The Dream Season: Brazilian Student-Athletes Make Their Impact Felt at St. Croix Lutheran

The number 1 ranked, undefeated St. Croix Lutheran high school football team continues its march toward a Minnesota state championship last Saturday with a 35-28 win over Pierz High School, in a game played at the Minnesota Vikings US Bank Stadium. That win puts the Crusaders in the state finals and gives them one more dream opportunity to play at the home of the Vikings.

While football success is nothing new for St. Croix, or their legendary head coach, Carl Lemke, this seasons team features an interesting dynamic: six Brazilian student-athletes.

St. Croix, a university prepatory school located in West St. Paul, Minnesota, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul ‘’Twin Cities’’ region, features high level academics with a variety of sports, music, art and extra-curricular options, and has a robust and diverse international population.

Thiago Ribeiro, of Uberlândia, Minas Gerais, Brazil, gets some love from Brazilian American football fans who came to watch St. Croix's state semifinal victory at the Minnestoa Vikings US Bank Stadium.

Thiago Ribeiro, of Uberlândia, Minas Gerais, Brazil, gets some love from Brazilian American football fans who came to watch St. Croix’s state semifinal victory at the Minnestoa Vikings US Bank Stadium.

The recent influx of Brazilians into the school, who are choosing to participate in the American football program, has further added to the St. Croix’s dynamic profile.

“The Brazilian football players bring another level of excitement to our games. The battle we had between two undefeated teams was even bigger because the viewing audience heard that people were live streaming it over the internet in Brazil,’’ said Lemke, the coaching legend who has won state championships in multiple states.

Many young people who play American football around the world fear that they do not have enough experience to try to play in the USA, but one of the advantages of a program like St. Croix’s is that they have multiple levels of teams available, from middle school, to 9th grade, to junior varsity, to varsity, which is the principal team.

These levels allow players to get coaching and game experience against other young and developing players as they develop into eventually being varsity players.

St. Croix Lutheran Head Coach, Carl Lemke, is on the hunt for yet another state title. Lemke says he enjoys coaching the international student-athletes that go out for the football team.

St. Croix Lutheran Head Coach, Carl Lemke, is on the hunt for yet another state title. Lemke says he enjoys coaching the international student-athletes that go out for the football team.

“It is a joy to watch Brazilian football guys learn the game of contact football. We have four different levels at the school and watch them mature through the weight room and speed program, from the younger teams through JV and to the varsity level,’’ said Lemke.

Kickers…and more!

With Brazil’s rich soccer tradition, and the successes of NFL players like Cairo Santos (Kansas City Chiefs) and Maikon Bonani (formerly of the Tennessee Titans), many people instinctively think of Brazilian football players as kickers. At St. Croix this trend has continued with the big leg of starting sophomore kicker, Raphael Rehme, of Curitiba (Curitiba Crocodiles), who has become one of the best young kickers in the region, but the skill set of these Brazilians is as diverse as the cities they come from.

‘’We have an outstanding Brazilian kicker (Rehme), but they do much more than that. They provide meaningful contributions on offense and defense,’’ said Lemke.

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The first time many of the Brazilian students at St. Croix Lutheran visited US Bank Stadium, it was to see fellow Brasileiro, Cairo Santos, kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs, kick against the Vikings. The next visit to US Bank Stadium for these young men will involve them competing on the same field that Santos’ and other NFL athletes play on, in the Minnesota state finals.

Rehme is joined on the Crusader squad by fellow Curitibano offensive/defensive lineman, Rafael Sarturi. Nicola Lanari, of Rio de Janeiro (Madeira Mamutes) also plays on the line for St. Croix.

“Our Brazilian kick returner (Tomas Steffanelli, Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo Storm) is absolutely fearless and other guys follow his lead – whether they are exploring a new part of the city, studying new content, or going up against a larger opponent,’’ added Lemke.

Steffanelli is joined at the skill positions by Gustavo Camargo of Sorocaba (Sao Paulo Storm) and Thiago Ribeiro of Uberlandia (Uberlandia Lobos), who has been a starter at wide receiver this year.

“Our players from Brazil are hard working young men who pay extra attention to the details of the game,’’ said Lemke.

Brazilian kicker, Rafael Rehme, has come up big for St. Croix Lutheran this season.

Brazilian kicker, Rafael Rehme, has come up big for St. Croix Lutheran this season.

St. Croix Lutheran is hoping for a return trip to the Minnesota state championship game, held at the Minnesota Vikings US Bank Stadium.”

While their season has been perfect thus far, the Crusaders face a very talented Rochester Lourdes High school team on Saturday at 1:00 PM local time, for the Minnesota state title.

For more information about St. Croix, visit their website, view their international admissions video, or email: [email protected]

Clayton Lovett
Clayton Lovett has served football in Brasil in a variety of roles, including as the member of the coaching staff of two CBFA national champions (Cuiaba Arsenal 2010, 2012). Football is his hobby. Professionally, he is the founder of CS Educacional, which provides educational and competitive opportunities abroad for student-athletes.
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