The St. Thomas Tommies have had a remarkable season. This Friday night, they return to Salem, Virginia to play in the DIII National Championship. for their second Stagg Bowl appearance since 2012.
The years in between the last St. Thomas Stagg Bowl team and the current one saw consecutive 8-win seasons which were considered down seasons to the Tommies, despite making the playoffs last season. They have spent the past two seasons searching for the right balance to get them back to the championship game.
That balance has come on both sides of the ball. The Tommies have DIII’s second best scoring offense, scoring 735 points this season, for an average of 53.6 points a game. They also have the nation’s second best scoring defense, allowing a paltry 138 points over 14 games, good for 9.9 points an outing.
That balance has also come within the offensive plan, as they have an aerial attack and ground game that can win them games as a unified front or by themselves if that is what is needed. Their fifth best total offense (529.4 yards per game) is the perfect blend of passing (271.4 yards a game) and rushing (258.1).
That balance has also come on the field, as well as off of it. No other Tommie has exemplified that more than senior running back Jordan Roberts.
Roberts transferred to St. Thomas at the beginning of this year. He left a scholarship behind at the FCS program at South Dakota after two successful seasons there, amassing 1,001 total yards and three touchdowns for the Coyotes.
“I had experienced some tough times personally at South Dakota that left me searching for answers,” Roberts explained of his decision to transfer. “Eventually I found those answers in God and felt he was calling me to join the priesthood. When I heard about St. Thomas and St. John Vianney, I visited and fell in love with it. That pretty much made my decision.”
It’s not often that you read a story about one of the nation’s elite running backs, and learn that they are studying to become a priest. Those are two walks of life that are seemingly based on rigorous schedules and standards. As the featured back in newer system and a seminarian as well, Roberts has learned that life is about achieving balance.
“It’s very challenging,” Roberts said. “Both football and the seminary require a big commitment, but the leaders of the seminary and my coaches are very understanding towards each other. There is a lot of give and take, and I couldn’t do it without the support of both sides. It’s a challenge, but I love it.”
Earlier in the spring St. Thomas head coach Glenn Caruso took the team to their campus in Rome. This was an important trip, especially for Roberts with his new team and coach. It was one that he will forever cherish.
“I was so fortunate to get to go to Rome,” Roberts said. “It gave me time to develop relationships with my brothers on the team and Coach Caruso, and grow closer as a family. It also really made me realize how fortunate I am to be where I am. I am very fortunate to be on this team and to have the chance to travel to Rome with the role it plays in the Catholic faith was amazing.”
Most every head coach will tell you that their team’s goal each and every season is to go out and win the conference championship and get the chance to compete for the national title. Behind an 8-0 record in the MIAC, they achieved that first goal. Sitting at 14-0 patiently awaiting their chance in Virginia, they could achieve that ultimate goal Friday. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise to Roberts because he believed in his teammates from day one.
“I think as a team, we expected to be here playing in this game,” Roberts said. “We came together at the beginning of the season and said this was our goal. We have a chance to achieve that goal on Friday night, so I think we all expected to have the year that we have had.”
Roberts came out of the gates hot for the Tommies, scoring five touchdowns in his first two games. The third game of the season, well that’s when Roberts staked his claim.
It was the MIAC opener against their rival St. Johns. That day Roberts ran for 230 yards while catching two balls for 10 more. He also added four touchdowns in a contest that St. Thomas would win 35-14. While he quickly became enamored on campus, Caruso had already realized just how special Roberts was.
“Everybody wants me to say it was the St. John’s game where he ran on the nation’s top defense for 240 yards and four touchdowns,” Caruso said of his “a-ha” moment. “But to me, it was the week before. He rushed the ball maybe 15 times for about 86 yards. I pull him out and put Jack Kaiser in there and he scores a touchdown. The sideline is erupting and the most excited guy on that sideline is Jordan Roberts. We knew athletically what we had in the spring, that was a no brainer. But that was the moment I realized we had someone special.”
What Roberts has done on the field and off the field has been a coach’s dream. He has shown the ability that you can achieve your goals in different walks of life with hard work and balance. That same balance that the Tommies had been looking for the past two seasons.
“He’s a great student, he’s a great man, he’s studying to be a priest,” head coach Glenn Caruso said, “and by the way he happens to rush for 2000 yards and scores over 30 touchdowns. Here’s a guy who’s really a microcosm of how you want your team to look like, and how you want them to live their life with proper balance.”
Not long ago Roberts was faced with a decision that would change his life as he knew it. He had to choose between leaving behind a scholarship for a DI football program, or pursuing his calling in life. Now he sits preparing to help bring home St. Thomas their first National Championship. Just how much has this decision meant to him?
“Extremely rewarding,” Roberts said of transferring to St. Thomas. “I could not be happier with where I am right now. I trusted God in making this decision and am so happy with where He has led me.
“My life could go any number of directions right now, so I am just going to enjoy my time playing and see what God has planned for me from there.”