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College spotlight: Senger brothers band together for CSS football

St. Scholastica trailed Northwestern 7-0 late in the first half last season in a football game for UMAC supremacy.The Saints had the ball but were looking to make something happen, so they called for a fake punt on fourth-and-5 from their own 40,...

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St. Scholastica's Jonathan Senger makes a tackle. (St. Scholastica photo)

St. Scholastica trailed Northwestern 7-0 late in the first half last season in a football game for UMAC supremacy.
The Saints had the ball but were looking to make something happen, so they called for a fake punt on fourth-and-5 from their own 40, dialing up Jason Senger’s number.
The St. Scholastica punter rumbled for 20 yards, following the block of the person he trusted more than anyone else: his younger brother, Jonathan. That sparked the Saints to a 13-7 victory, leading to their fifth straight conference title and fifth NCAA Division III playoff appearance in a row.
The same teams meet at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Public Schools Stadium, and this time, it is the Saints’ homecoming. The brothers already have made countless memories in two seasons playing college football together, but that one play alone made Jonathan’s decision to follow his older brother to Duluth worth it.
“Jason picked up the first down and then got knocked out of bounds, and I was right there to pick him up,” Jonathan recalled. “We just celebrated along the Northwestern sideline. No, I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
How many more memorable moments can the Senger brothers have in their final season together? Jason, a senior, is St. Scholastica’s starting free safety and punter, while Jonathan is a sophomore starting linebacker and the team’s leading tackler.
St. Scholastica football coach Kurt Ramler said the Saints have had brothers in the program before, but it’s the first time he has had brothers start at the same time.
The brothers look alike and talk alike, but have different personalities.
“They’re definitely different,” Ramler said. “Jason is ultra-competitive and Jonathan is a little more laid-back, but they’re both really funny and just really good dudes. They’re really hard-working guys and it’s awesome having them.”
The Saints also would love to have the brothers’ younger sister, Autumn, a standout softball player at Buffalo (Minn.) High School, but she may be headed to Bemidji State. If not, two out of three ain’t bad.
“We’d love to have her, but we just want her to do her own thing,” Jason Senger said.
The Senger brothers were competitive in everything they did growing up, such as when they’d ride their bikes a half-mile to Tatanka Elementary School park in Buffalo for 1-on-1 basketball.
“We never really fought,” Jonathan said. “We might be mad at each other for a couple minutes, but then we made up.”
Jonathan had to grow up in a hurry trying to compete against his older brother.
Who usually won?
“I did, of course,” Jason said, laughing.
Both brothers were three-sport athletes at Buffalo High School, playing football, basketball and baseball for the Bison. Little brother soon became big brother as Jonathan was stockier for his age. He now stands 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. Jason is 6-1, 202.
The 1-on-1 basketball is a tradition that continues to this day (Jason made all-conference in all three sports in high school, according to their online bios, while Jonathan is only listed in football and baseball).
“Maybe in high school Jason had the edge in basketball, but now it’s more even as I’ve gotten a little bigger and stronger,” Jonathan explained.
To think this family reunion in Duluth almost didn’t happen.
After graduating from Buffalo in 2013, Jason was recruited to St. Scholastica but didn’t know much about it, even though his family made almost yearly trips to Duluth. It was between St. Thomas in St. Paul and Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter, Minn. He chose Gustavus, where he suffered a concussion as a freshman quarterback in 2013 that took a long time to recover from.
During the July 4th weekend after his freshman year, Jason discovered his own Independence Day.
“I was talking with my parents and they were asking me how college was going,” he said. “The more I talked about it, the more I started to realize I didn’t really like it there. I thought there would be other places better for me.”
The older Senger decided to revisit St. Scholastica and made the late mid-summer transfer. He has been the Saints’ starting punter the past three seasons, averaging an excellent 40.2 yards per punt last season, with a long of 60 while pinning 13 of his 37 attempts inside the 20.
“Jason would have led the conference by far in punting average last year. He would have been all-conference, but he didn’t have enough punts to qualify,” Ramler said. “We’re hoping to have the same problem this year, know what I mean?”
Jason Senger recalled how excited he was in the spring of 2015 when he found out his little brother was coming to St. Scholastica as well. Jason’s decision turned out to be a family decision.
“It’s tons of fun,” he said. “It’s fun having a piece of home with you. He’s someone you’re always able to talk to and who is always there for you.”
Jason was in the mix to be St. Scholastica’s starting quarterback in fall camp last year but was moved to safety, where he was part of the playing rotation. This year he has 24 tackles, an interception and blocked kick while averaging 41.9 yards per punt, including a long of 68.
Jonathan, meanwhile, already was starting halfway through his freshman year and is even better as a sophomore, with 51 tackles, a quarterback sack, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
“Jonathan is having a great year, but he was pretty good to begin with,” Ramler said.
Jonathan’s decision to attend St. Scholastica certainly made it easier on their parents, Cari and Steve, to follow their sons.
For Jonathan, it was an easy decision. Sometimes, you have to back your brother.
“Jason is one of my role models, so to play football with him in college sounded really fun,” Jonathan said. “We get pretty competitive, but in the end, he will always be my big bro and I’ll always look up to him. I don’t regret my decision. Not one bit.”

NORTHWESTERN (5-1) AT CSS (5-1)
What: UMAC game; Saints’ homecoming
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: PSS
Forecast: Light rain with a high of 63 and 12 mph wind
Internet: portal.stretchinternet.com/css

Getting to know Jason and Jonathan Senger
Why I chose CSS
Jason: I love the campus, and it felt like home. It’s just a friendly environment where they want you to learn and be a better person.
Jonathan: The Saints are a football program on the rise. I figured I could excel here, and also, I love the city of Duluth. I knew right away that I wanted to be here.
Game-day ritual
Jason: Listening to my music before the game (his current favorite is Florida Georgia Line), and during the national anthem I say a prayer to myself that I made up over the years playing sports.
Jonathan: I chill out at my locker and listen to my favorite band (A Day to Remember).
Biggest fear
Jason: Dying alone
Jonathan: Heights
My first job
Jason: Worked at Buck’s Pizza back in my hometown of Buffalo, Minn., when I was 16.
Jonathan: Worked at a greenhouse when I was 17.
Person I’d most like to meet
Both: Russell Wilson (their father was born in Seattle and passed his love of the Seahawks onto his children).
Best athlete I’ve competed against
Jason: Former Apple Valley point guard Tyus Jones, now with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Jonathan: St. Francis running back John Santiago, now at North Dakota.
If I could change one thing about myself
Jason: I’d be a couple inches taller.
Jonathan: I’d be a little more flexible.
Sport I’d like to try someday
Both: Hockey (but neither knows how to skate)
Advice to aspiring young athletes
Jason: Never give up. There are moments where you face adversity, and it’s how you rise to the occasion and overcome it that will make you a champion one day.
Jonathan: Keep working hard. There’s going to be good days and bad days, but you just have to keep your head up and keep pushing because in the end, it will all be worth it.
Favorite five (Jason/Jonathan)
Hobby: Hiking/playing Xbox
TV show: “Game of Thrones”/“Family Guy”
Food: Fruit snacks/cheesy hashbrown potatoes
Movie: “Lord of the Rings”/“MacGruber”
Actor or actress: Will Ferrell/Natalie Portman

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St. Scholastica's Jason Senger punts during a recent game. (St. Scholastica photo)

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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