FORKS — After years of dominating on the Forks artificial turf, Luke Dahlgren is headed to the Inferno.
Dahlgren was the first recruit to sign and send in his letter of intent Wednesday morning to play football for Eastern Washington University.
The First 🦅 has Landed in the Nest!!!
— EWU Football (@EWUFootball) February 6, 2019
He will join an Eagles squad coming off a 12-3 season in which Eastern shared the Big Sky Conference championship and advanced through the NCAA Football Championship Series playoffs to the national championship before falling to North Dakota State 38-24.
The Inferno is the nickname for the Eagles’ red home turf, Micah Roos Field, on the EWU campus in Cheney.
A ceremony to celebrate Dahlgren’s signing is planned today at Forks High School at 3:30 p.m., Spartans athletic director Kyle Weakley said.
Forks head football coach Emil West worked to get Dahlgren seen by as many football coaches as he could during the recruiting period.
“I sent his film out to every [NCAA] Division III, DII and NAIA school from Forks to Minnesota, almost,” West said.
Interest in Dahlgren was high early in the signing period from NCAA Division III and NAIA schools, but the lineman decided to wait and see if a bigger fish would bite.
“I was getting calls and texts from those schools and got a couple of NAIA and some DIII offers,” Dahlgren said. “Then Central [Washington] got in touch with me and that was kind of my target school. They had noticed me [at football camp last summer] and were talking to me.”
Forks attended team camp at Central and West said the Wildcats’ coaches had really liked what they saw out of Dahlgren and pulled him aside for measurements last summer.
Dahlgren took an official visit Jan. 26 and nearly committed to the NCAA Division II school in Ellensburg.
“I was ready to commit when I visited, but I thought I better give Eastern a chance,” Dahlgren said.
The Eagles’ offensive line coach Jase Butorac, himself a former EWU offensive lineman, made an in-person visit with Dahlgren at Forks High School.
“For Eastern to drive all the way out here to meet him, that was a great feeling,” West said.
“I was pumped, I couldn’t even conceal it. Luke was keeping his hand close to his vest a little.”
After winning the Class 1A District 4 North Subregional heavyweight wrestling championship in Centralia on Saturday, Dahlgren and his parents Chad and Shannon, headed to Cheney for an official visit.
“I liked what I saw,” Dahlgren said. When I got home I made the call and committed. You can’t beat those Division I facilities.”
Eastern also has an apparel agreement with Adidas and Dahlgren was part of a photoshoot in his No. 73 jersey while in Cheney.
“They never wore the same uniform combination twice last season,” Dahlgren said.
Dahlgren said the Eagles offered him a scholarship that will cover the full cost of tuition, books and any academic fees. He’ll be responsible for room and board.
This is common at the FCS level as teams can split up the value of their 63 scholarships among up to 85 players.
Dahlgren played left tackle for Forks last season, but at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds he has the right frame to play center at the college level.
He said the plan is to redshirt his freshman season, practicing with the team and putting on a little more weight while remaining eligible to play four full seasons in five years.
“Looking at me at center, I’m smaller and more athletic, so that’s a good fit,” Dahlgren said.
The position seems tailor-made for Dahlgren. West played center for NCAA Division II Fort Lewis State and said Dahlgren, an honor-roll student at Forks, “was the hardest worker on our team, captain, and took everything I ever taught and soaked it up like a sponge.”
Due to a season-ending injury to Spartans center Shane Queen, Dahlgren took over the protection calls at the line of scrimmage last season from his tackle spot.
He’ll be playing for a former Eastern center in Butorac as well as head coach Aaron Best, who played the position in Cheney from 1996-2000, and just signed a contract extension through 2024.
“I liked coach Best when I talked to him,” Dahlgren said. “He recruited Butorac, and when Butorac was finished with his playing career he stepped into the offensive line coaching duties. Those two are on the same page and O-line is a big part of what Eastern does. They run a fun offense with a lot of cool schemes.”
And if returning starter Spencer Blackburn is granted a sixth year of eligibility through a medical redshirt, Dahlgren will spend his freshman season learning alongside an All-Big Sky center and an FCS Academic All-American with a similar background.
Blackburn came to EWU out of Class 1A Meridian High School near Bellingham on a partial scholarship and will leave as one of the best to ever play the position for the Eagles.
“[Blackburn] wasn’t the biggest, and he came from a pretty small school, so I wondered ‘Can he do this?’ ”Best told the [Spokane] Spokesman-Review. “He showed me he could, and he was always so engaged. Those small-school guys have an edge to them.”
Those who’ve coached, played alongside or watched Dahlgren can imagine Best saying the same things about him in five years time.
“I’m so happy for Luke, he works so hard and I love to think about what that will do for the community,” West said. “For the kids in Forks to see that you can earn a big-time scholarship that’s gigantic. It should be a motivating factor for these kids to work hard and continue to pursue their dreams.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]