In his sophomore season as Columbus East’s middle linebacker, Sam Dwenger was a bit lost at the beginning and certainly undersized for the position.
So he only made 108 tackles, earned Class 4A first-team, all-state honors and helped the Olympians to the state crown.
Now the 5-foot-9 junior is 20 pounds heavier at 195, and a much smarter player. For opponents, that’s got to be a scary proposition.
“Last year I was adjusting to playing varsity football defense,” Dwenger said after an East practice session this week. “We run a gap control defense, and I had to learn about working together with my teammates and learning how to trust my teammates.”
East head coach Bob Gaddis said Dwenger has learned well.
“He is light-years ahead of where he was at this point last season,” Gaddis said. “But his family has been entrenched in East football since his dad (Rick Dwenger) played here and coached here. He has grown up living it, and he understands the expectations of the program.
“He is a very intense player who has as much heart as anyone.”
While Dwenger might be playing at a higher level in 2014, he has more responsibilities as well.
“I feel like I am taking a much bigger leadership role,” he said.
The best way he can lead, though, is by setting an example on the field.
“I love playing the Mike (middle linebacker),” he said. “I can roam to both sides of the field. And with each game, I gain more experience. I have more confidence to make plays. I am more confident to put big hits on people. Confidence opens up the field for me.”
Even when he wasn’t confident during the 2013 season, he still went 100 percent with each decision, right or wrong.
“You don’t have time to hesitate,” he said. “Even if you make the wrong decision, you can still make a play.”
His plays this season could be of the highlight reel variety with more weight and strength.
“My extra weight allows me to make bigger hits and to explode into people,” he said.
Dwenger comes from a family of athletes. His older brothers Erich and Mitch were former East football players, and his sister Emma, was a star soccer player for the Olympians who now plays at Central Michigan. He also has younger sisters Alana and Nora at Parkside Elementary School.
“My parents (Rick and Martha Dwenger) didn’t push us,” Sam Dwenger said. “They encouraged us to be active. We competed in everything we did.”
The competition should be tough when the season opens Friday at home against Bloomington North, as everyone will be gunning for the defending Class 4A state champs.
Dwenger said the Olympians just think of themselves as being a 0-0 team.
“We have moved on,” he said.
He might have moved forward, but a lot of opponents will be trying to figure out how to stop him from having another 100-tackle season.
Although a 100-tackle season by a linebacker is really a team accomplishment, Gaddis said a player has to be “physical, tough and aggressive,” to reach that plateau.
Dwenger said he only is thinking about wins. “I really didn’t think much about it,” he said of breaking the 100-tackle mark in 2013.
But didn’t it take a toll on his body?
“If it did, I didn’t notice it,” he said. “That last win (against Bishop Dwenger in the state championship) felt pretty good.”