Marian Central senior OL Luke Dalton picks Cincinnati

Luke Dalton offered an honest, yet harsh, self-critique of his freshman football season at Marian Central.

“I played [junior varsity] football, and I was quite possibly the worst player on the team,” Dalton said. “I had no clue what was going on. I didn’t know the rules or anything like that.”

Dalton, a basketball player since age 8, was playing football for the first time. After the season, he went on his computer and learned more about the game, simple things such as positions and terminology. He watched a lot more college games.

Dalton is an extremely proficient learner. By his sophomore season he was a varsity starter at left tackle, and on Sunday the senior committed to CIncinnati, a team ranked No. 8 in The Associated Press final NCAA Division I Top 25 poll.

“My IQ was above my years,” said Dalton, who is 6-foot-5, 290 pounds. “That’s the thing I really like to pride myself on. My IQ of understanding the game was what I really excelled in. I took that and said, ‘I have to balance the scale.’ I really worked on technique with trainers and offensive line coaches, everything I could do to perfect that aspect of my game.”

Dalton gives a lot of credit to Steve Drain, who owns TNT Athletics in McHenry and trains athletes for strength and speed. Dalton also worked for the past year with FIST Football and coach Kevin Sabo in Carol Stream on line play.

Dalton had 18 scholarship offers from D-I schools. His other finalists with Cincinnati were Arizona State, Kansas, Miami (Ohio) and Tulane.

“I’ve been recruited by Cincinnati for a while now, and the on-campus recruiting picked up,” Dalton said. “I met everyone and saw everything in depth. I talked to my family [father Chris and mother Lisa] about what we liked and what we didn’t like, and it was a pretty short list of what we didn’t like [about Cincinnati].

“It’s where I feel like I’m at home. I’m ready to work, and it’s a staff that really believes in me and wants me to be a key component of their offense.”

Dalton, a two-year varsity starter, was a Northwest Herald All-Area first-team selection this spring.

Darren Fortin took over as Hurricanes coach before Dalton’s sophomore season and noticed the huge jump he had made in that offseason. Dalton figured he’d be fighting for a starting spot on the JV team and was thrilled when Fortin promoted him to varsity.

“He was determined after that [freshman] year, and it showed,” said Fortin, who was on former coach Mike Maloney’s staff. “He’s done a lot of hard work the last two years, a lot of college camps, put in a lot of effort in the weight room. That effort has paid off big-time.

“Luke is driven. He wants to help the program become successful. By doing what he did in the weight room and going to all these fundamental camps, he definitely improved our team and our offensive line. It gave him a huge opportunity to be looked at by all these schools.”

Drain tells a memorable story of the first time Dalton, 11 at the time, came to his gym.

“His mom told me, ‘Luke won’t get out of the car,’ " Drain said. “I had to physically drag him, by his wrist. I said, ‘We’re going to be best friends. We’re going to work out.’ He was so nervous and scared.

“He was a big, thick dude with pretty much no athleticism. He just used his size for everything. It’s cool to see that he took on a love for football and really learned how to translate everything he’s done in the weight room to the football field.”

Dalton developed an ability to move by playing basketball, which now benefits him on the field. That, with his strength and technique, has taken him to the highest level. Cincinnati was 9-1 and lost by a field goal to Georgia in the Peach Bowl.

“I’m so happy I met Steve Drain,” Dalton said. “That man is like family to me. He helped me when I was a scrawny 11-year-old trying to look someone in the eye and have a conversation. He taught me accountability, how to carry yourself and better yourself and understand your weaknesses.”

Dalton dropped about 10 pounds from the spring season and feels he moves better at his present weight. Drain said Dalton’s size is only part of the equation.

“He worked his butt off, and he learned the game,” Drain said. “Luke’s personality works very well with football. He’s a work-hard, I’m-going-to-rip-your-face-off type of dude, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. In football, you’re either the hammer or the nail. Luke’s the hammer. People who are the hammer are the ones who excel.”

Fortin sees his big lineman as an inspiration and role model for his Hurricanes teammates.

“The fundamentals on how to use leverage really took a big turn between his sophomore and junior year,” Fortin said. “He passes it along to all the kids. He’ll do drills, and with the sophomores and juniors we have now, he works extra time with them to teach them what he’s learned at a multitude of camps.”

Joe Stevenson

Joe Stevenson

I have worked at the Northwest Herald since January of 1989, covering everything from high school to professional sports. I mainly cover high school sports now.