Dexter football player Evan Chapell was heading to class on Wednesday when one of his classmates approached him in the hall – we’ll let him tell the story.
“He was telling me how crazy it is to go to our games this year compared to in the past,” says Chapell. “He said the students go to the games now expecting us to win the game and not hoping we win the game. That was a cool thing to hear. We are much more respected around the school that’s for sure.”
Chapell is a captain, team leader and starting linebacker on a Dexter defense that has helped lead the Dreadnaughts to a 5-4 record and just one win from qualifying for the state playoffs. Dexter hosts Lincoln on Friday in what could be a historic evening in what already has been a historic season.
The Dreadnaughts entered this season following four losing seasons of football. The program’s last victory came Sept. 20, 2013 against Adrian and Dexter has never qualified for the state playoffs since the current format began.
But what’s amazing about this historic run of Dexter football is that the “P” word is rarely mentioned. Since day one, Dexter head coach Phil Jacobs has installed a “today is the goal” kind of philosophy with the thought being if you take care of your goals today, the long-term goals will take care of themselves.
“I’ve never heard a coach even bring up the playoffs or making the playoffs or really anything outside of our next opponent,” Chapell says. “We don’t focus on anything too far out, just on the game ahead and it’s worked pretty well. We did have a team response to anyone who asked what our season was going to be like or what our record would be, it was always 9-0. The goal is always to win that week’s game and that’s where our focus always is. It’s all about a positive mindset.”
“Positive” is the best way to describe this team. If a mistake happens, they move on and don’t dwell on it. If a team scores on them, the offense has answered right away more times than not. If they need a big stop on defense, they’ve gotten it more times than not. There just aren’t the costly turnovers or penalties that can derail a game and even a season.
A lot of that has to do with the coaching staff and the attitude they’ve helped build in just a short amount of time. Another part of it is the talent, depth and work ethic of the players themselves – yes, players win games.
Chapell remembers the first time he met Coach Jacobs.
“I knew right away he was going to be a straight-up coach,” he says. “And that he was going to expect a lot from us. I thought that was a great thing.”
One of the things he brought to Dexter was an intense and disciplined weight-lifting program. Games aren’t won in the off-season but the work you put in during the off-season certainly reflects the numbers on the scoreboard during the season.
“There were times in the past where kids wouldn’t show up for lifting, but it’s become a must that you show up and put in the work,” Chapell says.
Chapell, who plays outside linebacker, says he’s a vocal captain but the entire defense isn’t shy when it comes to talking, supporting and enforcing.
“We really have 11 captains on our defense,” he says. “There isn’t a guy on defense who won’t speak up and be a leader. We play as a unit and lead as a unit. It’s been a big part of our success. We play hard and we play smart.”
One statistic that supports that is that 11 Dexter defensive players have 20 or more tackles on the season. According to Max Preps, Chapell in seven games is among the team leaders in solo tackles with 26, assists with 25 and total tackles with 51. He also has eight tackles for loss.
Chapell played on the freshman team as a ninth-grader and that class showed plenty of positive signs. They went 5-4 on the season and a couple of yards from going 6-3. The building blocks seemed to be in place.
As a sophomore, Chapell played on a JV team that went 2-7 but played in many competitive games.
During Chapell’s junior season and the first under Jacobs, the Dreadnaughts lost all nine games but there was something different about last year. Something to build on – hope.
“Nine losses doesn’t show it very much, but there was a different feeling last year,” he said. “You could tell even within the community that people thought we were headed in the right direction. It just had a different feel to it.”
During the team’s spring camp leading into this season that feeling only grew. A few new players added to an already strong mix of players along with a coaching staff and system already in place helped create a sense of confidence.
“We had a good group coming back that only got stronger and faster and better in the off-season,” Chapell says. “We knew we would have a solid defense. And on offense, we have one of the best group of receivers around. They can all make big plays so we knew the offense would be better.”
And here they are, a few months later, on the goal line of making the state playoffs.
Chapell’s football days are coming to an end soon but not his days as a leader, role model and dedicated citizen. He will soon be joining the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC), a college-based, commissioned officer training program of the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps.
The purpose of the Navy ROTC Program is to educate and train qualified young men and women for service as commissioned officers in the Navy’s unrestricted line, the Navy Nurse Corps and the Marine Corps. As the largest single source of Navy and Marine Corps officers, the Navy ROTC Scholarship Program plays an important role in preparing mature young men and women for leadership and management positions in an increasingly technical Navy and Marine Corps.
“I will go to college for four years and during those four years I will train to become a Marine Corp officer,” he said. “I did consider trying to play football in college at a smaller college but I decided this was the best path for me.”
Chapell, who hopes to someday be a pilot, hasn’t decided on a college yet but Purdue is at the top of the list.
Right now, at the top of the list is beating Lincoln and crossing the goal line into the state playoffs. He understands now the expectations have changed, on the field and in the stands – people now EXPECT Dexter to win football games. Historic, indeed.
Photos courtesy of Robert Bowden Photography and Quinn Lafontaine Photography