LANCASTER – Dillon Denault was actually thinking about not playing football after his sophomore season.
He was 6-foot-3, 175 pounds as a freshman, and by his own admission, he felt he fit the mold of a basketball player.
But thanks to junior high coach Andy Solt and Lancaster defensive coordinator Andy Knuckles and their encouragement, Denault stuck it out and continued to play football for the Golden Gales.
“I really did contemplate not playing my sophomore year,” Denault said. “I felt like I just didn’t have the build of a football player. The only thing that kept me going was coach Knuckles and coach Solt. They kept on me and told me things would get better and told me I could build myself up. Without those two coaches, I really don’t think I would be playing right now.”
Knuckles admitted that he wasn’t sure whether Denault would ever play for the Golden Gales. But something changed the last two years, especially heading into this season.
“He is definitely what you would call a late bloomer,” Knuckles said. “I wasn’t sure if he would play for us or not, but when he returned between his sophomore and junior year, he was different. He just had a different mentality.
“This year, especially, he played with an edge that he didn’t have before. He was very physical, and he is a great athletes for his size. We moved him around, and he was a guy that opposing teams had a hard time blocking because he was so quick and strong.”
Denault, who is now 6-3, 240 pounds and bench presses more than 350 pounds, played on the Gales’ defensive line, and he led the team with 25 tackles for loss and eight sacks. He finished with 62 total tackles, including 31 solo.
Denault, a senior, is the 2015 Eagle-Gazette Defensive Player of the Year.
“I remember seeing him in gym class and watched him run up and down the court and saw how athletic he was,” Lancaster coach Rob Carpenter said. “I kept telling him if he got in the weight room that he could become a special player.
“He had natural speed, and that is something you can’t coach. He really excelled for us at defensive end because of his natural speed. He was able to get up the field. Teams tried to run away from him, but he was so quick, he could run plays down from the opposite side.”
Denault said he really focused hard on getting stronger in the offseason, and it was nice to see it pay off.
“This past offseason was intense,” Denault said. “Some days, I worked out twice a day. I felt like some of the workouts were never ending, but all those extra reps paid off, and it’s a great feeling.”
Denault also earned first team All-Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division honors and was selected first team all-district.
If teams weren’t running away from Denault, they were double-teaming him, which allowed linebackers Eric Deluse, Ryan Edwards and Kris Sullivan to have outstanding seasons. They combined for 275 tackles and 35 tackles for loss.
Denault said the thing he is most proud of was the pride brought back to the football program and the leadership of the senior class.
“This season was great because we brought something back to Lancaster that it hasn’t had in a while and that’s making the playoffs,” Denault said. “Our seniors cared so much and our strength was so present on Friday nights.”