Recovered and back for his senior year, Marion Local tackle John Dirksen regrets his missed junior season, a missed state championship, and is back now, and recovered, to make up for lost time.
Maria Stein – With about two minutes to go before the half in last year’s Marion Local-Coldwater game…the earth kinda’ trembled as Marion right tackle John Dirksen fell awkwardly to the ground in a heep.
Somehow, in one of those twists of fate that defines football, his right leg chose to give way under his 6’6” frame and 275 pounds. It was broken, an ugly scene, as the paramedics rushed from the far end zone to assist and get Dirksen to immediate medical attention.
Only, at nearly the same moment as the broken leg, a spectator, standing alongside the fence that separates the stands from the playing field, went down with what some feared to be a heart attack. The ambulance bound for Dirksen had to take an abrupt turn in one of those ‘triage’ moments of priority.
It was another fifteen minutes before a second EMT unit came for the Flyers’ tackle, who calmly sat on the 20 yard line awaiting his turn. As he left the field he knew – his season was over, and his football future was at the very least…up in the air.
Eleven months later he’s back, practicing, and to the routine eye he’s no worse for the wear. Working out with the 2017 edition of the perennial state champions this week he shook his head when asked what everyone familiar with Marion Local football wants to know. Is he healthy, and is he 100% percent for the start of the season?
“They always say that injuries like that take a full year, and they’re right…that you never really feel the same afterwards,” says Dirksen, who committed during the off-season to play next year for Notre Dame.
“But you work around it. I’m practicing. I’m doing everything on it. My mobility is still improving, but football-wise, it’s fine.”
When we first wrote about the Marion senior, in July of 2015, he was then a sophomore preparing to be a part of what would be the Flyers’ eight state title, and their fourth in a row.
“You just feel blessed to be a part of a program like this,” he admitted in words wiser than his years. “I try not to take it for granted because we’ve been there so much. It’s such a great experience.”
But last year his words came to take on new significance as he was forced to sit and watch while his teammates rallied from his week 3 misfortune to finish the year with a 14-1 mark, and a win over Cuyahoga Heights for their ninth championship.
“I actually felt like I was going through the motions prior to the injury last year,” he admits. “I don’t know why, and I can’t explain it. But then I had to watch my teammates play an entire season without me. So this year I’m playing again, I’m happy, and I realize what I missed and what it meant to be a part of things. Now I know how much I actually love the sport because I COULDN’T play it last year. You don’t think about it like that until you can’t play.
“Needless to say there’s motivation to get back and play, but it’s also my senior year and I want to be a part of it and lead this team. When you can be part of a winning team that puts so much responsibility on you and your class, it means a lot.”
He’ll be part of a retooling process that’s inevitable with the graduation of twenty seniors last spring…and the reality of new faces taking their places with that same responsibility to uphold the tradition.
“He’s a special kid,” Coach Tim Goodwin admits. “He’s a leader, he responds to a challenge, and the sky’s the limit for him. It says a lot that he’s a BCS recruit to play at the next level. He takes it all in, and he knows how serious it is, but he still has fun. That’s how John is. He’s just fun to be around.”
Obviously, he wants to come back with a vengeance, if that’s the right word…to make up for lost time and to prove to anyone who suspects that he’s fully recovered – fully capable of playing at the next level. And as to his choice of Notre Dame, in typical Dirksen-speak he minces no words.
“I went to a camp in my sophomore year, and it was just a camp,” says Dirksen. But last spring I took a visit there and it just felt like home to me. Obviously it’s a Catholic school, and I’m Catholic, and that’s part of it. But just being in their meetings and the way their offensive linemen treated me was pretty neat. They acted like they’d known me their whole life.”
That original July, 2015 column was entitled The Next Big Thing At Marion, and now John Dirksen stands on the threshold to fulfilling everything great that high school football, competition, and camaraderie with your teammates represents.
“The league looks like it’s going to have great competition and I want that,” he adds. “It’s more fun that way because you don’t want to be in a game where it’s 40-6.
“And to be a Marion Local football player…I probably wouldn’t be where I’m at, scholarship-wise, if I wasn’t on this team. The expectations are so high, the entire community is involved, everyone asks about how football’s going, and because the bar is that much higher is a very special place to be.”
He comes from a football family, so of course maintaining the tradition the right way is now the new, next big thing for John Dirksen.
“My dad played football. All of our dads (speaking of his teammates) played football, and we’ve known each other around football our whole lives. If you’re not a part of it you just feel like you’re not where you want to be. That part will probably mean more to me years from now when I look back.”
Which means that John Dirksen is back to where he should be, regardless if it takes a full year to be as good as he could be, as he wants to be, and as he will be.
For the sake of their 2017 season Tim Goodwin and Flyer Nation are no less glad…and downright giddy!