Thomas More Saints Primed for Big Season After Playoff Snub
After finishing 9-1 and barely missing the postseason a year ago, the Thomas More Saints are playing with an attitude.
“We had a great offseason because the guys really had a chip on their shoulder from being snubbed from the playoffs last year,” Hilvert said. “The guys were highly motivated and I think guys are really excited to start camp here in the next couple of days.
With plenty of talent returning in 2014, and multiple polls ranking Thomas More in the Division III preseason top-25, the Saints are primed for a big season. While Coach Jim Hilvert would like to find a balanced offensive attack, he has key running back Dominique Hayden in mind to take on much of the load.
“I just want to win the game. If that means giving the ball to (Hayden) 30 times a game and getting him 300 yards, or if we have to throw the balls 30 times, whatever it takes. We would like to stay balanced to keep the opposing defenses on their heels.”
Hilvert has never produced an NFL prospect yet, but he says that Hayden is getting some looks from pro scouts. The senior tail back has the size at 210 pounds and is a low to the ground at 5'9'' which only adds to the difficulty of bringing him down on tackles. Hayden delivered eye-popping numbers a season ago, racking up over 2000 yards rushing and totaling 25 touchdowns during his junior season. He was named as a first-team Division III All-American as well as an academic All-American. He has already set multiple school rushing records including single-game and single-season yardage and touchdown totals. This year, Hayden was announced as a preseason All-American.
That isn't to say that Hayden is a one-man show, though. Junior quarterback Jensen Gebhardt returns under center where he hopes to improve upon scoring only one touchdown from a season ago. Also mentioned by Coach Hilvert as notable offensive contributors this season are a few local products: sophomore fullback Colin Justice from Beechwood high school, receivers Goose Cohorn and Bobby Leonard, both from from Dixie, receiver Ryan Winkler from Simon Kenton and offensive lineman Jake Henderson from Covington Catholic.
The Saints run a fast-paced, no-huddle offense out of the pistol formation. Defensively they are based out of a 4-3 formation. Their priority is to limit the ground game of other teams and make them a one-dimensional passing attack.
“Our defensive motto is 'let's stop the run and have some fun,” said Coach Hilvert.
The defensive line is looked at as the center piece to achieving that goal. Junior Erick Butler, senior Tyler Calhoun, senior Chris Bowman and senior Will Freibert make up the Thomas More front line and are tasked with the bulk of the run-stopping responsibility.
Hilvert also likes the experience his linebackers racked up in the past few seasons led by senior Jake Fishburn and flanked to either side of him are Nate Dorsey and Nick Pennekamp. Despite their experience, though, Hilvert says he looks for one of these men to step up and be the man at the position.
Hilvert enters his eighth football season with Thomas More after working previously at Mount St. Joseph's in Cincinnati. He and his staff are focused for every game, but when asked about a conference rival, he pointed to the well-established program of Washington & Jefferson, the team that edged out the Saints for the automatic playoff spot of 2013. The Saints travel to Washington & Jefferson on October 4, where they intend on reclaiming their conference supremacy and avenging their only loss from the year before.
“We have to take care of business this year, and I think the guys are excited about that chance,” Hilvert said of his team.
The Saints begin the season by traveling to Wesley, ranked fifth in the Division III preseason top-25 polls, on September 6.
Written by Bryan Burke, RCN Staff Writer
Photo via Thomas More College