College Football: St. Xavier linebacker Zach Dolph blossoms in role as leader
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media October 10, 2013 9:04PM
Zach Dolph, of St. Xavier | Supplied photo
Updated: November 12, 2013 6:27AM
When he was a standout football player at Joliet Catholic, Zach Dolph went to see St. Xavier take on St. Francis at Joliet Memorial Stadium.
“I went out watch them in a Thursday night game,” Dolph said. “I saw (St. Xavier’s) team speed and saw the way they dominated.”
Dolph was sold.
“I played in a program at Joliet Catholic where nothing short of excellence was accepted,” he said. “I wanted to go to a college program with the same attitude. I knew St. Xavier was a great fit for me. I knew it was a place where the coaching staff was committed to winning.”
The Cougars have done a lot of winning since Dolph, now a senior linebacker, arrived. They’ve gone 41-6 since Dolph’s freshman season began in 2010 and brought home the school’s first NAIA national championship in 2011.
“For a program that’s been around for a short time, it’s pretty amazing what the coaching staff has been able to do,” Dolph said. “They’ve been able to turn it around. They recognized that there’s a lot of talent in this area and they’ve brought those guys in. I’ve been around a lot of great players.”
Dolph isn’t too shabby himself. He was a First Team All-American selection last season when he broke a St. Xavier record with 128 tackles. He also had 191/2 tackles for a loss and 31/2 sacks.
“Zach is a pretty special player,” St. Xavier coach Mike Feminis said. “He’s quick to the ball, he makes plays and he’s definitely one of the core guys on our defense.”
Through five games this season, Dolph leads the team with 45 tackles. He has 31/2 tackles for a loss and 21/2 sacks.
He’s also worked hard to take on more of a leadership role on a defense that’s young and has been plagued with injuries.
“A couple years ago, as a sophomore, I had other great seniors to follow,” he said. “Now I know it’s my turn. I take the leadership role seriously.”
Part of that is helping the team deal with adversity, such as Saturday’s 48-21 loss to Grand View (Iowa) that dropped the Cougars to 3-2.
“Young players will take after you,” Dolph said. “If you walk around with your head down, they’ll follow. You have to stay positive and keep all the other guys positive.
“It’s kind of personal for us now. It’s a pride thing. We know if we want to be in good standing when the playoffs come around, we have to win out. Starting this week, we want to begin an undefeated season the rest of the way.”
With just six regular-season games — and he hopes one last deep playoff run — left in his Cougars career, Dolph knows time is running out.
“It’s all starting to hit me a bit,” he said. “I know five years from now, I’ll look back on all this and be really happy and proud of all we’ve accomplished.”