SALEM, VA. – Dominic Truoccolo grew up in a San Francisco neighborhood near the Golden Gate Bridge, a city and a landmark made sentimentally famous in song by Tony Bennett. Matt Christensen grew up in Nicollet, Minn., near Swan Lake, a body of water made notorious through the pleading of hunters’ duck calls.
The population of San Francisco is 850,000. The population of Nicollet is 1,100.
When planning dinner in San Francisco, the biggest question is: “America’s finest Chinese or America’s finest Italian?’’ When planning dinner in Nicollet, the biggest question is: The meat counter at Schmidt’s or George’s City Meats?
Truoccolo graduated from St. Ignatius College Preparatory, a Jesuit school founded in 1855. Christensen graduated from Nicollet High School, a school small enough to play Nine-Man football.
Truoccolo was a fullback for the Wildcats. When he was a senior, the starting running back was hurt for the playoffs and Truoccolo replaced him. In three playoff victories, he rushed for 385 yards and five touchdowns and received the Most Outstanding Back award for the Central Coast champions.
Christensen was a standout athlete in football, basketball and baseball for the Raiders. For a couple of springs, he was a shot putter in track and field as well as a ballplayer.
Truoccolo and Christensen wound up as teammates at St. Thomas. And there, they have shared a task during the Tommies’ magnificent 2015 season: to block.
Truoccolo is the fullback. Christensen is a tight end. Don’t let those titles that bring hope of touching the football fool you. They block.
And never will the muscle that Truoccolo, a 5-10, 230-pound senior, and Christensen, a 6-3, 255-pound sophomore, add to the Tommies’ much-honored offensive line be more important than on Friday night against Mount Union.
The prize in this game, the 43rd Stagg Bowl, is the NCAA Division III national championship, and it features a St. Thomas offense that has rushed for an average of 258 yards in its 14 victories, and a Mount Union defense that has allowed 44.5 yards per game rushing in its 14 victories.
If St. Thomas can’t run the ball with tailback Jordan Roberts, it will lose to the Mighty Mount for the second time in four seasons in the Stagg Bowl. Simple as that.
The Tommies have that big front, tackle to tackle, and a pass-catching, tough-blocking tight end in 6-4, 240-pound Charlie Dowdle as the main-eventers, and then they can add the 485 pounds of Truoccolo and Christensen to the point of attack.
“We looked at Dominic on tape and said, ‘This kid can get low and block,’ ” St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso said. “I went to St. Ignatius to recruit him and said, ‘If you join us at St. Thomas, I’m going to have you block ‘iso’ 50 times a game, and I’ll try to get you one carry.’ Anyone who will say yes to that offer is our kind of a football player.’’
Truoccolo recalled Caruso’s recruiting pitch and said: “I thought maybe I could change his mind once I got here and would get to run the ball some. Then I saw the running backs we had here, and I knew there was one way for me to play … to block.’’
Truoccolo has played in 44 games in his Tommies career. He has 46 carries for 126 yards, seven receptions for 65 yards, and six total touchdowns.
That has made Truoccolo a veritable Chuck Foreman when it comes to handling the football in varied ways compared to Christensen. The player who was asked to do everything for his Nine-Man team in high school hasn’t caught a pass yet as a Tommies tight end.
Even his team bio doesn’t cut Christensen any slack. It starts: “Blocking tight-end …’’
Christensen said: “I was a running back for three years in high school because I was one of the biggest kids in Nine-Man football. That’s not the case here. I’d throw to Charlie Dowdle, too.’’
Truoccolo’s father is Italian and Puerto Rican, his mother is Filipino, and he has the easy way with words of a city kid. Christensen is a quiet lad from farm country.
On Friday night, they will try to assist in making cracks in a Mount Union defense that has so far refused to bend against the rush. Then again, Roberts made St. John’s break twice, and Linfield break, and those were probably two of the five best teams in Division III in 2015.
“Jordan hits the hole, if it opens quick, but also has the patience and the great feet to wait for a block,’’ Truoccolo said. “He’s tremendous.’’
Christensen looked at his teammate and nodded.
Roberts has 1,957 yards and 32 rushing touchdowns in his first D-III season as a junior transfer from South Dakota.
If the senior from the big city on the hill and the sophomore from the small town on the prairie can help push those numbers to, say, 2,100 and 34, will it mean a first national championship in football for the Tommies?
It will mean they have a puncher’s chance.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500.