Getting his shot under center
|Michael Engle was ready in his only start behind
Spud Dick. And he's undefeated so far in 2010 as
DePauw athletics photo
It wasn’t an ideal situation when Michael Engle made his first career start in 2009. His team, DePauw, the preseason favorite in the in Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, had just suffered a disappointing defeat the previous week in their conference opener to Centre.
Of greater concern was the loss of four-year starter at quarterback Spud Dick who had missed most of the second half with a concussion. Dick was being held out of the Tigers’ next game at Sewanee. And sure, Engle had come in and thrown two touchdown passes in a late Tiger rally, but anytime a starting quarterback goes down you can never know how the backup will perform.
So while DePauw’s 3-0 victory over the Tigers from Tennessee, who ended up finishing 0-9, might not have looked impressive as you scanned the weekly Division III scores. It was just fine with Engle.
“We played in a torrential downpour,” said Engle wryly. “Great way to make a first start, but I’ll take the win.”
In the sloppy conditions, Engle had managed the game efficiently despite passing numbers that were just 6-of-15 for 135 yards. And he didn’t turn the ball over as field conditions continued to deteriorate. That was the most important thing. The Tigers went on to share the SCAC crown and advance to playoffs for the first time. Dick went on to be named the D3football.com South Region Offensive Player of the Year. Engle went back to the bench.
The contributions of a backup quarterback in the team’s third game after a tough loss probably won’t be the first thing people remember from DePauw’s 2009 heroics. But it may have been the turning point of their season.
If you fast forward to the 2010 campaign, it is now Engle, a senior, who is the starter. So the pressure to perform at a high level at the start of the season was on Engle considering the Tigers returned eight starters on offense
But so far the Tigers’ offense hasn’t appeared to miss a beat from last season.
DePauw is currently 4-0 this season, 3-0 in the SCAC and that includes wins over top contenders Centre and Millsaps. Meanwhile, Engle’s passing numbers are very Dick-like. He has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes (104 of 150), while passing for 1,129 yards with 12 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
So while he admits that he gets butterflies before each game, he feels he was ready to step into the role of starter this season.
“It was always about taking one day at a time and trying to get better as a football player,” Engle said. “Luckily, I was behind such as great quarterback. I was really able to learn a lot from him both on and off the field. I became both a better player and person because of him. I appreciate everything that he did for me.
“As far as quarterback play, Spud and I are pretty similar in that we attempt to go out and do our job, control the ball, not force anything and take what the defense gives us and move the chains by letting the guys on the outside make plays.”
“Coming into senior year, it’s just really exciting to get a chance to get out on the field and play with a guy that you that you work hard with all year and all offseason. To get out there and win some ballgames, have some fun, really get after it and do some great things in your senior year. It’s been a great experience so far.”
According to receiver Alex Koors, Engle earned his teammates confidence during the summer and right away this season.
“I think he put those (doubts) to rest right away,” said Koors, who earned D3football.com first team All-American honors last season. “I think everybody in our locker room had confidence in him. We all knew what he was capable of. We knew he had the necessary qualities to be a starting quarterback. From the beginning of the season, he showed he was ready to step in and lead this program.
“He’s a senior so he’s been around the program for a long time. He knows everything that there is to know about our offense. He prepares better than anybody that I’ve been around. He’s smart, a leader. He gets us into a lot of good play calls.”
Still waiting three years to get your shot at the starting job is tough for any player.
“That’s got to be hard to do -- to wait three years,” Koors said. “He’s been very patient. Everybody knows how difficult that can be. Everybody is excited to see him doing this well.”
Engle credits, in part growing as a coach’s son as helping realize team goals are more important than individual ones. He has watched his father coach high school football for 27 years.
“It really put an emphasis on preparation and being ready to play (when your number is called.)” Engle said. “And the importance of things outside of the football field, in terms of game film and study. Even though you are a back up, preparing play, because you never know when that one play will happen. That prepared me to be a back up and to as a senior take over that starting role.”
Also speeding the transition has been experience at the skill positions. The team returns its two leading rushers in Derrick Karazsia and Jon Ellis. The pair combined for more than 1,000 yards last season and appear to on their way to equally that this season by averaging 105 yards per game.
The receiving corps includes Brayden Dahlstrom (27 catches), Nathan Evans (18 receptions) and especially Koors, one of the best players in the country at this level.
“We do have a very talented receiving corps,” Engle said. “Whether we are in a base formation and have two receivers out there or empty with five receivers on the field, I have confidence in all those guys. They’re going to run the right routes and get open. I trust that they’ll come down with the ball and not let the defensive guy get it, that they’ll make a play on it and have the potential to make a big play.”
