Many high schoolers wouldn’t mind heading to college with friends with whom they’ve grown up.
An opportunity to play college football at the College of St. Scholastica with three high school friends is an even rarer opportunity, but four members of Anoka’s Class of 2011 have done so.
Spencer Specht, Tony Busch, Matt Pint and Ben Britton make up the Tornadoes turned Saints or as Pint explained, the Anoka 4.
All four have been part of all three playoff seasons for the young Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) program in Duluth.
The Saints were 10-0 in 2011 before losing to St. Thomas in the opening round of the playoffs and in 2012 went 8-2 to finish in a three-way tie for the UMAC title. They were voted to represent the conference in the playoffs and lost to eventual national runner-up UW-Oshkosh in the first round.
A chance to establish a tradition is one reason Britton wanted to play at the school.
“I liked the idea of starting up a new tradition and being part of something that was starting up,” he said.
Britton, a physical therapy major, said the move wasn’t pre-planned but he’s glad the four stayed together. “It just happened to work out,” he said.
Pint added: “The allure of a new program and being able to lay the foundations of traditions and team expectations was a great one and inevitably was one of the deciding factors.
“It’s awesome to know in 50 years or whenever we come back, we can say we were the team that won the first conference championship in school history, among other things.”
Pint also noted that he’s become a stronger person, especially coming off a broken hand last fall. He decided to stay in Duluth over the summer and in turn increased his bench press from two reps at 225 pounds to 12 reps during preseason camp practice.
Britton roomed with Specht and Pint and Busch roomed together as freshmen. This year Specht, Busch and Britton live off-campus.
Busch, a junior receiver, said the chance to keep playing with friends he grew up with down the road is a special chance that few have a chance to do.
“You think that after your last game in high school that it will be the last time you get to ever play the game with the guys you grew up down the street from,” he said. “Plus it makes finding a ride home from school pretty easy.”
Pint added: “Our friendship has grown to be a sort of four amigos, if you will. Freshman year we [given] the name ‘The Anoka 4’ by our teammates because we were with each other a majority of the time. This year I decided to try something new however ‘the Anoka 4’ still lives on.”
Being part of conference champions and seeing Pint and Specht score their first collegiate touchdowns rank up there as top memories.
Pint, a junior running back, has 72 yards on 15 carries and scored his first career touchdown from three yards out in a 42-0 win against MacMurray Oct. 5.
He’s spent the season fighting for the second-string spot on the offense in addition to a lot of time with special teams while dealing with injuries which how kept him out of the lineup for a third week.
“Being a junior now,” Pint said. “I have taken over a bigger leadership role, especially at the running back position where, behind Jake [Jensen] I’m the only other upperclassman.”
Specht went from rejoining the football team as a high school junior to being one of the leading receivers for the Saints this season.
“It was a whirlwind to pick up the game,” said Specht, a 6-4, 208-pound receiver, who has eight catches for 76 yards so far this fall. “Credit the coaches for helping me out.”
Aside from catching the ball, Specht has developed his downfield blocking.
“We’ve had great success running the ball [nearly 300 yards per game] and a majority of what I’ve done is getting blocks on the edge so our guys get more than a first down,” Specht said.
Specht was a standout basketball player for the Tornadoes and still competes in a recreation league team on a two-time runner-up team. “It’s still a big part of my life but I miss playing in front of a big crowd,” he said. “You can’t replicate the atmosphere of a big basketball crowd.”
Birtton the holder
Britton was hobbled by a broken foot during spring practices and re-injured the foot while running the 40-yard dash during the second day of fall practices. He spent two weeks in a walking boot, but has since returned to practice as the third-string quarterback.
“I felt like I broke it again, but I guess it was just tendons giving way as I went down,” he said. “I was almost depressed because that was my chance to be a starter.”
An injury to the then-starting running back opened up another opportunity for Britton to contribute as the holder on kicks as a sophomore.
Since taking over that role, Britton helped Saints kicker Mike Theismann earn all-American honors.
As for trick plays with a quarterback as holder? “No trick plays yet, but I called out the fire word two weeks ago and my pass was short of a guy in the end zone,” Britton said.
As the holder for an all-American, Britton said the running joke at practice is that he can also claim all-American status.
“The kicker can’t make field goals without a good holder or long snapper,” said Britton, who lettered as a junior in Anoka by holding on kicks.
If he stays healthy, a starting role next fall isn’t out of the question for Britton.
“Everything happens for a reason and I’m going to keep playing through it,” he said.
Maintaining that Anoka connection, Pint shared that he makes a point to stay in touch with Deb and Chuck Day, parents to currently deployed U.S. Army Rangers Mitch and Tony Day. “Deb and Chuck offered their home to all of us kids on the team on countless occasions, constantly providing food and drinks for us, always looking out for our well-being and in my opinion really helped foster great friendships as well as team chemistry.
“To this day, I know that I have a second home waiting for me to visit before I head back to college.”
Jason Olson is at