By Brad Day
The first weeks of frosh life for most university students tend to include copious amounts of alcohol, a severe lack of sleep and wondering when the next home cooked meal is going to be. But freshman football phenomenon Dalin Tollestrup’s first few weeks have been anything but.
Instead of binge drinking, Tollestrup has practice almost daily. Reading defences and trying not to get run over by 225-pound linebackers replace the severe lack of sleep–or are perhaps the cause of it. In addition to pursuing a science degree, Tollestrup is the starting quarterback of a young Dinos offence coming right out of high school, a rarity in Canadian Interuniversity Sports.
“I came in [to camp] not expecting to play,” said Tollestrup. “Then a couple of guys ended up getting injured and weren’t able to play. It opened up a pretty good [opportunity] for me coming in as a rookie.”
Tollestrup’s play this year has been remarkable considering he is only 18-years-old. He leads the team in rushing with 221 yards on the ground and has thrown 861 yards in the air for two touchdowns. He is the cornerstone of an extremely young offense that has shown constant improvement every game with incredible promise for the next few seasons.
“When you look at the ability of an 18-year-old to come in and play quarterback at the CIS level, whether it’s a national championship team or the worst team in Canada, it’s amazing,” said Dinos’ head coach Blake Nill. “For him to come in here and take the program on his shoulders and work hard to do what it takes to win and try to make plays is amazing.”
Amazing is not the only word being used to describe Tollestrup, as comparisons are already starting to crop up between him and one of the greatest quarterbacks in Dinos’ history, Greg Vavra.
“There’s a lot of similarities [between us],” said Vavra, currently the Dinos’ offensive coordinator and Tollestrup’s QB coach. “We throw the ball very similarly. He has better foot speed than I ever had. He’s got some tools that I didn’t have. One thing we share is the ability to see the field. I was always able to locate guys even when they weren’t my primary receivers. I could find my second and third guys when I got more comfortable and he seems to have that ability as well.”
Vavra too knows the pressure that Tollestrup is going through, sharing the Dinos starting quarterback job when he was merely a freshman back in 1979.
“There’s a lot of nervous energy,” said Vavra. “It’s exciting to be playing but at the same time, if you’re a good athlete you put a lot of pressure on yourself not to repeat mistakes. You try to contribute and win games. It’s all a challenge for a young guy, because we’re putting a lot of pressure on him and a lot is in his hands, it’s a difficult position to be in and if he wasn’t as special of an athlete as he is, he wouldn’t be in the position he is in.”
Vavra currently holds 11 university records in football including most passing yards in a season for 2,823 yards during the 1983 season, and the longest field goal in Dinos’ history with a 52-yard bomb against the Saskatchewan Huskies on Sept. 22, 1985.
Being a young starting pivot for the Dinos is not the only thing that Tollestrup and Vavra have in common; both were extremely gifted tri-sport athletes in high school. Vavra, who played football for Bishop Grandin here in Calgary, also excelled in hockey and baseball. A triple sport athlete is quite uncommon nowadays, as most athletes only excel in one or two main sports. Tollestrup on the other hand, also competed in track and field and basketball, where he was a starter for the Raymond Comets. This in addition to his football career, in which he won 4A provincials this past season.
“We always had a small team, its pretty cool to win against the big schools,” said Tollestrup about his previous football team.
Tollestrup’s current team is not having the same success at the moment. The Dinos are currently 0-4 on the year, and have had their fair share of struggles on both the defensive and offensive sides of the football. However, they’re beginning to show signs of future potential.
“We’re really young right now, so it’s hard to get the mentality of getting wins, but it’s definitely coming on pretty soon,” said a cautiously optimistic Tollestrup. “We’ll get better every year. Coach Nill’s got a lot of recruits and he does a lot of recruiting–that’s one of his main points in coaching.”
Vavra too seems to think the current crop of Dinos is slowly coming together.
“We’re making progress,” said Vavra. “We’ve got a very young offensive team, and the guys are learning the same as Dalin. We’ve got a lot of guys that haven’t played at this level before, and it’s a steep learning curve. The game speed is much quicker, and the athletes are much more physical than anything they’ve seen before. It’s going to take awhile for them to adjust, and hopefully sooner than later we are going to get some wins.”
Tollestrup himself believes with time he’ll be able to lead the Dinos to the promised land. When asked how he thinks this young Dinos team will do a few years down the road and what expectations he has on himself and the team, Tollestrup was succint.