Jacques Perra admits to being concerned before his first meeting with Alex Fenske.
Fenske was a fifth-year senior and by all appearances the heir apparent for the St. Thomas quarterback job this fall. Until Perra arrived on campus after transferring from the Gophers, that is, and complicated matters.
"He could have been [bitter]," Perra said. "But I could tell he was a good guy as soon as we met. He wasn't going to be holding any grudges at all."
That same scenario — heir apparent quarterback facing an unexpected challenger — is playing out at a handful of MIAC schools this fall. The league has four transfer quarterbacks who spent last season at Division I schools, believed to be a first for the Division III league.
St. Thomas, looking to replace John Gould, who led the Tommies to the national title game a year ago, has two Division I transfers in Perra (recruited walk-on at Minnesota) and Gabe Green (Southern Mississippi scholarship player). St. John's welcomed Jackson Erdmann, a former Rosemount standout who spent last season at Penn State, and Gustavus has Michael Veldman, who declined a Division I scholarship at Western Illinois and spent last season at North Dakota State.
"It used to bug me more," said Bethel coach Steve Johnson of transfers from higher divisions. "Now I think it's kind of cool for our league. It just shows there's a lot of respect around the country for our league."
Of course, it should be noted that Johnson's likely quarterback, Andrew Dzurik, transferred from Division I Lafayette (in Pennsylvania) before the 2014 season.
Fenske is handling his newfound competition in the manner every coach hopes for. Having already overcome a major knee injury and ensuing surgery in 2014, Fenske sees this as just one more challenge to overcome.
Make that two challenges, with the presence of Green — who arrived this summer. Since Perra transferred last January and participated in spring practice, the fall competition has largely been Fenske vs. Perra, with Green looming once he's more familiar with the offense.
"I'm always open for competition," said Fenske, a native of Marshall, Minn. "I was raised a mentally tough guy, and the culture that this program was built around exemplifies that. "
And so, Fenske said Perra's arrival made him "take the extra step and go the extra mile" in his offseason preparation.
Fenske's work paid off — he'll start the opener — but St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso said "the two guys will continue to compete throughout the entire year.''
It appears Caruso will give both Fenske and Perra playing time early, especially since the Tommies appear poised for another strong season, meaning one-sided victories will not be unusual. The Tommie quarterbacks will benefit by the return of running back Jordan Roberts, the Division III national offensive player of the year last year when he rushed for 2,092 yards and scored 34 TDs after transferring from FCS South Dakota.
The affable Caruso almost bristled when asked early in fall camp if Fenske's status as heir apparent has made for an awkward situation by the presence of Perra and Green.
"Heir apparent is not a term we really like around here, because it assumes that there's a level of entitlement," he said. "And that's not something we ever allow in our program.
"We take guys who give us the best opportunity to be the best football team we can be. It's very simple."
Caruso said he recruited Perra hard during the quarterback's senior year at Roseville High School, when he was the Star Tribune's Metro Player of the Year.
"I loved him and his game, as much for who he is and how he plays as what he can do with his arm," Caruso said. "He's a very insightful and intuitive guy … [and] a beautiful decisionmaker."
Perra's first call when he decided to leave the Gophers — largely because of the departure of Jerry Kill, the man who recruited him — was to Caruso. No calls to other coaches were required.
The transition to St. Thomas, Perra said, has been made easier by the presence of Fenske. They worked together on campus during the summer, and the fifth-year senior is Perra's go-to on all things Tommie-related.
"I can go to him if I have questions about the offense, anything St. Thomas-related," Perra said. "I mean, he's been here four years, so he has all the answers."
The relationship between the quarterbacks is one reason Caruso doesn't seem concerned about any hard feelings over playing time.
"I've had a lot of people tell me, 'Boy, you've got a quarterback problem,' " Caruso said. "I tell them, 'No, a quarterback problem is when you don't have one quarterback you're comfortable with. This is a blessing."