Tom Connell was an all-around athlete. The 1925 Chippewa Falls High School graduate was an all-state basketball player, and, had it not been for an ankle injury during football his senior year, would have likely been recruited by major college football programs. He had dreams of attending Notre Dame, but was persuaded to enroll at the University of Detroit by Chi-Hi alum, and former Notre Dame All-American quarterback, Gus Dorais, entering his second year as head coach of the Titans.
Connell fit perfectly into Dorais’ progressive offense that centered around run-ning backs who could run and throw—both skills that Connell possessed. Rules prohibited him from playing on the varsity team his freshman year, but he was one of the few bright spots during a disappointing 3-6-1 campaign in 1926, earning the title of captain entering his junior year. Off the field, he came to be known as “Cowboy Connell” for his love of Western Movies and Zane Grey novels. On the field, he was “Five-Yard Connell” for the positive yardage gains he consistently made. He also played in the defensive backfield and was the team’s placekicker.
As a junior in 1927, Connell helped the Titans win their last seven games for a 7-2 record. Against Dubuque College he set a school record with an 86-yard touch-down. He was again named captain for the 1928 team—the only player in school histo-ry to hold the title twice. The Titans went undefeated in ‘28 and Connell was once again an integral part of their success. During his senior campaign he was the number two scorer in the nation with 125 points (18 touchdowns and 17 extra points). Against Georgetown he set a school record with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He was inducted in the University of Detroit Mercy Titans Hall of Fame in 1980.
Read more about early football in Chippewa Falls in the new book from Joe Niese and Bob Dorais: Gus Dorais: Gridiron Innovator, All-American and Hall of Fame Coach. For each book purchased at the Area History Center, $10 will be donated to the Capital Campaign for the future Chippewa Area History Center.