Dakota could only hold her hand. Riding in the backseat of her husband’s car, she was on the brink of collapse and couldn’t garner the strength to say a single word. But she had made the decision to be there, and that was all Dakota needed. It’s his motivation.
Like many days before, six hours of chemotherapy and she was on the sun-covered football field watching her grandson that day. The doctors had said that exerting herself like that might kill her, but what would really kill her was if she wasn’t there watching Dakota play.
Dakota’s relationship with his grandmother was different than most; he had been living with her most of his life. As a strong believer of the idea that anyone could accomplish anything through hard work, she adopted Dakota’s obsession for football.
Anything Dakota ever needed, she was there, and even with the cancer, her life was devoted to making his life perfect.
“When she came down with cancer, I promised her that I’d try my best to get a scholarship to play in college, and try to make it to the pros,” Dakota said.
On Aug. 19, 2009, Dakota was called to the office. With his head coach and mother standing there, he could only imagine that he was in trouble but then Dakota was dealt the news by his coach: his grandmother, his inspiration, had passed away.
Despite his coach telling him to take some time off, that next day Dakota was with his teammates back at practice.
“That’s one thing that she would have wanted and I’m just that passionate,” Dakota said. “Not that I don’t care about my grandmother, but she would have wanted me to do that.”
His sophomore year at Shawnee Mission North, Dakota was finally given the opportunity he needed to bump him up to second string.
But with the starter firmly in place Dakota was on the move the following year. First it was Wyandotte High School, but it wasn’t the right fit. He was set on moving again. He had to get as much exposure for colleges as he could, which was all about finding the perfect offense and the perfect situation.
He and his mother had it down to three options: entering the Missouri public school system, go to Bishop Miege, or lastly, go to Shawnee Mission East. With academics sitting at the front of his mind, moving to Missouri wasn’t that much of an option. It came down to Bishop Miege and Shawnee Mission East. Knowing what he’d heard about Sherman, there’s no way he could have turned it down.
“I knew that they were a very good passing team, they were winning and they had Elliot Faerber who had committed to Illinois,” Dakota said. “All of that mixed together would hopefully get me a scholarship somewhere.”
Dakota had always thought he had what it took to make it to the next level, but that belief was faltering. He hadn’t gotten any serious division one interest which caused him to seriously question if he could make it. At one of KU’s high school quarterback camps held during the summer, Dakota regained the confidence he needed.
Standing on the Kansas turf practice fields, Dakota and the Olathe South quarterback had been selected as the top two quarterbacks of the camp–a camp of 150. As Dakota strayed away, he noticed a body approaching.
He turned around to the sight of Turner Gill, the University of Kansas Head Football Coach.
“He said, ‘Dakota, we are looking very forward to your season and good luck to you. Hopefully we’ll be seeing you on down the line,’” Dakota said. “This all made me feel like a 100 bucks and gave me the feeling that ‘maybe I do have a shot.’ There was always that thing like, ‘you don’t have the varsity time, and you don’t have the stats’. It just gave me a shot and I’m going to take it.”
That wasn’t his only summer camp success; along with going to Missouri’s Quarterback camp, he also went to Terry Shea’s, an ex-NFL quarterback coach, Camp and ended up winning camp MVP. Dakota didn’t just stumble into the starting job at East, his summer performances highlighted his vast improvement and warranted his move from back-up quarterback at North to starter at East.
“Coach Sherman determines every position and gives all the players opportunities whether through the weight room or summer practices to show if you have the ability and he definitely has come through as the [starting] quarterback,” quarterback coach Sam Brown said.
Although last year’s quarterback, John Schrock, left some big shoes to fill, Dakota looks to be a replacement that will make the team’s position transition more smoothly. With a strong arm and a smooth, natural throwing motion, Dakota will be able to beat the defenses deep through the air but if need be, his athleticism will allow him to scramble.
“A lot of players don’t have that special ability, whether it’s to catch or whether it’s to run or block,” Brown said. “He has a special ability to throw the ball.”
Despite being talented, his strongest attributes might be his passion and leadership. Although he prefers to lead by example, when a teammate misses his block or drops a pass, Dakota will be the first player to call him out and he’ll be brash. Although he’s only been at East for a year he’s not afraid to be the vocal leader which he naturally is. Because he knows that this offense’s, this team’s successes but more their failures will lie on him.
“There’s pressure because I have John [Schrock] who was the greatest quarterback last year, I have to replace him,” Dakota said. “I have to keep a winning team; I have to expect to go further because we want to win state.”
Before the game in the locker room, Dakota will lace on his cleats. On one of the cleats will stand a “BC” marked in Sharpie, on the other will be marked a cross. A raggedy black dish towel will be tucked into his waist. That same towel was the one his grandmother used in the kitchen daily.
Both are for his grandmother, both serve as his motivation to fulfill his promise to her.