Koors currently leads the team with 31 receptions for 446 yards with seven touchdowns. The senior owns the school’s all-time record in receiving yards. His 200th career catch, a 32-yarder, helped set up the go-ahead score in last week’s victory over Millsaps. He needs 17 catches to tie Bryan Mulligan for the as the school’ all-time leader.
Engle certainly appreciates his talents.
“It’s great to have him out there and be able to have that talent,” he said.” It’s a great testament to the work that he’s put in.
“It’s a combination of things. He’s a very talented athlete. He’s a fast receiver, goes up and gets the ball at its highest point and a very smart receiver. He knows how to run routes and get open and get separation from the defensive guy. He sees the field extremely well. He’s kind of like a quarterback in the sense that he can see the opening in a defense and find that hole. I know where he’s going to be because he sees what I see out there. Having a guy like that, it’s great because when you need a play or on a big down that he’s going to be there for you.”
But while the records are nice, Koors and Engle have hope DePauw can build on what the team accomplished last year.
“I really don’t worry about those things,” Koors said. “As long as we win, I’m happy.
“We just have keeping doing what we have been, preparing extremely well. The coaching staff has done a great job of getting us prepared. The scout teams have been doing a great job of getting great looks. Part of our success has been so many people have contributed. We did not like they way we ended the year with back-to-back losses to Wabash and Thomas More. It left a nasty taste in our mouth but making the playoffs was a big moment for this program. We know that very capable of winning in the playoffs and can compete with some of the better teams in the country.”
Engle agrees with his stud receiver that last season ended on a sour note.
“It definitely did,” He said. “We were very pleased with the foundation that last year’s senior class left us with -- going to the playoffs for the first time.
“But at the same time, we weren’t satisfied with losing the last two games and getting knocked out in the first round. We want to build on that and get better. We know we have to do that one day and one week at a time. And that’s what we are trying to do.”
Spoken like a true coach’s son.
Games of the Week
Mississippi College (2-2, 0-2 ASC) at Mary Hardin-Baylor (4-0, 3-0). The Crusaders will look to avenge last season’s 17-14 loss in Clinton, though nothing has been easy for them so far this season. The Choctaws don’t have much chance at the ASC title this year, but would love to catch lightning in a bottle once again this year. A tough task in Belton.
Trinity (2-2, 1-2 SCAC) at Texas Lutheran (2-2, 2-1 ASC). This nonconference matchup may be a little closer than expected when first scheduled. First-year coach Danny Padron has led the Bulldogs, who were winless last season, to two victories already.
Hardin-Simmons (4-1, 2-1 ASC) at Howard Payne (2-3, 1-2). Geographic rivals square off, but it The Cowboys appeared to right themselves in the second half last week, while the Yellow Jackets were thumped by McMurry.
McMurry (3-2, 1-2 ASC) at Sul Ross State (1-2, 1-1). Looks like the “Air Raid” is cranked back up after a big win over Howard Payne, but it’s the McMurry defense that’s been the most improved this season for the “Nation.” The Lobos could still be smarting from a 28-11 loss to Texas Lutheran last week.
Louisiana College (1-3, 1-1 ASC) at East Texas Baptist (2-3, 1-2). This is a very interesting game. The Wildcats took ASC power UMHB to the brink last week, while the Tigers hung with Hardin-Simmons early before it fell apart for them in the second half.
Rhodes (2-2, 1-0 SCAC) at DePauw (4-0, 3-0). You wouldn’t expect the Lynx to be able to go on the road and defeated the defending conference champs, but they are the only other SCAC team without a conference loss. Stranger things have happen.
Birmingham-Southern (3-1) at Centre (3-2, 2-1 SCAC). The Colonels offense is starting roll, scoring 108 points in their victories the past two weeks, while Birmingham-Southern dropped their first game of the year to Trinity last week. It could be another tight game like last year’s 14-13 Centre victory.
Sewanee (1-4, 0-2 SCAC) at Austin (2-2, 0-2). Expect the Kangaroos to get their first SCAC win of the season at home against the Tigers.
Huntingdon (3-2) at Millsaps (2-3, 2-1). The Hawks started 3-0 but have dropped their last two, including last week’s 61-28 loss to Wesley. A loss for Huntingdon could knock them out of the Pool B race. Millsaps is coming off a tough loss to DePauw and is hoping to avenge last year’s 47-36 loss to the Hawks. Expect another shoot out this year.
LaGrange (2-3) at Trine (4-0). Being an independent in the Deep South is tough scheduling-wise. The Panthers will have to face another tough opponent on the road in the 15th-ranked Thunder. LaGrange will play its first ranked opponent since taking on Wesley last season. That one didn’t work out too well in a 56-7 loss.
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