Church ready to live his gridiron dream
The honorable mention all-state defensive lineman chooses to stay close to home and play for Linfield College
After being slowed down and sidelined by injuries for much of his first three years of high school, Dakota Church had a banner senior year at Newberg High School.
Coaches, players and Church himself knew he had the potential to break out if healthy, so it was heartening to see him earn honorable mention all-state honors in football, place second at 220 pounds at the 6A state wrestling championships and set career-best marks in track and field.
As a result of his strong performances, Church has signed on to play football for Linfield College, giving him the chance to do something even he may not have thought was possible.
Its kind of surreal, Church said. I always grew up looking up to people playing college football and now Im actually going to be playing some college ball, so its really exciting.
Churchs progress in both football and wrestling were stunted by a series of setbacks, beginning with a back injury as a freshman. Torn ligaments in his arms scuttled much of his sophomore season and a broken hand kept him off the wrestling mat for much of his junior season, although he did return in time to qualify for state.
In the fall, Newberg football coach T.J. Tomlin made taking enough time to heal a priority for Church, whom he calls one of the toughest kids hes ever coached.
This will be my 12th or 13th year next year, so Ive coached a lot of tough kids, but he tops the cake, Tomlin said. Hes just one of those kids that doesnt want to bother and he did a great job for us, obviously. Hes a combination of a hard worker and hes just tough as nails.
Tomlin credited Church for anchoring a defensive line that was the key to Newbergs much-improved defense in 2013. He praised his unselfishness in taking on the unsung role of engaging and disrupting the offensive line so that the teams linebackers would be free to make tackles.
He likes the physical part of the game, Tomlin said. You have to like that if youre going to play in the trenches. Thats just a part of his nature and his personality.
Church drew interest from several Division II and III schools and at one point thought he would end up at Southern Oregon University, but decided it was too far from home. After that, Linfield emerged as the perfect choice.
Its a phenomenal program, Church said. My dad really liked the school, plus its close enough that all my family can come down and see me and watch me, which is really important to me. Its far enough away that I can get away but still be around.
Church, who earned a 3.51 grade-point average and was named Newbergs Most Outstanding Senior Athlete, received some interest from college wrestling programs and said he would try to do both if Linfield had a program, but that football is first love.
Its just a different atmosphere than high school football and I think its a place for him, Tomlin said. Hell thrive because hes been a hard worker and passionate about the game. Hell find a lot of like-minded people in that sense.