October 10th, 2010

Thomas More Climbing To New Heights

Paul Najjar

CSN Staff Writer


Thomas More Climbing To New Heights
photo from Thomas More College athletics

Current #9 team in Div. III, Saints continue to improve

In 2007, Thomas More College hired away Jim Hilvert from across-the-river rival Mt. St. Joseph College to lead the Saints’ football team. In 2008, Thomas More College introduced a new school motto, “Together in Pursuit of Truth.”

Now, in 2010, the Saints are 5-0, ranked #9 in the Division III rankings and climbing. They have won 16 of their last 17 games. They’re pursuing something great at Thomas More College.

Coincidence?

To hear coach Hilvert and several of his Thomas More Saints football players talk about team, togetherness, family and faith, maybe not.

“Our kids are hungry and they have a strong work ethic,” explained coach Hilvert. “We have great leadership from our seniors, our captains and our leadership council. We’ve come together as a team and have terrific team chemistry.”

Playing Division III football can be a labor of love. No athletic scholarships. Not many amenities. But lots and lots of passion. And for the Saints, that passion is born out of leadership. “We want to make sure that we have great leadership on our football team no matter if we have a group of seniors leaving,” said Hilvert. “We do a lot of work in the offseason talking to the guys about what it takes to be great leaders. Getting guys to step out of that comfort zone and create that one heartbeat that we need to succeed.”

Quarterback Robert Kues (“Keys”), a Sophomore from Newport Central Catholic who grew up just a 10 minute drive from the Thomas More campus in Fort Thomas, KY, has spearheaded the offensive attack for the Saints in his first season as starter. Through five games, Kues has passed for 696 yards and 5 scores and rushed for 298 yards and 2 touchdowns. The soft spoken Kues says the best is yet to come.

“We’re playing well, but there’s definitely room for improvement as a team and for me individually,” Kues said. “The coaches have instilled a lot of confidence in me, even when I don’t perform well I have to act like I know what I’m doing. They’ve given me a lot of support and have shown a lot of faith in me.” 

Sophomore cornerback Antonio Booker, who returned an interception for a score against Thiel College and recorded 9 tackles in the Saints most recent win over Grove City College, thinks the family atmosphere that coach Hilvert has created is key to the Saints’ success.  “At Thomas More, in this Catholic community, everybody’s a big family,” said Booker. “Yes, you have standout individuals, but you can’t win anything without your team. That basic value of being a family, plays into our goals as a team, but also in life because you can’t make it anywhere in life without your family. The family keeps you humble, keeps you closer to your teammates and friends.”

Another important cog for the Saints is Freshman RB Dominique Hayden, a punishing runner who has rushed for 491 yards and notched 11 touchdowns for the Saints. Not only is he a talented, productive player, coach Hilvert insists that he’s an even better person. “Even with all the success he’s had early in his career, Dominique is very humble,” said Hilvert. “He works hard. He doesn’t say a word.  He’s just a humble guy who brings his lunch pail to practice every single day and does a great job for us. He lets his actions speak for him.”

Likewise, Hayden thinks that coach Hilvert has a lot to do with the positive climate and commitment to excellence achieved in recent years by the Saints. “When I came here for a visit it felt like home,” Hayden said. “The program is family based and the atmosphere that coach Hilvert brings is always upbeat. He’s always encouraging everyone to become the man that he knows we can be.”

Beyond the compliments and mutual admiration, there has to be some good, solid football, right? John Wise, a senior offensive lineman from Louisville’s DeSales high school, anchors the line with his leadership and toughness. But even this senior, one of coach Hilvert’s first recruits, defers all the success to his coach. “Coach Hilvert is the true leader of our team,” said Wise without hesitation. “With his work ethic and the way he prepares us, he never takes a day off. He brings enthusiasm to the game, to practice, to the weight room. On and off the field he does the right thing. There have been times when I’ve been down and I’ve looked to him and just follow his lead.”

Great coach. Good, talented young men playing the game. That combo could well take Thomas More to a Division III championship game, though coach Hilvert sees room for improvement and lets his team know it. “We need to put the gas pedal on and we need to keep getting better as a team,” said Hilvert. “The scary thing for us is that we have yet to play a complete game in all three phases—special teams, offense and defense—and our kids know that. We need to get better in the little things: our technique, fewer penalties, not giving up big plays on defense. Just doing those little things to help us get better and achieve our goals.”

Lofty goals, to be sure, but goals that can be reached according to senior leader Wise. “If we stay on track and we work the way we have been working these past couple of months, the sky’s the limit for us,” Wise said. “If we do everything the right way I see no reason why we can’t be at Salem (site of the Division III National Championship game) at the end of the year.”

 

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