CSB, SJU graduates have Purple Pride in Vikings

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January 10, 2020

By Frank Rajkowski

Anne Doepner

Anne Doepner

Ryan Monnens

Ryan Monnens

Jessica Faucher

Jessica Faucher

Nick Maurer

Nick Maurer

Jake Essler

Jake Essler

The Minnesota Vikings postseason run came to an end Saturday, Jan. 11, in San Francisco with a 27-10 loss to the 49ers in the NFC divisional round.

Prior to that, though, the team’s 26-20 upset victory over the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round gave fans plenty to celebrate.

And a group of College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University graduates were able to observe playoff fever on the inside - employed in various roles throughout the Vikings’ organization.

“For me, it’s more than just experiencing it in the office,” said 2001 CSB graduate Anne Doepner, the team’s director of inclusion and employee investment, in an interview before the matchup with the 49ers.

“It’s about seeing it out in the community too. It’s so fun to see the whole community get excited and rally around the team the way it has.”

Doepner, who joined the team in 2006, and Ryan Monnens, a 1998 SJU graduate who began his career in the organization that same year, have each been a part of the franchise for a while now.

Other CSB and SJU graduates, meanwhile, are newer to their roles. Nick Maurer ’03 began working with the organization in 2014 and is now the team’s director of corporate partnership sales.

Jessica Faucher ’08 began working for the team in 2018 and serves as museum and asset manager at Twin Cities Orthopedic Performance Center in Eagan, the Vikings’ headquarters which opened prior to the 2018 season.

And Jake Essler ’14 is now in his third season with the team, working as a college scout.

“It’s a lot of fun to be on the front lines of all this,” said Maurer, a Pierz, Minnesota, native whose brother Ben ’00 previously worked for the team for a number of years.

“During weeks like (last week) especially, people are really riding the high. And it’s exciting to be part of that.”

Each of the CSB and SJU contingent perform very different roles. Monnens oversees the team’s pro scouting efforts, meaning – among other duties – he is responsible for developing a blueprint on upcoming opponents.

If the Vikings had won Saturday, he would have hopped a plane for Green Bay to scout Sunday’s other divisional-round matchup between the Packers and Seattle Seahawks (franchises with their own SJU connections in Green Bay team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie ’79 and associate team physician Dr. John Gray ’76 and Seattle co-director of player personnel Trent Kirchner ‘00).

“For us on the football side, this week is really business as usual,” said Monnens, a Rocori (Minnesota) High School graduate, prior to Saturday’s game at San Francisco. “Just as it is for the players and coaches. You have to treat it the same as you would any other week during the season, albeit with an even-higher sense of urgency.

“But we all have jobs to focus on.”

Faucher has more direct contact with the fans as they come into visit the team’s new museum.

“People are so excited and happy to be engaging with us, and the museum is such a great touchpoint for that,” she said. “It’s a chance for us to tell our players’ stories and the story of our team.

“And history and storytelling are things I’m really passionate about.”

Doepner was a French major at CSB who served as editor-in-chief of The Record (the SJU/CSB student newspaper) during her senior year. She worked for a travel agency, helping plan trips to France for high school groups, before moving on to a company that catered at PGA Tour events.

She then joined the Vikings and rose steadily through the organization, eventually being promoted in 2016 to director of football administration, a role in which she worked side-by-side with executive vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski, general manager Rick Spielman and others to ensure contracts were compliant with the NFL’s salary cap and collective bargaining agreement.

But providing opportunities to those who may not have had them before has always been important to her. And her current role allows her to focus on doing just that.

“As the NFL has started to ramp up its efforts to make the whole league more inclusive, I started to get involved with some of that and I really found my passion lying there,” she said.

“Trying to remove barriers – whatever they may be – to help people be successful.”

Doepner said the opportunities she had during her time at CSB helped pave the way for her career in the NFL.

“I feel really fortunate to have had the experiences I did,” she said. “It’s a smaller school. So there were opportunities – like being the editor of The Record – that I may not have gotten someplace else.

“And there were a lot of close connections to my professors. The real reason I became a French major was not so much that I wanted to become an expert on French culture. It was because of (retired professor) Vera Theisen. Here was a woman who was born in Italy, raised in France and who spoke six languages fluently. You learn so much just from being around someone like that.”

Monnens and Essler both played football for the Johnnies, allowing them to draw on the knowledge of legendary former Saint John’s head coach John Gagliardi, who finished his 64-season collegiate head coaching career with 489 victories, the most in college football history.

“I learned a lot just from sitting through film sessions with John,” Monnens said. “In high school, we didn’t watch a lot of film. So I picked up a lot about the game just from sitting back quietly and listening to John explain things.”

Maurer and Faucher also credit their experiences at SJU and CSB with helping provide them with the skills needed to be successful at their current jobs.

“Just like Anne, I had a lot of diverse opportunities at St. Ben’s and that really helped prepare me for my position here,” Faucher said. “I’m able to accept challenges and get myself motivated to do things I never thought I’d be doing.”

“I was able to work pretty closely with (then-SJU sports information director) Michael Hemmesch and (then-CSB sports information director) Mike Durbin,” Maurer added. “And they were both huge driving forces in making me want to have a career in sports.

“They helped me understand sports administration a lot better too. So being at Saint John’s played a huge part in getting me to where I am now.”