The last time any member of the DeKalb football team knew he was playing his last game was in 2013, finishing off a 2-7 season.
Since then, the Barbs have been a playoff fixture, which has created uncertainty for seniors in knowing whether a specific game would be their last.
Of course this season, with no playoffs, the whole team knew its game against Naperville North would be it for the season, and senior Tanner Macdonald made the most of it.
The middle linebacker tied a school record with 19 tackles in what would turn out to be a road loss for the Barbs. But for Macdonald, it ended up capping a five-game season in which he made 63 tackles, forced a fumble and grabbed two interceptions.
“Not everyone knows going into their last high school football game it’s going to be their last,” said Macdonald, the Spring 2021 Daily Chronicle Football Player of the Year. “That was kind of special to me, knowing it was my last time to put on a DeKalb jersey and play under these lights as a high school football player. It was emotional, but it made me want to play the best I could. And I know every single senior on my team felt the exact same way.”
Second-year DeKalb coach Keith Snyder said the performance was a culmination of working with the coaching staff and particularly inside linebackers coach Gary Koehring.
Koehring played for Snyder at Kaneland, graduating in 2013. He played at St. Cloud State before coaching with the Barbs. Snyder called Koehring and Macdonald two of the three best linebackers he’s coached, along with former DeKalb standout Keegan Smith.
“We had some kids who were injured, and he just kept coming,” Snyder said. “He tried to make up as much as he humanly could. He came up short – that will always sting – but his effort was valiant. That’s how I’ll remember him. How hard he played, how much he gave for four quarters against those guys.”
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, Snyder said Macdonald will benefit from a college weight room. He’s committed to Augustana in the fall.
But Koehring said he made up for the lack of size with other powerful attributes.
“What he might have lacked in weight, he definitely made up for in energy, passion and definitely speed and physicality,” Koehring said. “He’s just a great student of the game and overall a great kid. He’s like a model citizen, basically. He’s a kid you dream about.”
Snyder said that his length was a weapon that he knew how to use.
“When you’re a linebacker, it’s just an instinct,” Snyder said. “You know how to get to the football. Tanner was able to do that, and over the last two years, whether he was an outside linebacker chasing down plays from the boundaries to this year playing on the inside, he knew how to play to his body strength. He had long leverage. He knew how to keep blockers off him and keep separation.”
Playing a schedule against all DuPage Valley Conference teams, the Barbs went 2-3 after a 3-2 conference mark in their first year in the DVC in 2019.
And although the team lost its final two games, Macdonald said the chance to play this year meant a lot, as for a while it didn’t seem like there was going to be a season because of the pandemic.
“We were all just happy to even have one,” Macdonald said. “We would have liked some better outcomes, and overall we’re all happy with how we played in those last two games, how we fought. Some of those outcomes weren’t what we wanted, but we’re happy we got to play.”