Winning personality: Woodbury's Idowu helping St. Thomas reach new heights
With three-straight NCAA playoff berths, the University of St. Thomas football team is in the midst of building a dynasty - and Woodbury's Ayo Idowu is smack in the middle of it.
Last week, the Div. III Tommies wrapped up their second consecutive 10-0 season and finished 8-0 in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, becoming the first MIAC football team since St. John's in 1962 and 1963 to complete back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons.
Idowu, a defensive lineman, has been a starter for St. Thomas since his freshman year.
"I feel like I've been blessed to be on some very good teams," Idowu said. "It's incredible. Everyone has the same common goal. Everyone wants to win. When you have a bunch of guys who want to win, it's hard to get in the way of that."
Idowu graduated from Woodbury in 2009 after helping lead the Royals to the section finals and earning All-Conference honors as a senior. In addition to starring on the field, Idowu was an honor student and class president at Woodbury.
St. Thomas defensive coordinator Wallie Kuchinski said the thing that stands out most about the 6'2" 255-pound lineman is his personality.
"He's an awesome kid," Kuchinski said. "When you practice every day of the week and you're repeating the same things, it can sometimes kind of get to be mundane and monotonous work. But, it's fun to have a kid like Ayo there who is able to make practice fun and get fired up when you need to get fired up."
Idowu also lettered in lacrosse and ran sprints for the Royals track and field team at Woodbury. Kuchinski said Idowu is nearly as fast and athletic as the linebackers at St. Thomas.
"From a physical standpoint he has an incredible amount of tools," Kuchinski said. "He's incredibly athletic for a 255-pound defensive lineman. He has great feet and a great first step and is a very explosive, fast, defensive lineman."
St. Thomas is ranked third in the nation in the most recent D3Football.com top 25 poll, behind No. 1 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and No. 2 Mount Union (Ohio).
Coach Glenn Caruso's Tommies have won 24 consecutive regular-season games.
"Ayo has been a great addition to the program for many reasons," Caruso said. "He's obviously a stellar talent, but he also brings a bright demeanor and levity to our locker room which is greatly welcomed. On the field you can't argue with his productivity."
Caruso was named the Tommies head coach on Jan. 24, 2008. In his first season he led St. Thomas to one of the biggest turnarounds in NCAA Div. III football history, going 7-3 in 2008 after being 2-8 the year before. In just two years' time, he brought the Tommies from a 206th national ranking to No. 4 in the country.
"We certainly have a nice record and that's directly correlated to the work the kids are putting in," Caruso said. "Ayo is one of those guys that has come to practice prepared to work. I think Ayo and all the kids have just bought into trying to get better every single week."
Idowu said Caruso and St. Thomas approached him his senior year at Woodbury. Even though the team was coming off a 2-8 season, he saw a bright future with the Tommies.
"The first year we had a national ranking of 22," Idowu said. "That was big at the time. I thought 22 was looking good. But, we've improved on that every year I've been here. I feel like as long as we work hard and keep doing what we need to do we can reach that ultimate goal - and that's the national championship."
Doing it with defense
While St. Thomas' offense has averaged a league-best 34.2 points per game, its 3-4 defense has allowed only 10.0 points per game, which was the best in the MIAC and a school record - even slightly better than the 11.5 points per game allowed last year.
"I love every single one of the guys on the defense," Idowu said. "We've had so much growth on the defense. A lot of guys graduated last year. But our seniors have asked us to step up and we've done some crazy things and broke some records this year. Nobody thought we could do that, because we lost so many seniors. I'm just proud of everybody."
Like Caruso, Kuchinski joined the Tommies football staff in 2008 and has steadily helped the St. Thomas defense improve each season. This year, St. Thomas led the MIAC in points allowed (10.0), tackles for a loss (83), interceptions (14), takeaways (22) and third-down percentage (21.7) among others.
Kuchinski preaches something called "the essence of football," which is, basically, each guy on the defense working in harmony.
"To us, it's 11 players performing their responsibility to the highest ability," Kuchinski said. "If all 11 guys can do that we can be a pretty dominant unit. When Ayo came in as a youngster into the program, with the type of talent he had, I don't know that he necessarily understood that part of it. But, every year he's gotten better and better in that regard."
Idowu said, when he is on the field, he just tries to make sure he's doing his job.
"At St. Thomas every one of our players could be an all-star on another team, but that's not how we're going to win games," he said. "We're going to win games by doing our own job. My job is to make the linebackers' job easier pretty much. If I do my job, they can play faster and we can get tackles for a loss."
For Idowu picking a college was a major decision, but he's happy with his choice.
"I love St. Thomas," Idowu said. "Up to that point it was one of the biggest decisions I had to make in my life. I look back at it and I'm glad I made it, because St. Thomas is a great place for me."