There are a few parking spots going north on Cretin Avenue adjacent to the University of St. Thomas campus, as long as it is after 6 p.m. You park there on a cool, clear December night, and walk toward the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Center.

The twin to that outstanding athletic complex, the Anderson Student Center, is on the right, and it gives the familiar, crowded look to the campus as you arrive from the west.

Then, you reach the Monahan Plaza, and see the life-filled side of the student center, and storied Aquinas Hall, and the other refurbishments that have taken place with the buildings that surround The Quad, the center of campus.

I took in the wonderful winter view for a minute and said to Gene McGivern, Tommies sports information director: “This has to be an easy sell when coaches get the families of recruits to visit.”

He nodded, and then we took a left, past the dozens of students pumping stationary bikes and other workout devices in the huge exercise area of the athletic complex, and went upstairs to the fieldhouse.

The Tommies football team was going through an 80-minute practice in this jumbo-sized area in preparation for Saturday’s third-round home game vs. Wabash (Ind.) in the NCAA Division III playoffs.

Watch live video of the St. Thomas-Wabash game at noon Saturday.

The Anderson athletics building opened in 2011, followed closely by the student center. Already, St. Thomas was a powerhouse among Division III athletic programs, and these new facilities have increased that standing.

Now that Glenn Caruso has added football to the St. Thomas list of national contenders, any accolades aimed toward the Tommies in print are generally followed with derogatory e-mails — complaining that the large, vibrant school should elevate itself to Division II, a scholarship level of athletics.

It’s a good guess the same complaint is heard in Ohio, only more vociferously, toward Mount Union. The Purple Raiders football team has lost nine games since 2000: a conference game to Ohio Northern in 2005, to St. John’s in the 2003 national title game, to Mary Hardin-Baylor in the 2004 D-III semifinals, and six times to Wisconsin-Whitewater as those programs have traded off the past 10 national titles.

Complain if you must about the Tommies’ blowouts of several overmatched MIAC opponents this season, but know this:

St. Thomas football players are like the rest of the athletes you are going to find in the 13 schools that make up the MIAC, a gathering place for private schools since 1920 (with the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs as an exception from 1951 to 1975).

They are men trying to give their parents their money’s worth as students, and then as athletes.

I’ve sat down with MIAC athletes for interviews roughly 200 times in the decades of writing sports columns in the Twin Cities and I’ve been impressed with their commitment and attitude 99.5 percent of the time.

The latest impressive young adult on that list is Jesse Addo, a junior linebacker from Wayzata.

Yes, there are terrific academic options, facilities and support of the athletes, and there is also the same need to identify potential and develop skills as in other D-III programs, and Addo is Example A.

Brad Anderson, Addo’s coach at Wayzata High School, said: “You could see Jesse was a good athlete as a sophomore, but he didn’t really stand out.

“As a junior, he started to play more. And he was a very solid defensive end for us as a senior, even at his size.”

What was that size? “Same as I am now — 6-foot, 190 pounds,” Addo said this week.

Isn’t that small for a defensive end in Class 6A? “I was quick enough to usually avoid getting trampled by those big linemen,” said Addo, smiling.

Caruso and his staff look at 600 to 700 potential recruits on tape.

“We were recruiting about eight Wayzata kids that year [2012] — including Brandon Lingen, until the Gophers got on him,” Caruso said. “With Jesse, we liked the speed, the strength, and you could see that he was tough as nails.”

Addo’s parents are medical professionals who moved to the U.S. from their homeland of Ghana. They met in New Jersey, started a family and moved to Plymouth when Jesse was 8.

Jesse’s older brother, Kojo, played football, and Jesse was an enthusiastic disciple of his in the sport.

Addo had to work his way through a year of special teams at St. Thomas, then started playing outside linebacker last season, and now is the leading sacker with 7½ (he also has 16 tackles for loss) on a sack-filled Tommies defense.

“The academics, the people you meet on campus, the goals the coaches set for this program …” Addo said. “It was an easy decision to pick St. Thomas.”

You can understand that simply by gazing at The Quad on a clear December night.

 

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. • preusse@startribune.com