WATERLOO — While taking photos at DeKalb’s fall sports picture day on Tuesday afternoon, one thing stood out to me, or stood over me in a few cases.
The football team is big.
Those that watched or read about the Barons last season, know how big they were. This season, they’re bigger.
Over the past few years, DeKalb has slowly grown from nothing to something a lot of people in the area are talking about. Read or watch any preview of the upcoming season for the area or scroll around social media for a bit and you’ll see the belief growing in Pete Kempf’s program.
“I believe we are definitely a contender in the conference this year,” DeKalb senior lineman Tylar Pomeroy said at football media day on Friday, July 26. “If our name is not being said, we’re going to show you.”
Kempf wanted establish the identity of being “nasty” in 2018. That attitude earned DeKalb its first winning record during the regular season since 2008. That identity is something Kempf and the rest of his team want to continue to build on for 2019.
“Last year, being nasty we knew we had to get in the weight room and attack it,” Pomeroy said. “We started a month or two after (last) season and we all got in the weight room. It’s been a good culture inside the weight room and out.”
Pomeroy is one of those players that will tower over just about anybody he comes across. He and the rest of this year’s offensive line got bigger and stronger during the offseason to make sure the Barons’ offense can be just as physical as last season.
“Being nasty comes with hard work,” Pomeroy said. “You have to get in the weight room so you can dominate your opponent.”
Pomeroy has played predominately on the offensive side of the ball during his career, but he has been lining up on the other side this summer and could play both sides this year.
“We’re putting the best 11 players on the field. I’m just trying to get in the best shape I can, because if I have to play every snap of every game, I’m going to. Whatever helps the team,” Pomeroy said.
The energy around the Baron football program is up and the culture is different than it was five years ago. The key difference from then to now is the players know they can win.
“Expectations are way up this year,” DeKalb senior Landon Miller said. “We have a lot of confidence in ourselves. The community has a lot of confidence in us that we can go pretty far this year.”
Miller along with junior Tanner Jack will carry most of the load this season at running back after the graduation of Jon Bell. Miller and Jack are both bigger and stronger than last year and hope to continue the ground and pound style of offense that they had success with last year. Curtis Martin, Corey Price and Caleb Nixon will also see some time in the backfield this year. Nixon, a Baron basketball player, decided to play football this season. He may be a little undersized than the prototypical running back/receiver, but he’s expected to contribute.
“Caleb Nixon has been a pleasant surprise,” DeKalb coach Pete Kempf said. “He’s a great little passer catcher, and if he can learn the plays, he can be a force on Friday nights.”
Kempf is putting a lot responsibilities on his players, something he started to do more of last season. He’s letting his players, especially seniors, lead this team. So if they want to continue making strides in building this program back to where it once was, it’s on them.
“It’s on the players. They know what they have to do. It’s been described to them, but at some point they have to take ownership,” Kempf said.
“This group is more businesslike,” Kempf added. “That’s how they approach the game. In the past, we’ve had more of an emotional approach. That’s a reflection of me, but these guys have taken their own identity. It’s not a lot of highs and not a lot of lows. These guys have won a lot of football games, so they know how to approach the game and the weight room. So now we’ll have to see how that applies on Friday nights.”
DeKalb is still working on being the first team that delivers the first blow on Friday nights, instead of playing from behind.
“These guys are great at responding to adversity. When they get punched in the mouth, or when someone comes out and smacks them a little bit, you know they’re going to respond. And they’re not going to respond in a kind way,” Kempf said. “We have to better at being the first to deliver a punch on Friday night. That’s going to be a big focus for us.”
The Barons opened a lot of peoples eyes with how last season went and ended. This year, it’s about doing it again and doing it bigger.
“This team, we have so much potential,” Pomeroy said. “We’re right on the brink.”