Tommies QB O'Connell: Big talent from a small town

  • Article by: DENNIS BRACKIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 28, 2012 - 11:40 PM

 QB Matt O'Connell from tiny Clear Lake, Wis., attracted little interest from larger colleges, but St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso knew he'd be a standout.

hide

St. Thomas' quarterback Matt O'Connell

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Matt O'Connell's hometown of Clear Lake, Wis. -- population just over 1,000 -- is a relative urban metropolis when it comes to quarterbacks coached by Glenn Caruso.

Caruso's most notable signal-callers have been Wesley Beschorner (Lohrville, Iowa) at the University of South Dakota, and Dakota Tracy (Geneva, Minn.) at St. Thomas. The combined populations of Lohrville and Geneva do not equal 1,000.

Caruso, whose St. Thomas football team plays host to Hobart on Saturday in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals, says it's no coincidence his quarterbacks so often hail from places that are no more than dots on a map. Small towns, Caruso maintains, come with inherent advantages that are evident in O'Connell's maturity and leadership as a sophomore, first-year starter.

"In the smaller towns, the best athlete is usually the quarterback in football, the point guard in basketball and the pitcher in baseball -- so literally they have the ball in their hands their whole time growing up," Caruso said. "Plus, you get guys who understand the pressure of people looking at them for so many years."

O'Connell fits Caruso's description of a small-town star like a snug glove. He was a four-year, all-conference quarterback at Clear Lake High who amassed more than 10,000 total yards (5,465 rushing, 4,761 passing); an all-conference guard in basketball, leading his team in assists three times; and an all-conference and state meet qualifier in track.

Oh, yes, and a 4.0 student who was valedictorian of his senior class. A young man who so embraces his rural roots that he admitted to being concerned about his ability to adapt to St. Thomas' urban setting.

"I wasn't quite so sure, coming from a small town to the big city," he said. "But I really love the quiet, residential part of the city where St. Thomas is located. It's not like we're in downtown."

As far as adapting on the football field, no problem. O'Connell backed up senior starter Tracy last season and took over the QB job this season. In his first starting assignment in this year's opener, he rallied the Tommies from an 11-point deficit against Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the final 4 minutes by throwing for one TD and running for another.

Caruso calls O'Connell "a very calm, cool kid," qualities that were never more evident than last Saturday, when the Tommies fell behind Elmhurst 14-0 in the first quarter before rallying for a 24-17 victory. O'Connell completed 11 of 14 passes for 198 yards and ran for an additional 85 yards.

Folks in Clear Lake grew accustomed to such performances. Clear Lake coach Jason Sargent gushes with tales of O'Connell's athleticism, leadership and determination -- on and off the field -- and remains mystified his quarterback didn't receive more interest from Division I (no offers) or Division II (a handful) programs. He figures O'Connell's height (listed at 6 feet) and Clear Lake's small-school stature proved costly.

"We don't typically have someone from our conference make it to the state tournament," Sargent said. "I think that's part of it -- a lack of respect for our conference. ... I hope a lot of Division I and II schools are kicking themselves for missing out on the kid. I think he could have played at any level."

O'Connell said he was "kind of curious" about the relative lack of interest from bigger schools. But the young man who started a food drive at Clear Lake and is considering the ministry as a vocation said he didn't dwell on it and simply "tried to do the best I could with the hand I was dealt."

Caruso said his staff started following O'Connell during the quarterback's sophomore year at Clear Lake, making the Tommies among the first to take an interest. That helped land O'Connell, although probably not as much as meeting another small-town quarterback, Tracy, on his recruiting trip.

"We hit it off right away," O'Connell said. "Even during the recruiting process, we could relate to each other, probably because we're pretty similar in a lot of ways."

Beschorner, a record-setting QB at South Dakota with Caruso serving as offensive coordinator, was, like O'Connell, raised on a farm. Beschorner said that creates a toughness that helps in untold ways, including handling the intensity of a coach such as Caruso, whom Beschorner once described as being "no tougher than having to vaccinate 2,000 pigs in a weekend."

"No matter how tough football practice is, it's not tougher than working on a farm," said Beschorner, who succeeded Caruso as South Dakota's offensive coordinator and remains close to his former coach.

Driving a country road on a recruiting trip as he spoke, Beschorner said: "Sometimes, you have to go out of your way to see a kid. But it's just a treat to find kids in small towns."

That's something Caruso knows all about.

  • related content

  • Chart: Small town gems at St. Thomas

    Wednesday November 28, 2012

    St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso has found success in recruiting small town quarterbacks. Here's a look at the Tommies' past two starting signal-callers, Dakota Tracy (Geneva, Minn.) and Matt O'Connell...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront 5 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson 1
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 3
Minnesota - LP: J. Burton 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 3
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 7 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: B. Colon 2
Miami - WP: J. Cosart 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Boston - LP: A. Webster 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Odorizzi 7
Cleveland - WP: J. Tomlin 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: S. Downs 2
Detroit - WP: K. Ryan 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: C. Bassitt 4
Texas - LP: P. Klein 0 FINAL
Houston - WP: S. Feldman 2
Colorado - WP: T. Matzek 2 FINAL
Arizona - LP: V. Nuno 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wada 2 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Gonzales 13
Los Angeles - LP: J. Wright 1 FINAL
San Diego - WP: T. Stauffer 2
Milwaukee - LP: M. Fiers 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: J. Peavy 3
Oakland - LP: J. Samardzija 0 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: Y. Herrera 2
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 3 FINAL
Seattle - LP: R. Elias 1
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 FINAL
(6) Auburn 45
(16) Clemson 21 FINAL
(12) Georgia 45
Liberty 29 FINAL
(23) North Carolina 56
Ohio U 17 FINAL
Kent State 14
Louisiana Tech 16 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 48
Stephen F Austin 16 FINAL
(20) Kansas State 55
Fresno State 13 FINAL
(15) USC 52
Southern Miss 0 FINAL
Miss State 49
Texas-El Paso 31 FINAL
New Mexico 24
North Texas 7 FINAL
Texas 38
(1) Florida State 37 FINAL
Oklahoma State 31
(14) Wisconsin 24 FINAL
(13) LSU 28
Idaho 0 Postponed
Florida 0
South Dakota 13 FINAL
(3) Oregon 62
(25) Washington 17 FINAL
Hawaii 16
Utah State 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 FINAL
Seattle 1
New England 3 FINAL
Toronto FC 0
Columbus 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
FC Dallas 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
Real Salt Lake 1 FINAL
San Jose 1
Portland 3 FINAL
Vancouver FC 0
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Chicago 70 FINAL
Indiana 77
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pm
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pm
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. TBA
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Gophers in their season opener

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close