Division III football players are all the same, aren't they? Undersized, cookie-cutter bookworms ... who weigh in at 305 pounds, wear tattoos honoring Norse gods, attend Star Wars conventions, take lengthy food-seeking road trips and prep to be doctors.
You know the type. The kind of kid who grows up loving baseball, who has to be talked into trying out for football his junior year in high school, who leaves his first college (St. Cloud State) for a more stringent academic institution, who opts for a tough course load at a tough school while becoming one of the catalysts for a resurgent football program.
Last year, Josh Ostrue won the Rimington Trophy as the top center in Division III. This year, he's on his way to All-America honors for a second consecutive season, and has helped lead the way for a running game that has propelled St. Thomas to the third round of the Division III playoffs. The Tommies will play at Linfield (Ore.) on Saturday.
"My dad always used to say that on the field, he wanted me to be punishing and dominant and never have to feel apologetic for it, and off the field he wanted me to say 'Yes, ma'am, no, sir' and open doors,'' St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso said. "Josh takes both to a new level. He is devastating on the field but equally kind and gentle and polite off the field, and that is refreshing to see.''
On the field, Ostrue is a force. Off the field, he believes in The Force.
"I've been a Star Wars fan since I was a kid," Ostrue said. "I wasn't a diehard, but my roommates here are, and we've gotten a lot of the stuff and gone to the conventions and watched the movies, and our house is decked out."
Really? "We've got the Darth Vader cardboard cutout and the posters everywhere," he said. "My roommate even has the plush toys.''
A Star Wars convention? "It was great,'' he said. "I thought it would be a lot of kids, but there were a lot of 40- and 50-plus guys there."
It takes a big man to admit to a Jabba the Hutt fetish, and Ostrue is 6-4, 305 pounds of linebacker remover. Caruso notes that the year before he arrived and moved Ostrue from tackle to center, St. Thomas went 2-8 and allowed 39 sacks. This year, St. Thomas has featured a dominating ground game, has allowed a nation-low three sacks and is setting new standards for what has been a downtrodden football program.
Behind Ostrue and an offensive line that averages 300 pounds, Ben Wartman has rushed for 1,684 yards and 20 touchdowns, and Colin Tobin has rushed for 848 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Ostrue played baseball at South St. Paul High until his history teacher, who also happened to be the football coach, talked him into playing offensive line. "I loved it,'' Ostrue said.
Football is not his only passion, though. He really likes Sonic drive-in burgers. Before the chain came to the Twin Cities, back in high school, Ostrue and some buddies drove four hours to Iowa on the longest drive-through burger jaunt in history. "It was worth it,'' he said.
Ostrue and some buddies also woke up one morning and felt they needed a road trip. So they headed ... north? For pancakes?
The Canadian border police didn't believe them, either. "They asked my roommate, why are you driving from St. Paul to Thunder Bay?'' Ostrue said. "My roommate said, 'Because we wanted to get some Canadian pancakes.'
"So they kept us there for four hours. They checked our wallets, everything. We might as well have said, 'We're here to do bad things.'''
Ostrue might as well say that to opposing linebackers. Caruso ran through a few Ostrue highlights in his office the other day, and on one play, Ostrue pancaked one guy twice. "You talk about winning through osmosis,'' Caruso said. "I felt like Josh's big, dominant personality would have a bigger effect if it was in the middle of the line. And it has. He's been awesome for us."
Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday, and 6:40 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org