|Tom Arth once quarterbacked the Blue Streaks to the national semifinals. Now, he's coached them there as well.
By Steve Frommell for d3photography.com
By Joe Sager
The last time Tom Arth prepared for the D-III national semifinals, it was 2002 and he was a quarterback at John Carroll University.
Now the Blue Streaks head coach, he's getting his squad ready for the program's second-ever semifinal appearance when it visits UW-Oshkosh (12-1) on Saturday.
|Reese Armstrong and the Blue Streaks defense has allowed just 43 points through three rounds of playoff football.
By Steve Frommell for d3photography.com
"It's an exciting time. I'm just really proud of our players and the time they've put in and the sacrifices they've made," Arth said. "I am really impressed with how we've really grown as players throughout the season. Getting to the semifinals is something they'll always remember as a group."
The memories of playing in the semifinals have stuck with Arth. While John Carroll dropped a 57-19 decision to Mount Union -- which also beat the Blue Streaks, 35-16, earlier that season in OAC play -- that postseason run is cherished.
"It was an incredible experience. I think about that a lot. I know these last few weeks, seeing a lot of former teammates at our games, it means so much to them, too," Arth said. "I remember what we went through and how hard we worked – what lifelong experiences for me and my family and all of my teammates. I know that's what it's going to be for this current group of guys. They're going to have this for the rest of their lives. For me, that's the most important thing."
Arth, an All-American, graduated in 2003 and spent three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. He sees some similarities with this Blue Streaks group and the one from 14 years ago.
"I know that the group I played with was so close. It wasn't just our senior class. It was everyone," he said. "That's something that was very evident to me with this group right from the time camp started and how our seniors and upperclassmen meshed well with the incoming group. The new players who came in were so dedicated and the current guys could accept them easily because of it. So, I see a parallel with how close they are, the grittiness they have and their belief in each other."
John Carroll's players have benefited from Arth's semifinal experience.
"We know we have a great coach in Coach Arth. We know he has been here before. We trust everything he's telling us. He does a great job motivating us each week," senior defensive back Reese Armstrong said. "It's easier for us, as players, to understand that coming from a guy of his caliber. If we had a coach who never got into the playoffs, we could take it like he could be trying to motivate us like any other week. Coming from a coach who has been there and done that and has a skillset like Coach Arth, it's easier for us to prepare and follow in his footsteps."
Senior offensive lineman Dominic DiTirro agreed.
"I think we have the best coaching staff in the country. That (experience) helped guide us here. Coach Arth has been here before. Even though this is newer for the school, we go into each game approaching it the same way. We focus on the process and think the results will handle themselves. That's been the message all season."
The Blue Streaks (12-1) hope to avoid a repeat of 2002 when they lost to the same opponent (Mount Union) twice. John Carroll fell on the road to the Titans once already, 33-14, to open the season.
"We have to have respect for them and we understand that we'll be a totally different team and so will they," DiTirro said. "Plus, there's so much on the line. You have to go in there knowing you want it more than them."
The defeat to open the year motivated the Blue Streaks, who won their next 12 games and knocked off two of the country's top-ranked teams (Mount Union and UW-Whitewater) in the past four weeks.
"We have to thank our coaches for preparing us the way that they have. We seem to be getting better each and every week. That's one thing we've focused on after that Week 1 loss. We stuck together and we focused on getting better each day than the day before," Armstrong said. "Both teams are very different now. We've all gotten better; I am not sure how much (the first game experience) is going to help either team. What I do know is it's hard to beat a team twice in one season."
While the semifinals are new to this group, many of the upperclassmen have a handful of playoff games under their belts. The team reached the first round in 2013 and quarterfinals in 2014.
"I think our experience over the last few seasons and being in the hunt helps us, too. Even though we missed the playoffs last year, a lot of these guys have experience and contributed on the other teams," Arth said. "The difference between winning and losing is not that much. We know that as well as anybody .We could have easily been 6-4. I think it comes down to the character and leadership of this group and its resiliency. They keep believing in each other. That's what I am most proud of with this group."