There are eight classes of football in Illinois. Quarterback Gabe Green led a Springfield high school, Sacred Heart-Griffin, to a second straight 5A title as a senior in 2014.
Green did that by completing 75 percent of his passes, 162 of 216, for 2,841 yards, 37 touchdowns and two interceptions. If this had been the NFL, Green’s passer efficiency rating would have been 152.3, six points shy of perfect.
At season’s end, Green was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Illinois. To put that in context, the winner of that award the previous two years was running back Justin Jackson, who has a bowl game left in his tremendous career at Northwestern.
Green was 6-foot and 205 pounds, an excellent athlete and more accurate than strong-armed as a quarterback. The only FBS scholarship offer came from Todd Monken at Southern Miss and Green accepted it.
Southern Miss was 9-5 in 2015 as Green sat out a redshirt season. Monken then went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as offensive coordinator, and the coaching change was the final motivator for Green to find another college.
“I wasn’t worried if it was a scholarship school or not,” Green said. “I wanted a place with a quality program and where I could play right away. One of my high school coaches mentioned St. Thomas.”
Jacques Perra, Minnesota’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2013, was a walk-on with the Gophers for two seasons. He announced in mid-January 2016 that he was transferring to St. Thomas.
Green visited later and was impressed with the campus, the curriculum, the facilities, the coaches and the players that he met.
“I was really straightforward with Gabe,” Tommies coach Glenn Caruso said. “I told him if he came to St. Thomas, it would be as part of a three-quarterback competition with Alex Fenske and Jacques.”
Fenske was a fifth-year senior with much experience in the system as a backup to the graduated John Gould. Perra had the résumé as an outstanding quarterback at Roseville High.
To his credit, Fenske won the job in August practices, and became the MIAC Player of the Year for 2016. Perra was the backup, playing in nine games and throwing 75 passes. Green was on the field briefly and threw 12 passes.
It was clear that Perra was in line to be the starter in 2017. Green had handled a redshirt season in Hattiesburg, Miss., and then a year as a third-stringer in St. Paul.
“I wanted to play very badly,” he said.
Green came back in February from the interim semester and sought Caruso to offer this message: “I would like to play wide receiver.”
This might be Division III, but St. Thomas has the same type of concerns about quarterback depth as you find in Division I, or the higher levels of Division II. You might choose to hear this statement as arrogant, but Caruso is also being accurate when he says:
“We aren’t building a team to play 10 games and then be done with the season. We are building to play deep into the playoffs. For that, you absolutely need depth, especially at positions where injuries or other issues can derail everything you’re trying to do … quarterback, running back.”
Meaning, Caruso didn’t say, “That’s wonderful, Gabe,” when his probable No. 2 quarterback said he wanted to try wide receiver, but he did permit Green to make the change.
Green only had three catches in blowout victory over Carleton in the first three games of the season. Then, he sped away on a 61-yard touchdown pass in the Target Field extravaganza vs. St. John’s, and that made him a top option for Perra.
Last Saturday, Green caught a pair of touchdown passes in the first quarter in St. Thomas’ hard-earned 29-13 victory over Berry. He had eight catches for 128 yards, and increased his season touchdown total to eight.
How does a quarterback who had an FBS scholarship feel about being a sophomore wide receiver?
“Great,” Green said. “It’s even better than I hoped when I asked for a switch.”
Caruso can celebrate Green’s switch because he remains well-stocked behind Perra entering Saturday’s national quarterfinal at defending national champion Mary Hardin-Baylor.
“Our backup is Ronnie Jones, a sophomore from California, and we also have Michael Frankl, a transfer who was at Iowa State,” Caruso said. “If you’re going to play 13 or more games, like we hope to do every season, you want to be secure at quarterback.”
There’s a coach a couple of miles away called P.J. who would agree with Caruso on this.