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ISSUE 118 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/29/2005

Off-season? It's on!

By Joel Stjernholm
Sports Editor

Friday, April 29, 2005

It’s been five months since they last took the field in pads, but the St. Olaf football team has been anything but idle this spring.

In 2004, the team finished with an overall record of 7-3, their best mark since 2000 and just their second seven-win season since 1992. The year was highlighted by a 21-19 victory over defending national champion St. John’s, a 31-point come-from-behind victory over Luther and a difficult road win at Gustavus.

Indeed, the 2004 football season was exciting, engaging and most importantly, successful – a tribute to the players coaches, and all individuals who were part of the program.

But the past, as they say, is in the past. The question on the minds of Ole football fans everywhere is the same: What’s in store for 2005? As the old cliché goes, every team begins every season with a 0-0 record. Does the 2005 St. Olaf football team have what it takes to repeat last year’s performance, or perhaps even to improve upon it?

There is no doubt that the Oles have the talent to compete for a MIAC title next fall. The team boasts a host of returning offensive starters, including quarterback Jason Wilsey ’06, wide receivers Horace Gant ’08 and Preston St. John ’08 and running backs Bobby Andrade ’07 and Marc Olson ’07. Add to that a healthy offensive line, anchored by captain Pete Cathcart ‘06, and you have the makings of one of the best offenses in the MIAC.

On the other side of the ball, Oles Pete St. Lawrence ’06, Trey Williams ’06, Matt Dean ’06 and Deontae Hutchins ’08 should deter any opponent’s passing attack in the secondary, and captain John Davis ’06 will lead a linebacker corps eager to stuff the run.

Despite its wealth of talented athletes, the team’s greatest strength lies not in its talent, but in its work ethic and off-season development. Off-season conditioning and strength training, as well as spring practices, are the cornerstone of any successful football program. According to team members, virtually every player has participated in organized off-season conditioning workouts or rehab sessions (for injured players).

Ole strength coach Craig Stern has led the team’s conditioning sessions, and his intense, rigorous workouts have received much praise from football players and coaches.

“It’s been amazing,” quarterback Jason Wilsey ’06 said. “In my time here, we’ve had three different trainers, and this off-season has been by far the most physically demanding. It’s been a really great chance for the older guys and younger guys to pull together and support each other.”

Superb conditioning will be necessary if the Oles hope to compete for a conference title. St. Olaf must not only tackle a difficult MIAC schedule, but they must also play some key games in challenging venues.

“The way our schedule is set up next year, we have St. John’s and Concordia away at the end of the season,” Wilsey said. “Those will be tough games, in the cold, against tough teams and tough crowds. These conditioning practices should give us the physical and mental edge we’ll need.”

St. Olaf head football coach Chris Meidt complimented his players for the time and effort they’ve personally invested in their training, noting that off-season practice is not mandatory. According to Meidt, the tremendous voluntary participation in conditioning practices is indicative of the strength of the players’ commitment to the program.

“It is exciting to see players get involved in conditioning,” Meidt said. “It’s one thing if [players] are only working out because I’m on their case, but their commitment shows the kind of [self-improvement] we focus on.”

While Meidt and his staff structure off-season conditioning schedules and orchestrate spring football practices, they have also devoted tremendous energy and resources to recruiting top-notch newcomers for the upcoming season. Thirty-six new players have committed to play at St. Olaf next year, and many more potential Oles remain undecided in the final days before commitments are due. If Meidt and his staff hit their goal of recruiting 40 players, this would be the second season in a row in which they did so, a remarkable accomplishment seldom equaled by other MIAC schools.

Despite the optimism surrounding the 2005 squad, question marks still remain. One of the team’s biggest off-season concerns – and one of its most unique cases – has been Andrade. Widely considered one of the most promising running backs in the MIAC, the former LA Times “Redzone Player of the Year” suffered a major ACL injury in early October that effectively ended his season.

“Coaches, boosters, friends, family – everyone was really supportive,” Andrade said about the injury. “But at the same time I was disappointed. I worked really hard for that season, and I thought I could do some damage. It was hard to watch from the sidelines. I’ve learned not to take anything for granted.”

Observers who speculated Andrade’s injury would slow him this off-season are dead wrong: he is lifting seven days a week, eating healthy and maintaining a rigorous rehab program. In fact, trainers have estimated that Andrade may enter next season bigger, faster, stronger and healthier than last. As if his physical progress wasn’t sufficient motivation, two pictures now hang on Andrade’s wall: one of the Carleton player who caused his injury, and the other of Bethel running back Phil Porta, who posted All-American numbers last season.

“I don’t just want to come in and play next year,” Andrade said. “I want to come in stronger than last year, to be the best running back that I know I can be. I want to help the team win. People think that injury was a weakness, but I think it was kind of a blessing from God. I’ve been working harder in football and in school – I’m a more focused player on and off the field.”

Andrade’s attitude is reflective of the spirit that has consumed the team. Ole football players don’t merely want to compete, they want to be their best. Spring practices and off-season conditioning sessions go a long way towards improving athletes speed, agility, size and strength as they work on entering the 2005 season in peak condition.

With a successful 2004 season already under their belts, the 2005 season holds the potential for even greater things from the St. Olaf football team. The team will no doubt encounter numerous challenges, but if their pre-season intensity is any indication, the rest of the MIAC better beware these Oles next fall.

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