When Glenn Caruso walked off Palmer Field last Saturday after his team defeated St. John Fisher 45-10, he paused at a concrete and stone pedestal and tapped a plaque with the word “Pride" below the St. Thomas football logo. A few feet away on the other side of the walkway stood a second pedestal with a plaque and the word "Passion."
Moments later, when Caruso stepped into a raucous locker room full of singing and chanting and dancing players, the first thing he did was tap another “Pride" plaque.
Those plaques – no, those words – are indeed Caruso’s touchstone, which the dictionary defines as “a criterion or standard by which judgment is made.” I like that definition because it speaks clearly to not only a coach’s pride in his team and his passion for the game but also the principles that guide him and, by extension, his players.
As Caruso prepares his team for a NCAA Division III semifinal game against two-time defending national champion UW-Whitewater on Saturday, it is worthwhile to reflect on what his pride, his passion and his principles have wrought in just four years.
An element of pride certainly was present in 2007, when the Tommies went 2-8, because even struggling teams play hard and want to represent their school well. But their passion for the game clearly was waning, and fans left games disappointed with both the results and the direction the program was heading.
Caruso arrived in January 2008 full of energy and enthusiasm, and the more fans heard him describe his aspirations, the more his passion rubbed off on them. They began to think that maybe, just maybe, he could turn the program around, although he kept reminding us that he alone couldn’t do the job – that we had to help him. He believed strongly in the “it takes a village” concept.
One by one, we jumped aboard the Caruso Express, and it began to pick up steam: a 7-3 record in 2008, with all three losses in the final seconds; an 11-2 record in 2009, with two NCAA Division III playoff wins and a trip to the quarterfinals; and a 12-1 record last year, with two more playoff wins and another trip to the quarterfinals.
Many of us wondered what this year would bring, especially with Caruso’s first class of recruits reaching their senior year. Expectations were high, but as excited as the coach can get – and as excited as he can make you feel – he always insisted on not looking ahead but in taking everything one game at a time. “Enjoy the journey” became a constant reminder.
Enjoy it we have. The Tommies are 13-0 and headed for what arguably is the biggest football game in school history. They have thrilled us all year long with big victories (who can forget 63-7 over St. John’s?) that have been chock full of great open field runs, thrilling end zone catches, powerful sacks and smash-mouth blocks that opened holes that you or I could have run through for a first down.
Most of all, they have restored Pride and Passion.
Next time you walk by one of those plaques, tap it!