After last season’s jump from Division 3, St. Thomas will enter their second season in their Division 1 era

Last season, The University of St. Thomas became permitted by the NCAA to make the jump from Division III to Division I. The Tommies became the first program to make this big of a jump for all of their sports.
Head coach Glenn Caruso stated, “It’s crazy. It’s uncharted, that’s really the unique thing. Every one of the challenges that we’ve met over the last 26 years of coaching college football, in the upper Midwest we’ve always had a point of reference that you can ask this person or speak to these people or call this friend who had gone through it. This is so entirely unique that it’s a bit of a pioneering expedition and in that lies a lot of the fun and the excitement.”
The Tommies took their place in the Pioneer League Football Conference in the FCS. The Pioneer conference teams include Davidson, San Diego, Morehead State, Dayton, Marist, Valparaiso, Stetson, Butler, Drake, and Presbyterian. In the Pioneer Leagues 2021 preseason coaches poll, St. Thomas was charted at No. 8 out of the 11 teams. As far as the FCS as a whole, they would rank last out of 128 programs.
Head coach Glenn Caruso yells an order during a football game vs St. John’s October 1, 2011 in O’Shaughnessy Stadium. The Tommies won 63-7.
“We have three kids. Anna Maria is the oldest and she’s going to be a freshman here at St.Thomas this year playing softball,” said Caruso. “Cade is an 11th grader and True is a 9th grader. A year ago Anna, Cade, and I were in my little pickup truck. Anna was in the passenger seat and Cade was in the back. His phone pings and he says, ‘hey dad the Division 1 rankings came out.’ I kind of looked at Anna because she knows how the deal goes. She’s the oldest one, we don’t pay attention to stuff like that very much but I was interested. I said, ‘oh that’s good,’ and he goes ‘hey dad we’re 128.’”
“I looked over at Anna and she kind of winked at me and we didn’t say anything. As I was driving I kind of looked into the rearview mirror and I could see Cade’s eyes were kind of squinted. His mind was working. About ten seconds later he goes, ‘hey dad how many teams are in Division One?’” Anna goes, ‘128 (said laughing).'” He says, ‘what a great freaking place to start.’”
The Tommies started off their season with three non-conference teams. They were set to play their first match against St. Francis, however, it was canceled. The following week they faced Michigan Tech and took the victory, winning 12-9. The next week they faced the UNI Panthers, a top-25 FCS program, and lost 44-3.
“I think there was a lot of excitement, there was probably some anxiety of the unknown, there was a level of accomplishment to be able to do something that no one’s ever done before,” said Caruso. “I think all of those things culminated in a really focused team last year, but it was totally different.”
After three non-conference battles, the Tommies would have a good conference season going 6-2. They would have dominating victories against Presbyterian, beating them 54-15, and also Butler, beating them 36-0. Their two losses would come from San Diego losing 27-24 and Davidson losing 42-15. The newly arrived competitor took fourth in the Pioneer league standings. Davidson, San Diego, and Morehead State held the Nos. 1-2-3 spots.
“I think as a competitor it went tremendously well. As a coach I would say most importantly it laid an unbelievable foundation for what’s to come,” said Caruso. “A year ago last week the first rankings came out. We hadn’t played a Division 1 game yet and no one knew what to expect.”
“What I realized was there were the obvious adversities like the guys ran faster and they threw the football further and they hit harder but that’s the obvious. The biggest adversity is the coaching staff. This is a program where we knew very clearly who we were as a program. The main question was, can you scale that culture and that attitude while controlling the quality of the brand and the footprint of that brand as it begins to expand from coast to coast?”
With joining a new division and a new league, St. Thomas would face teams they had never faced before. With a lack of knowledge and little help from their peers, the Tommies would have to figure out the start of their new era.
“It was almost like you’re in the middle of the desert but you’re hearing crickets and it’s like ok well what do you do now? Each week it made it so challenging because we didn’t even know the teams we were playing,” said Caruso. “Of course, you try to familiarize yourself, you make calls, you watch the film, and you do all that kind of stuff. Our staff did an amazing job at all those logistical pieces.”
“But you don’t know how a team is going to rise to the pressure or if they’re going to fold to the pressure. If things start getting routine and mundane, how do they react to this? All of those intuitive things which were a huge part of the game day process, we had no idea. Not only did we not know any of the teams we were playing, but we also didn’t even know any teams that played the teams that we were playing. That allowed us to focus on ourselves and in hindsight that probably kept us pretty poignant during one heck of a year…” Caruso said.
Head football coach Glenn Caruso pauses before a football game against the University of Wisconsin (UW) River Falls September 11, 2010 in O’Shaughnessy Stadium. The Tommies won 27-3.
This fall, St. Thomas will kick off their second season in the Division 1 era. Last season, after accomplishing a winning record along with ranking fourth in standings, what is the mindset of the Tommies for this upcoming season?
“How much can we grow? I’m a big believer that the largest opportunity for growth is between one and two,” said Caruso. “So, between job one and two, between week one and two, between game one and two, practice one and two, year one and two. That’s been a staple of how we’ve built the program because you don’t know what you don’t know.”
“…Now we have a few data points, now we have some sort of assemblance of oh so that’s what this route combination looks like versus that level of competition. Now it’s on us to be able to apply what we learned while keeping who we are at the root of every single thing we do.”
With St. Thomas football starting their new era of Division 1, what impact do they plan to make? What kind of mark do they want to leave in not only the Pioneer conference but in Division 1 football?
“None of the intention or the purpose is new, it’s all exactly the same,” Caruso said, “That’s because our purpose for the last 15 years and for the next 15 years is going to be to utilize the sport we love, to be able to raise and educate men to be great fathers, and great husbands, and great leaders in their own community. I know people roll their eyes when I say this, that’s fine I don’t care… I’m just telling you that has always been this program. We just happened to win football games.”
On September 1, the Tommies will kick off their season in a non-conference match against Southern Utah in Cedar City, Utah at 7 pm. This will be their first-ever meeting with the Thunderbirds. Can St. Thomas top their performance from last season? Fans will have to wait and see.