Opening loss doesn't hurt optimism for Mac football '09

By Patrick Murphy

Macalester has been called many things: internationally renowned liberal arts institution, purveyor of acceptance, home to diverse students and so on and so forth. Academics may be Macalester’s claim to fame, but don’t be surprised if “home to an emerging football program” becomes associated with Macalester in the near future. Macalester didn’t exactly light the world afire with their season-opening 54-14 loss against neighborhood rival St. Thomas, but don’t jump to conclusions just yet. St. Thomas is ranked 20th in the nation among D-III football programs, has a roster of over 100 players and boasts a defensive back who’s been touted as a legitimate NFL prospect.

None of this should serve as an excuse for Mac’s performance last Saturday. UST is one of the top D-III football programs in the nation, and they have worked hard for their success. However, the Mac players who spent last semester waking up early to lift weights without time to fuel up on cheesy eggs know they can do much better and are hell-bent on putting Macalester football back on the map.

“Players are serious about proving the legitimacy of this football program,” said head coach Tony Jennison.

As it stands now, when one mentions Mac football, the first thing that comes to mind is the team’s past futility. However, to those who have paid attention in the past few years, it’s evident that this program has come a long way since being dropped from the MIAC in 2001. After going 4-5 the past two seasons, the Scots are looking to record their first winning season in over two decades.

“Our entire team has agreed upon and put forth a definitive vision for a winning season with at least one victory over a MIAC team,” said defensive lineman Will Dhonau ’12.

Mac football has not had a winning season in 23 years. However, the team’s goal of a winning season this year is not unrealistic. Jennison is in his second year as head coach, meaning he has two of his own recruiting classes (two of the largest in the last decade) and has last year’s experiences to build upon.

This year’s team boasts a 57-man roster, one of the largest in years. Although the team is extremely young (38 underclassmen), there is no shortage of talent. Coach Jennison highlighted four freshmen to watch this season: cornerback David Melms, safety Aaron Gallegos, and outside linebackers Brandon Murphy and Zach Englert .

Under Jennison’s watch, training and conditioning have been emphasized more than ever before. During spring semester last year, the team adopted a new program under strength and conditioning guru Steve Murray.

“Team workouts at six a.m. were brutal, but it was a bonding experience and gave us all an edge,” Dhonau said. “He (Murray) worked us to the bone. There definitely was no shortage of sweat. Or puke.”

Although there are only five seniors on the team, the group of returning players includes a number of impressive veterans. Quarterback Trevor Miehe ’11 heads the operation, with running-back/wide-receiver Jake McDonnell ’10, running back T Joe Loiselle ’12, and tight end Matt Mitchell ’11 as his primary targets offensively. Defensively, Matt Hurni ’11, Will Dhonau ’12, Mike Kapernaros ’10 and Eric Engstrom ’11 on the D-Line and linebacker Josh Boomgaarden ’10 will be counted on.

That defense was victimized early and often against St. Thomas. The Tommies gained over 300 yards rushing and had a couple punt returns for touchdowns. Still, there were bright spots. McDonnell blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown and Loiselle gained 107 yards on 21 carries while adding a touchdown of his own.

This weekend, the Scots travel to St. Bonafacious to faceoff against Crown at 1:00. Macalester beat Crown 17-7 last season, but both Dhonau and Jennison pointed out that Crown is a much-improved team, which should make for an interesting matchup.