COLLEGEVILLE, MINN. – St. John's University is a place with an appreciation for a religious vocation, what with its association with the St. John's Abbey for Benedictine monks.
Now that we have established this, it must be said that the timing of Jordan Roberts' vocation could have been better for the St. John's football team.
Roberts was the Wyoming Player of the Year for Sheridan High School in 2011. He took a scholarship to South Dakota, was redshirted as a freshman, and then played 11 games in 2013 and six in an injury-limited 2014 season.
"I started thinking about devoting my life to God during football season last fall,'' Roberts said. "After a while, it was all I could think of. I knew that I wanted to enter the seminary.''
The University of St. Thomas is attached to the St. John Vianney Seminary. It also has a football team that likes to win games with a potent rushing attack.
Roberts enrolled in St. John Vianney for winter semester. He also started working out with the football team.
"We had heard he was a running back from South Dakota and was very good,'' left guard Richie Donovan said. "He started lifting with us and was a great, humble person. And then in spring practice, he showed his stuff.''
On Saturday, Roberts made his debut in the 84th game of the St. Thomas-St. John's rivalry. The Johnnies were 3-0, rated eighth in the country, and yet on Saturday, they were overwhelmed in attempting to stop Roberts and the Tommies' running game.
Roberts had 31 carries for 230 yards and four touchdowns in St. Thomas' 35-14 victory. This ended a two-game losing streak for the Tommies vs. the Johnnies.
St. John's had counters at the entrances on Saturday at Clemens Stadium and claimed a crowd of 17,327. That is the largest official attendance recorded in the history of Division III football.
The day started with an on-site ESPN Sports Center from 6 to 8 a.m. There were several thousand students — from St. John's, St. Benedict and St. Thomas — creating an audience.
This included eight St. John's students in the front row dressed in pope hats and robes featuring Johnnies red. The Tommies had a more serious link to the Holy Roman Church: an extra-talented running back headed for the priesthood.
St. John's Gary Fasching had won his first two games as head coach vs. the Tommies. Asked before the game about the 2015 Tommies, he talked of the size of the offensive line, and the always stout St. Thomas defense, and said:
"The new running back they have, Roberts, is good … really good.''
The first half ended 7-7 and yet it wasn't close to even terms. The Tommies had a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that delivered the smallish St. John's defense a facemask full of Roberts.
It took an interception by St. John's Trevor Warner to set up a 29-yard drive for a tying touchdown.
The impression at halftime was that St. John's had to figure out a way to move the ball, because there's no way its defense was going to continue to stand up to the battering from Roberts, his backup Jack Kaiser and the Tommies' giant line.
The Johnnies didn't make it to midfield with the first possession, and the inevitable occurred: an 11-play, 80-yard drive with a 12-yard run from Roberts for the tiebreaking touchdown.
Isaac Seering's interception of Nick Martin put the Tommies at St. John's 21. Six for Kaiser, then touchdown No. 3 for Roberts from 15 yards.
Kaiser scored the fourth touchdown before St. John's scored to make it 28-14. Any thoughts of a miracle comeback ended when Roberts burst over the left side from his 3 and went 34 yards.
Later, Roberts put up his fourth touchdown with a 40-yard run.
"I had gotten to know this rivalry through everyone talking about it,'' Roberts said. "It was an awesome experience to be part of it today.
"God has a plan for all of us, and for me, it was to come to the seminary. And the fact I can play some more football at the same time just makes God's gift to me even greater.''
The football part wasn't much of a gift to the Johnnies on Saturday.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500.