson, Nate Carlson and Ezra Cougllin all took turns this season, inspiring, motivating, impressing and leading their teammates. The seniors were not many in number, but their influence on this team was palpable.

We celebrated accomplishments.

Kyle Foster was named the recipient of the Maj. Ben Danielson Award, the highest award given to a St. Olaf player for inspiration and leadership. Kyle had his season cut short before it began because of a concussion, yet every day he came to practice and worked to make his teammates and his team better.

Colin Brown was named first team All-MIAC defense, and was named St. Olaf defensive and team MVP -- the Tom Porter Award-winner. A dominant defensive lineman, Colin is preparing for professional combines and tryouts in an effort to extend his football career. Colin led the MIAC in tackles for loss, with a whopping 16.5.

Junior running back J.J. Strnad was named the team's offensive MVP, amassing more than 700 yards rushing and nearly 300 yards receiving. He also earned academic all-conference and All MIAC Honorable Mention honors. Tackle Ted Dietz, a sophomore, and junior running back Connor McCormick also earned academic all-conference.

Safety Coleman Foley was named All-MIAC second team, and was named the Oles defensive rising star. The sophomore led the MIAC in total tackles and solo tackles and is already a leader among his teammates. He was joined on the All-MIAC second team by sophomore linebacker Colton Yahn, who had his season cut short by a shoulder injury but still impressed with his play.

Joel Reinhardt, the team's leading receiver with 55 catches -- including a school-record 19 against Luther, was named All MIAC Honorable Mention. So, too, were quarterback Nate Penz and defensive end Chad Wagner, who led the team with 4.5 sacks. Joel, Chad, Kyle, Colin and Nate all were captains. Nate, a junior from Rochester, passed for nearly 1,700 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Seamus Walsh, a junior safety from St. Paul Central, was named the team's Most Improved Player and was recognized as St. Olaf's representative on the MIAC Sportsmanship team. The former high school quarterback tied for second on the Oles in tackles with 60 total stops, two passes broken up, two sacks and seven tackles for loss.

Freshman Troy Peterson, a receiver/running back from Edina, was named the Oles Rising Star on Offense. He finished the year with 28 receptions for 251 yards and two touchdowns.

And we look forward to growth by an Ole team that had many underclassmen starting in critical roles. That is going to continue. It has to. Freshmen and sophomores will earn heavy playing time as the Oles keep working to restock the cupboards for a team that has had some down years recruiting wise. Still, despite a 1-9 record in 2014, coaches, players and parents have good reason to hope for a better year in 2015.

Tyler, Colton, Seamus and Coleman are just four members of a young, improving defense that returns 8 starters and a dozen key contributors. On offense, Nate, J.J., Troy and Ted will lead a unit that returns seven starters. Both offense and defense had better performances in 2014 than in 2013.

But continued improvement -- and recruiting -- will be key.