When Charlie Dowdle broke his hand playing football as a Chicago-area high school freshman, it cost him a chance to try out for the basketball team. So he went to Plan B, joining the swim team in the winter, which led him to water polo in the spring, a sport he went on to earn all-America honors in during his senior year.

None of which surprises those who know Dowdle.

“Charlie deals well with good situations, he deals even better with bad situations,” St. Thomas football coach Glenn Caruso said. “That’s why he’s able to have so much success, and mitigate failure.”

Dowdle is a 6-4, 238-pound tight end for the unbeaten Tommies, who face Mount Union on Friday night for the NCAA Division III title. He has eye-catching stats — an average of 21.9 yards per catch on 37 receptions and nine TDs — but his ability to deal with any situation is best evidenced in another job he maintains for the Tommies: holder on extra points and field goals.

On most teams, that’s a relatively anonymous position. With the Tommies’ anything-goes philosophy, Dowdle is the perfect combination of an athletic and never-rattled athlete for the job.

He has figured in eight two-point conversions off fake extra-point kicks this seasons (six rushes, one reception, one pass) and in the Division III quarterfinal game against Wabash he ran 18 yards for a touchdown on a fake field-goal attempt.

Dowdle takes great pride in knowing that the threats the Tommies pose with their special teams must weigh heavily on opponents.

“We like to think the other team has to work on defending [fake kicks] more than we have to work on it,” Dowdle said. “If we get a look we like, we’ve got the guys out there to execute it.”

Dowdle’s career is all about adapting to any situation, good or bad. He came to St. Thomas as a 193-pound freshman wide receiver, and said he quickly saw the handwriting on the wall that led him to move to tight end before his junior season.

“I kind of expected it,” he said. “I was a bigger body receiver, and not that fast.”

He’s done just fine at tight end, with 19 TDs in his past 20 games.

He was handpicked by Caruso and his staff to be the holder as a sophomore, although he spent that season backing up Dan Ferrazzo to learn the trade. Dowdle took over last season and has been entrenched since.

When Caruso lists Dowdle’s attributes for the job, he talks of “great hands, savvy” and what the coach calls his most dominant personality trait: thoughtfulness.

“It’s a constant attitude of trying to think, ‘How I can do better, or what I can do to put myself or the team in a better situation?’ ” Caruso said. “He’s got that better than any player I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Of course, those same attributes have helped make Dowdle a dominant tight end. Caruso in fact calls Dowdle “the best [tight end] I’ve seen at this level.”

Tommies running back Jordan Roberts, who transferred from FCS school South Dakota before this season, goes a step further.

“He’s as good as any tight end in the nation, in my opinion, at any level,” Roberts said. “I think he has the talent and work ethic to go to the next level.”

Dowdle, a marketing major, said he’s open to giving the NFL a try if the possibility exists. And when he considers all that has went into making him the player he is today, he does not discount those high school days playing water polo.

“There’s similarities in the two sports, for sure,” he said. “[Water polo athletes] get after it, punching, kicking. Anything under the water pretty much goes. It’s just like being in the trenches in football.”

Dowdle said he never seriously considered focusing on water polo in college, in large part because the sport at the college level is dominated by West Coast schools. Although he talked to a couple water polo coaches, he said he preferred going to school in the Midwest, and playing football.

Dowdle said there’s only one negative associated with his water polo background: the things his teammates have dug up on the Internet.

“They’ve found some old clips of me in the water, on YouTube, or me doing an interview in a Speedo or something,” Dowdle said. “They like giving me a hard time. I don’t mind. It’s pretty funny, and I like telling them about the game, because not many people know about it up here.’’