A Healthy Balance

DePauw football team runs onto the field, 2021. Photo by Gina Chuang.

DePauw football has the perfect mix of veteran leadership and ascending young talent that has led them to first place in the NCAC.

The DePauw football team currently boast a 7-1 record and are 7-0 in the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC). They have already secured a share in the NCAC conference title and can win it outright against Oberlin this Saturday. They are led by a group of experienced, motivated, and battle tested upperclassmen. The Tigers also have the luxury of several underclassmen making an instant impact on the team. 

“It’s a coach's dream,” Brett Dietz, head football coach, said. “We've got a good mix of veteran leadership and young talent that's filling in and stepping up.” Transitioning from his prior role as assistant coach, Dietz is in his first full season as the Tigers head coach and has the team playing some of the best football DePauw has seen in years. He’s established a “different” culture that has been echoed by the senior leaders to the rest of the team.

“It's a lot more high energy and higher expectation. We're just a different level of play right now,” senior quarterback Chase Andries said about the new culture with Dietz at the helm.  Andries is one of five fifth year seniors who continued their time at DePauw after being granted another year of eligibility due to COVID-19 limiting last season to just two games. “It's nice to see that the fifth year guys are able to see the difference, not just in the win column, but the work that goes into being a team that's at the top of the conference right now,” Andries said.

The other four fifth year seniors are defensive lineman Joe Zanca and defensive backs and safeties Dylan Hyatt, Liam Pooler, and Evens Cribs. They all have played a huge role in DePauw’s top rated defense in the NCAC. The Tigers defense has the fewest yards allowed per game in the NCAC (265.4) and have a conference leading 16 interceptions. 

Pooler, Cribs, and Hyatt have accounted for nine of those interceptions. The group of highly motivated seniors is what has made this 2021 squad stand out from other previous DePauw teams Dietz has been around. “We have some pretty confident and positively motivated fifth year senior captains that aren't satisfied with where they've been in their career...they came back to be great,” Dietz said.

Andries expressed, “He wants to be remembered as the quarterback who led DePauw to their first of many NCAC championships.” His play has helped lead DePauw to the second best offense in the conference in terms of yardage (429.1 Y/G). The starting quarterback averages 224.9 passing yards a game and leads the conference in completion percentage (63.5%). He has played in 27 games as a Tiger and has experience of making plays when needed the most. The upperclassmen leadership kept the team focused in the closing minutes by...

“Our team's attitude going into game winning or game sealing moments (is) there's nothing else that matters to this offensive group other than what's right in front of us,” Andries said. That focused attitude showed earlier this season when DePauw was down 13-10 late in the fourth quarter at Wittenberg with the offense struggling all game to score. Andries was able to lead the Tigers on a game winning touchdown drive to win the game 17-13. DePauw’s defense also came up in the clutch by forcing Wittenberg to turn the ball over on downs to seal the win. 

The player who scored the game winning touchdown against Wittenberg is sophomore running back Gus Baumgartner. He stepped in as the leading running back when upperclassmen running backs, Will Schmidt, Noah Jones, and Drew Moore, all went down with injuries. On 91.5 WGRE’s “Tiger Talk” radio show, Baumgartner said, “It’s been tough, but at the same time it’s a lot of fun,” when asked about how it has been becoming the lead running back as a sophomore. He took over as the starter a quarter of a way into the season and has become one of the top running backs in the NCAC. He is first in the conference in yards per carry (5.7) and second in the conference in total rushing yards (646). 

Another young player that elevated the DePauw offense is first-year wide receiver Jaylon Smith. The speedy wideout is first in the NCAC in yards per catch (23.7), second in touchdowns (7), and fourth in receiving yards (616). Smith has given DePauw a much needed deep threat option that has added a new layer to the Tiger offense. Smith caught Andries’ eye when the young wideout was catching touchdowns during scout team practice against DePauw’s starting defense in the preseason. The fifth year QB was also impressed with the receiver’s demeanor and confidence as a first year. “Just talking to him, I think I knew pretty early that he would be a guy going forward,” Andries said.  

Smith along with upperclassmen wide receivers Trey Shaw and Josh Major have made a well balanced wide receiver core for the Tigers. Also, first-year Tommy Martin has started at right guard all season and has helped establish a formidable offensive line that is represented by every class in the first team lineup (two seniors, one junior, one sophomore, one first-year). 

The Tigers also have a flurry of young talent on the defensive side of the ball that have complimented the upperclassmen nicely, especially at the linebacker position. First-year linebacker Luke Marsh leads the team in tackles (46) and had a crucial pick six in the close game against Wittenberg earlier in the season. When asked about the interception against Wittenberg on “Tiger Talk'' Marsh said, “It was a pretty crazy experience...instincts kicked in and next thing I knew I was in the end zone.” 

Along with Marsh, sophomore linebackers Brevon Gude and Daniel Rafeedie both have 35 tackles each so far this season. Them along with senior linebackers Henry Locke and captain Charlie Gruner have played a big role in DePauw’s stout run defense that only gives up 38.7 rushing yards in NCAC contests. Sophomore defensive linemen Ben Burger and Ethan Lowry have also been applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks along with Zanca. Coach Dietz was actually surprised with how quickly the first-year and sophomore classes stepped up and played big minutes. 

“We never would have imagined that some of the guys (underclassmen) would be playing as much as they have, but those are good surprises,” Dietz said. The head coach compared this first-year group to the recruiting class of 2013 (graduated in 2017) in terms of players making an impact so quickly. The 2013 class featured DePauw greats like Matt Hunt, Will Longthorn, Kevin Kiyosaki, Tommy Gray, and Peter Nelson. The young talent in sophomore and first-year classes shows that DePauw is here to stay as a serious contender in the future of the NCAC. 

But right now, the Tigers are focused on the season that’s still in front of them and are still far from satisfied. “I think the first part of the book is really good... but you have to finish the last (few) weeks,” Dietz said. DePauw has already secured a share of the NCAC title but can clinch as outright champs and earn a playoff berth with a win against Oberlin this Saturday.