Dec. 5, 2009

By Wendell Maxey
Special to NCAA.com
 
MCMINNVILLE, Ore. -
Glenn Caruso walked to the St. Thomas Tommies locker room knowing his football team had given its all against Linfield. And it wasn’t enough.
 
It just wasn’t Caruso’s day with the Toms falling 31-20 in Division III quarterfinals against the Wildcats.
 
“We will learn from this situation,” Caruso began about St. Thomas. “It’s a step in the process.”
 
The loss is tough to swallow, a stumble in an otherwise impressive year at St. Thomas that will surely be remembered for some time.
 
In his second year, Caruso took what was a 2-8 program and made the most dramatic improvement in Division III football over the last two seasons. After going 7-3 last season and finishing second in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference behind perennial champion St. John’s this season, the Tommies finished their season Saturday at 11-1 after reaching the Division III quarterfinals.
 
Minutes after the heartbreaking loss to Linfield, Caruso looked back on a long season before already looking ahead to next year and the chance to pick up where St. Thomas left off.

“People didn’t think this would happen in the second year of us being here. But what I love – and this is very important – it was geared for the long haul, not a quick fix or flash in the pan,” Caruso said with the Tommies' last conference football title and playoff trip coming in 1990.
 
“We’ve done it with local kids and high school kids. We’re done it properly so there is some sustainability. The kids are just working their butt off.”
 
Flanked by five of his St. Thomas football players in the post game press conference, Caruso commended his team. He applauded Ben Wartman’s rushing ability. He boasted about “the spark” Dakota Tracy gave on Saturday stepping in at quarterback. He remembered how the Tommies broke school season records for scoring (486 points), touchdowns (67) and rushing (3,095 yards), and total offense (5,244).

Yet without a win in the quarterfinals against Linfield, all those numbers didn’t seem as meaningful. Still, the season was a success.
 
“There’s no question I thought we would get to where we are,” Caruso said. “ I say that without an ego. It’s happened a little quicker than most thought. This is a school that has a predisposition to athletic success.
 
“If you look across the board – whether it’s a national championship in baseball or track or basketball – they’ve had success, and the storyline was: ‘Why isn’t the football program pulling its weight?’ We knew it had a lot of tangible things, and a lot of intangible things. When we got here, the cupboard wasn’t bare. There was talent; it just needed to be cultivated.”
 
Before Saturday’s football game, Caruso said he expected a hard fought game between St. Thomas and Linfield. He certainly got that and more. But the undefeated Wildcats contained Wartman and Tracy’s spark off the bench wasn’t enough. But it is something to build on.
 
“We’ll look at the film on the trip home, have a meeting tomorrow and then take a little vacation before we start recruiting, “Caruso said. “We are a good team. We are a hard working team. But it’s the things you don’t see that got us to where we are right now.”