As far as recent memory stretches, Carleton College has never been considered a “football school.” But on October 2, the Carleton College football team defeated Macalester 24-10—keeping possession of the Book of Knowledge, the traveling trophy in that historic rivalry. The victory improved the team’s record to 4-0, with as many tallies in the win column as they enjoyed during their last campaign in 2019. Under Head Coach Tom Journell’s relatively new leadership, Carleton football has transformed drastically, and, if the team emerges with a victory this Saturday against crosstown rival St. Olaf, it might finally be appropriate to dub Carleton a “football school.”
In addition to boasting an undefeated record for the first time since 2013, Carleton football is gaining recognition across the NCAA. The team currently ranks 2nd in the nation in turnover margin, 1st in red zone defense and 5th in rushing yards allowed. Much of this season’s success can be attributed to Coach Journell, who came to Carleton in 2018 and has completely revamped the program.
“From the team culture, to our outlook on the future, almost all of the processes have changed,” explained Captain Beau Nelson ’21, who plays wide-receiver. “We are a lot smarter on both sides of the ball and we seem to be getting better and better classes each year from recruitment. I also think our mindset changed with [the addition of] Journell,” Nelson added.
Captain Matthew Rasmussen ’22 further explained the mental shift on the team. “Guys have been buying into all the lifting, meetings, film watching, preparation, recovery, and practice that goes into being successful, ” Rasmussen said. “Coach Journell has always said that he wants to prove that Carleton is not only a place to get an amazing education but a place that can be highly successful athletically, and guys are starting to believe that.”
As the father of a recent Carleton graduate, Coach Journell applies the perspective he’s gained from being a Carleton parent to his coaching. “I approach Carleton as a parent first,” said Journell.
“I had a very deep understanding of what needed to be done,” he added, referencing ways in which the program could be improved following an 0-10 season the year before he arrived.
A large portion of the team’s recent success is a testament to the manner in which Journell and the Knight’s football coaching staff have approached recruiting. “We have used Carleton’s national academic brand to recruit the brightest and best football players who fit Carleton’s culture,” Journell said. With Journell at the helm, the Carleton football team hopes to attract hard-working individuals who apply their efforts on the field and in the classroom. “It starts with a positive attitude and relentless work ethic, in the context of a rigorous academic expectation. These standards represent everything we do in our lives”.
Cornerback Ben Levine ’23 is particularly ecstatic about the football team’s performance this season, which he attributes to the cultural impact Coach Journell has progressively built upon. Levine feels that compared to past years, the current Knights have stronger team identity and ambition.
“Now, guys come into the program as freshmen expecting to win games and compete in the MIAC, and the whole team gets held to that standard,” said Levine. He also noted that the team’s close bond has facilitated its success—that “the entire team trusts each other as capable people and trusts one another to make good decisions and work hard on and off the field.”
Nelson and Rammussen shared similar sentiments. Ramussen pointed to “the level of professionalism and commitment [Journell] brought and required from his players,” which has “helped guys take the process more seriously.” Meanwhile, Nelson explained how the examples set by teammates from past years have had a lasting positive influence.
“To be stand-up citizens on campus, great participants in the classroom and hard workers on the field then trickled through each class preceding them by their leadership,” Nelson said, referring to recent graduates who played on the team.
Rasmussen, Nelson and Levine each eloquently summed up the football team’s collective optimism for the future. “The future really looks bright!” said Levine, who was echoed by Rasmussen (“I think the future is bright!”) and Nelson (“I think the sky’s the limit!”).
Coach Journell’s approach has not only resulted in more victories but also drummed up excitement for the season and increased student participation at games—even as far as the establishment of the Carleton Spirit Club, founded by Izzi Clawson ’22. Clawson, who led a successful student tailgate at Carleton’s home-opener versus Hamline, wanted to support her friends on the football team.
“There are a lot of people that could have fun building a community around going and supporting our peers,” Clawson said.
Needless to say, the Carleton Spirit Club received praise among both spectators and football players. Rammussen appreciated the support at the last home game, noting that it helped the Knights “keep going when the going gets tough!”
Levine agreed—“I think it’s great that students have a new Saturday activity to jump into, and it is awesome as players to see and hear so many of our peers cheering in the stands. I want to call it absolutely electric.”
Clawson urges students to support the football team this Saturday, October 6, as the Knights attempt to defeat the Oles for the first time in eight years. The game will kickoff at 1p.m. at Klein Field, but pre-game festivities for students will begin sooner.
“We will start by tailgating at 11a.m. by [Laird Stadium] and then progress to Olaf. We will also be tailgating after the game so come and show out!” said Clawson, who added that the theme will be Oktoberfest.