NAIA Campus Report from 9/18/2007 by Jason Dannelly: Playing Football at Carroll College

Carroll College never disappoints. Whether it’s on the football field or with the people around the program; the Saints never disappoint. Since 2003 I have made an annual travel to Helena, MT to see the Saints play football. I’ve never walked away thinking the trip was less than expected.
From the game management, to the athletic staff, to the coaching staff and to the President everything is done with a purpose.  Everyone has a role with Carroll’s athletic department and they all understand what it is they need to do to make things a little better each week.

The first question I received from about ten different people on my cell phone on Saturday evening focused around one subject. “Are they good enough to do it again?”

I had two answers, one was a long drawn out analysis of an offense and defense revolving around the ins and outs of football and improvements that have been made over the last year.

The other was the simpler of the two: Yes.

The difference in the Saints from 06 to 07 is also very simple, experience. The Saints are deep on the offensive line and the group they have back on defense is nasty. Eastern Oregon’s Ian Shields felt the Saints just play at a totally different speed than everyone else they have faced.

You cannot see it on film but in person it is apparent. The Saints defense swarms opponents. The first guy is always there to slow up the play and there are six or seven other guys closing in fast to finish off the opponent. It is kind of like sending missiles into a battle zone. The first one catches everyone’s attention and the other six or seven do the damage.

But everyone knows that the Saints defense is going to be good. They are typically every year. The question mark last year and this year were if the offense would be good enough to carry this team through a tough postseason run.

This year’s offense just looks to be more in sync than last seasons. QB John Barnett still has a cannon but his throws look more relaxed and less forced than last year. Last year was kind of like that scene out of the movie “The Program” where the Heisman Trophy candidate Joe Kane is over and under throwing passes in fall camp and James Caan’s character says “Joe’s got too much pressure on him; he’s trying to win the Heisman on every pass.”

That’s what Barnett looked like to me last year at Carroll. This season he looks like a guy who’s just out throwing the ball around to his buddies. And his “buddies” have yet another year of experience.

Speaking of “buddies” I do have to mention my time away from football at Carroll College. Through the years and the annual visits to Nelson Stadium I find myself running into a lot of the same people. From that I have made quite a few good friends which goes to show you the welcoming environment at Carroll College.

Most of the people I have chummed around with were on the first national championship team in 2002. They are definitely a good group of guys and I have no problems sitting back and listening to them tell stories from back in the day. It is just fun to hear from them plus see how much their lives have changed from the championship in 2002 until the present day as they all work “real jobs” and get on with life after football. I heard plenty of stories from Shane Larson, Nick Porrini and Matt Vantresca this past weekend. I also learned from them that library’s are “intense”. (Yes, we’ll go ahead and reference that line as “inside joke” … glad you could play along.)

Carroll College almost never disappoints and the team that I saw playing Eastern Oregon on Saturday was the type of team that I could see hoisting the hardware in Savannah, TN come December. There is no easy road for the Saints this year as the Frontier Conference will be extremely tough with the surge of Montana-Western and the tough games to come against Montana Tech and MSU-Northern.
I guess that’s when we will find out who is better at “playing the football.”

I’ll see you this week at homecoming in Peru, Nebraska as Iowa Wesleyan takes on the Bobcats!

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