Leading by example

GVL / Emily Frye 
Alton Voss, Dylan Carroll, and DeOndre Hogan during the game against Wayne State University on Saturday Nov. 12, 2016

Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye Alton Voss, Dylan Carroll, and DeOndre Hogan during the game against Wayne State University on Saturday Nov. 12, 2016

Brady McAtamney

Arriving on a college campus for the first time as a freshman is a scary thing. Most show up without knowledge of the surrounding campus and lacking an established friend group, leaving them feeling timid and small.

Fortunately for junior defensive lineman Dylan Carroll, who stands at 6 feet 4 inches tall and 260 pounds, he never feels small.

In fact, Carroll arrived to Grand Valley State with Laker blue already engrained in his blood.

“To be honest, my sister went here; she was two years older than me. She had a little bit of an influence, but I came on my visit here and just fell in love with the campus,” Carroll said of his decision to play for GVSU. “I’d have to say that the main reason was that I wanted to win. They have a great football program, so that was the main thing for me. Great coaches and players, great chemistry.”

Coming out of Portland High School, Carroll was already an accomplished athlete. Despite proclaiming himself to not be a “stats guy,” he wowed scouts with 149 tackles, nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss during his senior season, giving way to a selection to participate in the East-West Michigan All-Star game. Along with that accolade came a plethora of nominations, including three “Dream Team” selections and All-League, All-County and All-Area selections.

For Carroll, though, these accolades simply do not matter as much as his love of winning.

“I just want to become the best player I can become, and that’s helping however I can,” Carroll said. “I’d rather have five sacks and win a championship than have 30 sacks and be 0-11. Team-wise, it’s always our goal to win a national championship. It’s always our first goal to win the GLIAC, then look forward to a national championship.”

This attitude is one of the many traits that have his teammates and coaches regarding him as a great teammate and man off the field. A leader on the gridiron and in the locker room, he is consistently setting examples for his teammates to follow, whether it be relentlessly watching film, serving as the returning leader in sacks or being a “big sweetheart.”

“We’ve always thought around here that if your best player is your hardest worker, it’s good for your team, and he’s that guy,” said Head Coach Matt Mitchell.

E.J. Whitlow, the defensive line coach who helped convert Carroll from an outside linebacker to a defensive end coming out of high school, also raved about his star pass rusher.

“He’s a great guy. He’s low-maintenance, and he’s a hard worker,” Whitlow said. “There’s nobody in our program that would question how hard he works and how great of a teammate he is. He’s a Laker. He embodies that.”

All of that said, Carroll did not arrive on campus as the bright young star he is today. With a redshirt his freshman year, he went into his first year of competition with high expectations for himself. After recording three tackles in his first career game, he suffered a season-ending injury the very next game, which had him looking ahead to next year.

In 2015, Carroll began to make his impact, accumulating 32 tackles, including 3.5 sacks, while also forcing two fumbles, recovering one and even scoring a defensive touchdown against Findlay.

Carroll was fortunate enough to play that season on the depth chart underneath three impactful mentors, including Baltimore Raven Matt Judon (who still comes back to Allendale to teach his former protégé some new tricks), Alton Voss (who was also Carroll’s roommate) and Sydney Omameh. Their impact continues to help, as Carroll cited their teachings as one of his biggest strengths coming into the new season.

“I think (my biggest improvements were) my pass rushing abilities,” he said. “I’ve worked on those, and learning from Judon and Voss and Sydney, I’ve worked on some new moves, and working with Judon, I feel like that will be my strong suit this year.”

They certainly aided him in 2016, as Carroll finished second on the team in sacks with 7.5, which was also good enough for fourth in the GLIAC. He led the Lakers in tackles for loss with 14.5, which was second in the conference, and ended up with 39 tackles overall.

His performance over the season served as a proper introduction for him to the country, so what’s next for the bruiser now that the Lakers’ 2017 competition knows what Carroll is capable of?

“I wouldn’t put that solely on Dylan,” Whitlow said. “That’s a matter of the guys around him, the linebackers around him. Everybody is doing their job and doing their part and not focusing on one guy.”

His teammates believe in both Carroll’s ability to continue punishing offenses and their coaches’ schemes to ensure he has the opportunity to do so.

“I trust in his process, and I trust he’ll continue to get after to be where he needs to be to be a disruptive force,” said Collin Schlosser, who will spend the 2017 season anchoring the defense behind Carroll. “I think he doesn’t need to do anything special. He’ll be just fine regardless, but teams will have to see him 65 plays instead of 45 plays like last year. Just follow the coaches’ game plan and do what he does best.”

All of that considered, you’re probably thinking about what Carroll’s chances are of going pro. If you’re not, then you’re in the same boat as Carroll himself.

“I haven’t even thought about it,” he said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the NFL. It’s every kid’s dream, but I haven’t even thought about it. I just want to get us that national championship, work towards that, then when my time here is done I’ll worry about it.”