CHENEY — Forks’ Luke Dahlgren has persevered through plenty of obstacles in his four years playing football for Eastern Washington — rehabbing his way through a number of knee and ankle injuries and surgeries, COVID and all that entailed as a college athlete, playing in the remnants of a hurricane at Florida and in prime-time ESPN-televised Big Sky Conference matchups.
Dahlgren is a redshirt senior, the incumbent starter at center after starting at all 11 of the Eagles’ games at that position in 2022.
He’s also one of four team captains for the 2023 season selected by the Eastern Washington coaching staff, joined by wide receiver Efton Chism III, defensive back Darrien Sampson, defensive end Brock Harrison and punter Nick Kokich.
“An honor,” Dahlgren said of the accomplishment. “To grind for all those years and to be recognized like that by our coaching staff was rewarding.”
All told, Dahlgren has made 13 starts and played in 25 games overall and with a GPA he said is between 3.4 and 3.5, is a three-time Big Sky All-Academic Team member set to graduate with a degree in business management at the end of fall quarter.
Training camp grind
Dahlgren and his Eastern Washington football teammates are deep into training camp working from dawn until dusk ahead of their Sept. 2 opener against North Dakota State at the Minnesota Vikings’ home field, U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
“We get down there about 6 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. for breakfast, meetings at 7 a.m., and again at 8:15 a.m.,” Dahlgren said. “Then we practice from 9:15 a.m. to 11:15 a.m., go through the post-practice cool down ice bath, catch a quick bite for lunch. Then we lift weights, have more meetings and tonight we will have a walkthrough at the stadium to finish it off.”
Dahlgren is minus a meniscus, the tough cartilage that serves as a shock absorber between your shin and thigh bones.
He had surgery on his knee before joining the program in 2019 — and rehabbed for much of the season while also bulking up from his freshman weight of 250 to 300 pounds as a junior and 289 this fall.
“Eat as much as you could,” Dahlgren said on how he loaded up. “There’s a Panda Express here on campus and I was living in the dorms, so I’d get an early dinner at the cafeteria and then late at night I’d hit up Panda Express. I’d order extra grilled chicken and they would load me up with all the food they were trying to get rid of for the night. And I still was having trouble putting weight on.”
Despite the injury setback, Dahlgren still earned a Scout Team Player of the Week honor for his practice performance as a freshman.
Then came COVID, which saw the Eagles sidelined during the fall of 2020 before a six-game spring season in 2021.
Further injuries and surgeries to his meniscus resulted in removal of the offending piece.
Things were going well in the fall of 2021 — Dahlgren had made his first start in an ESPN2 televised matchup between the No. 4 Eagles and No. 6. Montana which Eastern won.
“A huge top-five matchup, my first start ever, and it was such a big deal that they moved the game to ESPN2, ” Dahlgren said. “The stadium was the most packed and loud since I’ve been here. It was a really cool setting for that game to be my first start.”
In 2022, Eastern traveled to face Oregon at Autzen Stadium and Florida to play the Gators at The Swamp, 90,000-seat Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“The Swamp and Autzen the more big-time college environment,” Dahlgren said. “Those weren’t great games for us, but to see the next step up in college football was interesting. Once you are out there on the field, its cool to look around and see how big it is, but its the same size field as the one back in Cheney. Their guys may have been a little bigger, but once the game started it was just football.”
Dahlgren also has played at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, home of the Raiders, and will add the Vikings’ home field and Fresno State to his list of stadiums this fall.
“Allegiant was awesome down in Vegas,” Dahlgren said. “Some of the schools in our league have these small, cramped visitor locker rooms and then you get to use an NFL locker room and see what that’s like.”
And FCS play has provided some cool venues such as Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Montana and the FargoDome in Fargo, North Dakota.
Dahlgren has enjoyed the summer, the first in which he’s been able to be a full participant.
“This is kind of my first full offseason over here, no COVID, no injuries and really getting to be a part of everything,” Dahlgren said.
Dahlgren also has enjoyed something incredibly rare at the college level: stability.
He’s had the same head coach, Aaron Best, for all five seasons and is only on his second offensive coordinator and line coach.
“It’s definitely been more consistent than a lot of guys now-a-days in college football,” Dahlgren said.
Due to COVID, Dahlgren is eligible for a sixth NCAA season. He’s still thinking about playing 2024.
“As of right now I am thinking, yes [I’ll play],” Dahlgren said. “Coach asked us heading into this year what we were thinking for recruiting purposes. He understands it’s not 100-percent yet.”
Sports reporter/columnist Michael Carman can be contacted at email@example.com.