His college football career has spanned all of 11 games, yet Fritz Waldvogel’s football resume is filling up fast.
The St. Thomas sophomore WR-KR added two new entries this week after he helped the 20th-ranked Tommies post a 54-14 road win last Saturday at Macalester.
Waldvogel broke a 22-year-old UST record and a conference record with 180 yards on just three punt returns, including first-quarter touchdowns of 74 and 68 yards.
His two punt returns to the end zone in the same quarter tied an NCAA all-division record.
The performance helped Waldvogel become one of 21 Division III players named to the D3Football.com national Team of the Week. He also was named MIAC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Add in an 18-yard reception and a 15-yard rush, and Waldvogel finished with 213 all-purpose yards on five touches.
Waldvogel’s speed, athleticism and mental game help him play much larger than his 5-foot-9, 165-pound frame.
“I have always been one of the smallest guys on the playing field, whether it be basketball or football,” Waldvogel said. “It makes me work harder because I can't get away with things I could if I was five inches taller. I just go out every game and try to make every play no matter the person I am going against. Being the smallest, people don't really expect much when they look at you, but I guess I try to prove people wrong. You don't have to be a 6-foot-3 receiver to be successful in college football.”
In 11 career games, Waldvogel has seven touchdowns; 10 gains of 38 or more yards; and 60 receptions for 825 yards. He’s helped the Tommies lead in the second half of all 11 games, with eight victories and three near misses.
How valuable is a kick return? Over the last seven season, St. Thomas is 6-0 when it gets a kick or punt return to the end zone... and 0-4 in games when it gives up a punt-KO return touchdown.
Waldvogel was an all-state athlete in football and basketball at St. Thomas Academy, and played in state championship games in both sports. In football he was the Classic Suburban Conference MVP and broke four school records (career and season receptions, longest kick and punt returns for TDs).
Yet Waldvogel (shown at right) said he didn’t expect to have such an immediate impact with the Tommies.
“I came in to college just trying to learn everything and do whatever the team needs, whether it’s returns or playing receiver,” Waldvogel said. “I didn’t really expect to be so successful so soon. I was given an opportunity to play as a freshman, I tried to do my best and help the team as much as possible.”
Waldvogel also has genetics and history on his side. His grandfather, Dan Schneeman, is a UST Athletic Hall of Famer in swimming.
“Fritz is an amazing combination of speed and vision when the ball is in his hands,” said St. Thomas football coach Glenn Caruso. “But what puts him over the edge is his relentless pursuit of perfection. His work ethic is impeccable, and he has a toughness, both mental and physical that is second to none.”
Of the conference’s 350 players from the high school Class of 2008, Waldvogel was the lone freshman last season named to the All-MIAC first or second teams.
Waldvogel had a 70-yard punt return score vs. Carleton; a 65-yard TD catch at St. Olaf; receptions of 55 and 42 yards at Gustavus; and a 56-yard kickoff return that helped rally UST past Bethel.
He also had a 25-yard reception to the two-yard line in the final minute of the St. John’s game, but the Tommies were unable to get the go-ahead or tying points.
Since his senior year at St. Thomas Academy, Waldvogel has played in 22 football games and has six kick return touchdowns (five punts, one kickoff).
“Each punt return is different,” Waldvogel said. “All you can do is just react to where the ball is kicked and then try to make the best play you can. The first one I returned, the ball rolled about 20 yards behind me. The coaches give me the freedom to be very aggressive and understand that maybe one out of every 10 times I might fumble, but if they don’t give me the green light on balls like that, I wouldn't pick up the ball. The second return was a very well blocked play by all of guys and let me be one-on-one with the punter, where it’s on me to beat him. Coach (Travis) Walch does a great job and preparing me for situations with special drills.”
It’s believed that only two MIAC players, both Johnnies, had ever previously returned a pair of punts for touchdowns in one game -- Blake Elliott vs. Gustavus in October 2001, and Tommy White vs. Minnesota-Duluth in September 1956.
Only one Division III player and eight NCAA players in all have ever had three punt return TDs in one game. The last to do it was Oklahoma’s Antonio Perkins in 2004 against UCLA.
Also in that group are 5-foot-8 Virgil Seay of Troy State, who went on NFL fame as one of the Redskins' diminutive trio known as “Smurfs;” and Widener’s 5-foot-9 Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, a flamboyant return man who later as a Houston Oiler unveiled an end-zone dance known as the “Funky Chicken.”
A “White Shoes” Waldvogel nickname? Maybe.
A funky chicken dance at Palmer Field? Better leave that to the super-fan seminarians.
Click here to view a Fritz Waldvogel TD from 2008:
Click here to view Waldvogel highlights in the Sept. 5 video story by St. Thomas’ new student-run Tommiemedia.com:
Click here to view some Waldvogel 2007 YouTube highlights with the Academy: