SV’s Dahlstrom stepping up for Rock defense
Eagle Staff Writer
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August 20, 2014

SLIPPERY ROCK — With the front seven of its defense all gone from last year, the Slippery Rock University football team didn’t have to look far for help.

Butler County products Bob Vernick and Nick Dahlstrom are primed and ready to contribute.

Both are 2012 high school graduates — Vernick from Butler, Dahlstrom from Seneca Valley — and both could play a key role in The Rock’s fortunes on the defensive side of the ball this season.

Vernick is stepping in at middle linebacker after playing in 11 SRU games last year. He was The Rock’s long snapper and he started the California game for then-suspended senior Gary Allen.

“Bobby helped us get a big win there and that experience did wonders for him,” SRU coach George Mihalik said.

The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Vernick said that start “helped me catch up to the speed of the game at this level.”

Vernick had five solo tackles and 12 assists in limited action as a true freshman last year. Dahlstrom, a 6-3, 270-pound defensive tackle, red-shirted last year. He saw no game action after being a standout on two WPIAL playoff teams at Seneca Valley.

“It was strange at first, not playing,” Dahlstrom admitted. “But eventually, it was for the best. I got a chance to acclimate myself to college and get another year in the weight room to get stronger.”

Mihalik said players react to red-shirt seasons differently.

“Some guys waste that year, other guys get to work and get bigger, stronger,” the coach said. “Nick definitely didn’t waste his year. He’s put himself in the mix as a potential starter.”

The two were recruited differently.

Butler won only six games in Vernick’s three seasons there. Seneca Valley was a combined 18-5 during Dahlstrom’s final two years.

Dahlstrom was recruited by a number of Division II schools — including PSAC rivals Mercyhurst and California — before deciding on The Rock.

“It felt like family here,” he said. “I felt comfortable and at home right away.”

Vernick was recruited by a few Division III schools, Slippery Rock was the only Division II school to show an interest.

“People missed the boat on him,” SRU defensive coordinator Shawn Lutz said. “Bob stands for everything our defense is about. He is relentless.”

Vernick’s goals are simple ones. Do what he can to help SRU defend its PSAC West championship from last year.

“I never went through a season as successful as that. It was a blast,” Vernick said. “Playing in the middle, I want to become a leader, give 100 percent effort on every play.”

Lutz will be surprised if he gets anything besides effort from his new middle linebacker.

“He goes straight ahead. Everything is downhill for that guy,” Lutz said. “He is a very physical football player.

“The middle linebacker is the quarterback of our defense. He’ll be calling out signals. We need him to be very vocal.”

Dahlstrom practiced behind defensive tackles Tony Papley and Derek Walker, a pair of all-conference players, last season.

Lutz said their work ethic has rubbed off on Dahlstrom.

“You can see how he learned from those guys,” the coach said. “He was a fairly under-sized kid coming out of high school. Nick really hit the weight room hard.

“He’s so much stronger now. You can’t coach athleticism and he’s got it. With these spread offenses, linemen have to be able to move and he can.”

Dahlstrom and Vernick both know what they signed up for.

“A national championship. That’s the goal,” Dahlstrom said.

If it happens in the next few years, this duo will be a big reason why.

“Nick Dahlstrom could be a four-year starter here and Bob Vernick could become one of the best linebackers to come through this program,” Mihalik said.